Critical Analysis on a Tale of Two Cities

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Chelsey Cardwell Dual Credit English 1/3/12 Mr. Burns A Literary Analysis of A Tale of Two Cities I. Introduction Charles Dickens’ twelfth novel, A Tale of Two Cities, was written to show all of the good and evil that was present during the French Revolution. He uses the two main cities, London and Paris, to represent this, and then ties in a love story with many different symbols of good and evil such as Darnay and Carton, Madame Defarge and Miss Pross. In his novel, Dickens also shows both sides of the revolution with the peasants and the aristocracy.
He expresses how they are both evil although the peasants are the people who we would be accustomed to feel pity for. An example of this is when the Marquis runs over a peasant boy in the streets and only fears that his horses might have been hurt. Monsieur Defarge runs to Gaspard (the father of the child) and says “Be brave man, my Gaspard! It is better for the poor plaything to die so, than to live. It has died in a moment without pain. Could it have lived an hour as happily” (102)?
This is a heart wrenching quote that allows the reader to understand just how atrocious the peasant’s lives were; that is was a relief for a child to die quickly than to live out their life as a peasant being stepped on by the aristocracy. Dickens’ novel, although challenging to some, has a great message of hope and positive change with an enjoyable depiction of true events during the French Revolution. II. Themes The most obvious theme seen throughout the book is the idea, and need for transformation.

The repetition of the words “recalled to life” presents most of the change that occurs. This theme applies to Doctor Manette, who is recalled to life when Mr. Lorry and Lucie bring him home from prison and cure his unhealthy mind, giving him another chance at having a life with his beloved daughter. Carton is also recalled to life, for example he describes himself to Lucie as “self-flung away, wasted, drunken, poor creature of misuse,” and Lucie replies by asking Carton if she can recall him to a better ways (“Overview” par 3). Carton sacrifices himself to allow Lucie to be happy.
He says “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” (360). At the end of the novel, the narrator describes what Carton’s last words would have been. He tells how Carton envisioned Lucie having a son and naming him after Carton, he says, “I see him winning it (his name) so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see blots threw upon it, faded away” (360). He knows this child will live the life he should have, and in a way continue to redeem Carton for wasting his own life.
Roger Cly is also seen within this theme; “Cly’s death and burial as an Old Bailey Spy, complete with an enraged London mob, is a fraud, a means of his escaping England with John Barsard. Cly, too, then, is “buried” and resurrected” (“Themes and Construction” par 4). Transformation is also evident throughout France because of the strict, evil aristocracy. The peasants believe revolting will give them the change they want, although it only makes the situation worse. Another important theme within the novel is revenge.
Dickens creates entire chapters on the Marquis to show how horrid the aristocracy was, and yet he also condemns the peasants for revolting to it. Near the end of the novel, Dickens says, “Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind” (355). This shows his idea that if they continue teaching their generations the same beliefs that they have, a greater change will never be obtained. Another example of the unruly people is when the do the Carmagnole around Lucie as she waits for the imprisoned Darnay to hopefully catch a glance of her.
The Carmagnole was known as the dance of the revolution that was very wild and grotesque, which was headed by The Vengeance; this showed the deranged, mad actions of the peasants. Revenge is also what drives both sides of the novel (the love story and the revolution). The peasants are constantly trying to revolt against the higher-ups for revenge for their treatment. On the love side, Lucie and Darnay would have lived happily ever after had Madame Defarge not had Darnay charged and sentenced to death for revenge of her slain family by Darnay’s family.
Madame Defarge’s best friend’s name is even The Vengeance, which shows how vengeful that particular group of peasants really was. Madame Defarge says, “Let me but lift my finger! She seemed to raise it, and to let it fall with a rattle on the ledge before her (Lucie), as if the axe had dropped” (325). She will not stop and be satisfied with the death of the last member of the family who killed her family; she vows to get Lucie also. When she attempts to carry out her promise, she loses her life in a tussle with Miss Pross; her incurable desire for revenge brought her own death upon her.
