Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities

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Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities are two of the greatest English novels ever written. One chronicles the twists and turns of the life of a young man named Pip while the other serves as an account of the story of one family during the French Revolution. In both novels, there are contrasts between characters that are representative of the themes of the novels. In Great Expectations, the themes are good vs. evil and guilt vs. innocence, while in A Tale of Two Cities the main themes are resurrection and revolution. However, the theme of good vs. evil is a theme common to the two books and there are contrasts between characters in both books that represent this theme. The characters include Madame Defarge and Miss Pross, and Carton and Darnay, from A Tale of Two Cities, Orlick and Joe, and Magwitch and Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations.

A Tale of Two Cities is set in France during the 1780’s, a very tumultuous time in the history of the French nation, when the lower classes were rebelling against the oppression, and unfair rights and privileges of the upper classes. It was during this time that France was transformed from a divine right monarchy into a republic, following the execution of King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette. Dickens gives his own impressions of French society at the time through his narration of the story. His distaste for the extravagance and greed of the French upper-class is apparent in his description of the powerful aristocrat entertaining other aristocrats. He depicts the wastefulness of the aristocrats, and their use of servants, while the poor lack even a means of subsistence.

Although Dickens gives compassionate descriptions of the poor, such as when the Marquis is passing through his town, and the deplorable conditions in which they lived in Saint Antoine, he nevertheless also displays his aversion to the mobs of Paris. In his description of the courtroom that Darnay was being tried in, Dickens portrayed the crowd to be “blueflies” – flies that feed on dead bodies. This simile implies that the mob finds joy in death, regardless of the innocence or guilt of the person being hanged. His view of mobs is also evident when Jerry Cruncher joins a mob of people following Roger Cly’s body, and riots with them for fun.
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