The guillotine, a machine designed to behead its victims, is one of the enduring symbols of the French Revolution. In Tale of Two Cities, the guillotine symbolizes how revolutionary chaos gets institutionalized. With the guillotine, killing becomes emotionless and automatic, and human life becomes cheap. The guillotine as a symbol expresses exactly what Dickens meant by adding the two final words ("or Death") to the end of the French national motto: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death."
Guillotine Quotes in A Tale of Two Cities
The A Tale of Two Cities quotes below all refer to the symbol of Guillotine. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of A Tale of Two Cities published in 2003.).
Book 3, Chapter 4 Quotes
Above all, one hideous figure grew … the figure of the sharp female called La Guillotine. It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented the hair from turning grey, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine, looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack. It was the sign of the regeneration of the human race. It superseded the Cross. Models of it were worn on breasts from which the Cross was discarded, and it was bowed down to and believed in where the Cross was denied.
Book 3, Chapter 15 Quotes
Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day's wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. … Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.
Guillotine Symbol Timeline in A Tale of Two Cities
The timeline below shows where the symbol Guillotine appears in A Tale of Two Cities. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 3, Chapter 1
Book 3, Chapter 4
Book 3, Chapter 14
Book 3, Chapter 15