Imprisonment is another obvious theme within the novel. Dickens begins his novel with Doctor Manette being finally released from his imprisonment. Darnay is also later imprisoned many times, and is eventually sentenced to the fate of the Guillotine. In a sense, Carton is also imprisoned but it is an internal conflict within himself rather than a physical imprisonment. He is ultimately set free by giving up his own life so that Darnay and Lucie can live theirs out together. Imprisonment also coincides with the theme of family.
The importance of family is implied with the reuniting of Lucie and her long lost father. Doctor Manette was locked away for some time, and he was unable to recognize his own daughter. When Monsieur Defarge begins to question Lucie’s father, he answers with a voice that Dickens describes as “lost the life and resonance of the human voice, that it affected the senses like a once beautiful colour faded away into a poor, weak stain” (37), and the love and realization of his only family member left is what brings him out of this trance like state.
Lucie marries Darnay and the hope at a long happy family is given, until Darnay’s life is to be taken. Carton realizes Lucie will only be happy with her family, and he loves her and knows she does not deserve to be without her family again, so he decides to switch places with Darnay. Class is also an evident theme within the novel that is shown mostly within the violence between the aristocracy and the peasants. The aristocracy is so arrogant, that they have no other care in the world other than themselves.
The Monseigneur sees himself so highly that he must have four men to serve him his chocolate, the narrator tells the extent of this by saying, “ Deep would have been the blot upon his escutcheon if his chocolate had been ignobly waited on by only three men; he must have died of two” (96). On the other side, the peasants are so low that when an innocent child is killed in the streets, the aristocracy doesn’t care, and the child’s father is told to be happy that the child is gone to a better place and doesn’t have to live the life they are living (102).
III. Symbolism Dickens uses many examples of symbolism throughout his novel, many being quite evident to the reader. When wine is spilled on the streets and all of the peasants rush to it to drink all that they can, a man writes the word blood on the wall, which is exactly what the wine stood for, all the blood that will be spilled in result of the revolution. The owner of the wine shop looks at him and says, “What now? Are you a subject for the mad hospital” (29)?
The owner is calling the peasant crazy for writing it, which makes him a symbol for all the crazy peasants who cause the spill of blood later on in these exact same streets. Blood is also symbolized after the reading of the old letter written by Doctor Manette, the court room is described by giving off “a sound of craving and eagerness that had nothing articulate in it but blood” (317). This exemplifies how everyone wanted the blood shed of Darnay after such evidence was found coming from Doctor Manette.
Symbolism is also used with Dickens decision in use of characters. Madame Defarge and Miss Pross symbolize good and evil, and this is also shown with the families they live within. The two cities referred to in the title of the book, London and Paris are symbolized within Darnay and Carton. Darnay is the civilized London, and Carton being the corrupt Paris. Carton receives a chance at redeeming himself and making everything change for the better, which is exactly what Paris needs, and is what the peasants are all revolting for.
He also uses this aspect of good and evil within the opening lines of the book, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness” (1), by beginning the book with these lines, Dickens is foreshadowing all of the dark and light events that will come about during the book. More symbolism within the characters is evident when Carton is awaiting his death and he meets his love match.
This was symbolic to him in that he has done the right thing and has redeemed himself of his wasted life. Dickens narrates in the novel that the ones watching Carton die thought him to look “sublime and prophetic” (359). He was ready and content with his decision. Another example of this is Madame Defarge’s knitting. Greek Mythology links knitting to vengefulness and fate; the goddess (Nemesis) of indignation against evil deeds and undeserved fortune is the category Madame Defarge falls into (“Nemesis” par. 1).
