A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

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Of the extraordinary amount of literary devices available to authors, Charles Dickens uses quite a few in his novel A Tale of Two Cities, which is set during the French Revolution. One of his more distinctive devices is character foils. The five sets of foils are Carton and Darnay, Carton and Stryver, Darnay and the Marquis de Evremonde, Madame Defarge, and Mr. Lorry and Jerry Cruncher. Dickens uses foil characters to highlight the virtues of several major characters in order to show the theme of personal, loving relationships having the ability to prevail over heartless violence and self-consuming vengeance.

The most prevalent example of characters that are foils is the pair of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. These two men are extraordinarily similar, and yet they are also polar opposites. When Darnay and Carton are both introduced for the first time in the courthouse scene in Book the Second, Dickens immediately ensures that the reader is aware of the comparison. Darnay is acquitted of treason simply because the witnesses are unsure of their testimony after seeing Carton’s near-identical features. In addition to virtually sharing a countenance, the two also tend to dress alike throughout the novel. However, these similarities are merely the backdrop by which to accentuate the key differences between the characters. These are also recognized early on, even by the dim-witted Jerry Cruncher: “so alike each other in feature, so unlike each other in manner” (80). Carton is a relatively poor Englishman, while Darnay is a privileged French aristocrat. Although they have similar capabilities, Darnay uses his situation in life to his advantage, and Carton develops a disrespectful attitude and alcoholism. When the characters themselv...

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...remonde bloodline, most of which is innocent, must be exterminated to compensate for the deaths of her two siblings. The distinctions between the two women are especially evident when they engage in battle over the Evremonde family because they are speaking in different languages. Neither can understand the other linguistically, nor on a moral level. The message Dickens is attempting to convey through these characters is that of the many applications of passion, such zeal is best employed “with the vigorous tenacity of love [because it is] always so much stronger than hate” (365). In a decision between using one’s energy for love or hate, it is more productive and personally satisfying to choose the path of love because it is able to overcome that of hate.

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2004.

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