The Golden Thread is also a symbol; it is referring to Lucie because she weaves herself through people’s lives and brings them into a chance at having a better future (her father, and Carton). The Marquis is a symbol of corrupt France. “It appeared, under the circumstances, rather agreeable to him to see the common people dispersed before his horses, and often barely escaping from being run down” (101). He obviously enjoys the torment and fear of the peasants and has no sympathy for them at all, which is symbolic of the whole French aristocracy’s feelings. They viewed the peasants “as if they had been mere rats come out of their holes” (102).
Another very important symbol dealing with the revolution is the Guillotine. “All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realization, Guillotine” (355). This is how Dickens describes the guillotine to show how appalling and evil of a symbol it stood as during this time. The guillotine was also referred to in the novel as the “sharp female newly-born” (241) showing its popular role in the revolution. IV. Irony Dickens uses many different examples of dramatic, verbal, and situational irony to add excitement to his novel.
Verbal irony is evident as the book progresses. It is discovered that Jerry Cruncher is not an honest tradesman, but a sneaky resurrection man. He ruins his honesty title by lying to his son about his job and saying that he is only going fishing. The verbal irony within this is when Jerry is called “an honest tradesman” (155). Dramatic irony is shown when Carton trades places with Darnay. It is ironic because we know what has happened and no one else is yet aware, and then everyone but Darnay’s family believes he is really put to death. The Vengeance says, “Evermonde will be despatched in a wink, and she not here! (357). She, along with everyone else, believes the Evermonde family is about to be finally vanquished. Situational irony occurs when an old letter written by Doctor Manette is brought into Darnay’s trial, it is a written account of how the Evermondes raped and killed a helpless woman and her family which is evidence condemning Darnay’s name. It is never expected that Doctor Manette could be used against Darnay because he has accomplished so much to help him. “And all the worse for the doomed man, that the denouncer was a well-known citizen, his own attached friend, the father of his wife” (318).
Another example of situational irony is Doctor Manette becoming the father-in-law of a member of the family who almost took his life away from him forever. V. Characterization Dickens depicts his characters well, and spends line upon line describing them to allow the reader to gather the image he wants them to see. Sydney Carton is the most dynamic, and the author shows this by writing how his thoughts clear and he decides to trade places with Darnay out of his love for Lucie and want for her to keep her family together that she so strongly needs after her growing up an orphan.
Doctor Manette is shown as a man of mystery in the beginning of the story, “every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other” (10). He is a mystery to Lucie and Mr. Lorry, and then Dickens brings him out of his shell by giving him a relationship with Lucie. With the characters Carton and Doctor Manette, the author shows us how vital relationships are, and how they can affect a person and their actions. Dickens doesn’t characterize Lucie and Darnay very much, but in a sense he has no need to because the other characters control their fate.
Dickens chose Madame Defarge to depict the revolution; and it is her vengeful attitude is what brings her to her death, when she goes after Lucie and is shot during a fight with Mrs. Pross (352). VI. Point of View Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities in third person omniscient, and he reveals thoughts, emotions, and reasons for each characters actions along with historical text which adds much spice to the novel. By choosing to write in third person omniscient he keeps established, clear motives and does not keep the writer in the dark about anything which keeps them itching to read further.
This also adds much effect on the book when Carton surprisingly buys drugs and exchanges places with Darnay. VII. Conclusion A Tale of Two Cities is a novel that has thrived throughout the years, and is so appealing because it is a mixture of true historical events entwined within a love story. Dickens was a very talented writer, but it is best for a reader to do prior research before they engulf in the task of reading the novel because Dickens uses so many words to describe one person, place, or thing which makes it difficult for many readers to keep their mind within the book.
For example, in the very first chapter of the book, Dickens uses two and a half pages just to tell about France and England rather just coming out with what was going on at the time. Works Cited Atsma, Aaron J. "NEMESIS : Greek Goddess of Retribution & Indignation | Mythology, W/ Pictures. " THEOI GREEK MYTHOLOGY, Exploring Mythology & the Greek Gods in Classical Literature & Art. Theoi Project, 13 Oct. 2000. Web. 27 Dec. 2011. . Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. 1859. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall, 2005. Print.

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