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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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Through these various portrayals of French life, Dickens illustrates his own opinion on the French Revolution, which is that because of the incredible oppression of the French lower-class by the French upper-class, the revolution was inevitable.
It is in this way that revolution, order, and the conflict between the two are major themes of A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens personifies the revolution in the form of Madame Defarge, the wife of a storeowner in the poor Saint Antoine section of Paris. She is described as a cold, malevolent woman who knits the names of people she wishes to see die when the revolution comes, into her register. Defarge also represents revenge and the mob mentality. This is apparent in the lines of Dickens where he says “So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sit knitting, knitting, couting dropping heads.”
Miss Pross, on the other hand, is the personification of order, justice, and peace; she is the antithesis to Madame Defarge. Pross was the caretaker of Lucie, and the one who single-handedly raised her. She is described, through the eyes of Lorry, to be a tough woman who is devoted to Lucie.
The conflict between Pross and Defarge towards the end of the novel represents the conflict between order and revolution. When Madame Defarge goes to the Manette’s Paris apartment in order to catch Lucie in the act of mourning a convict, she encounters Pross, alone, there. A fight ensues and Defarge draws her gun. During the struggle, Pross is able to overpower Defarge, and Defarge accidentally kills herself. Through this battle, Dickens represents his idea of the conflict between order, represented by Pross, and revolution, represented by Defarge. Although revolution is feral, order is firm, and in the end, Dickens demonstrates, it is order that wins over.
These two characters can also be seen to represent the theme of good vs. evil in A Tale of Two Cities. In this conflict, good is represented by the kindly Miss Pross, and the conniving Madame Defarge represents evil. The clash between the two, much like the fight between Joe and Orlick in Great Expectations, is a depiction of a battle between good and evil, a battle in which Dickens believes good will win.
Another major theme of A Tale of Two Cities is resurrection. Dr. Manette is a doctor in A Tale of Two Cities, who was imprisoned in the Bastille in France for eighteen years. The first major event of the novel is his extrication from the prison, followed by his reuniting with Lucie, his daughter, and other loved ones. Lorry, who conveys the message that Dr. Manette was in fact alive to Lucie, has a dream where he asks Dr. Manette how many years he has been “buried.” He also considers his mission, to bring Dr. Manette out of prison, to be a “recall to life.” Thus, when the Doctor is finally brought out of prison, the event is similar to a resurrection, since he was assumed to be dead for all those years.
This theme of resurrection appears throughout Dickens’ work. An example of this is the discovery that Foulon, an aristocrat who announced that the peasants should eat grass because they had nothing else to eat, was in fact alive. He had faked his own death to escape the guillotine, but was found hiding in the country. The finding that he was alive was similar to a resurrection, as a man who was thought to be dead was not.
Another ocurrence of the theme of resurrection is the revelation that Roger Cly, a British spy who staged his own funeral, was actually alive. Another English spy, Basard, who also happened to be Miss Pross’ long-lost brother, presents a death certificate for Cly, but Cruncher, who was present at the funeral procession admits that he attempted to steal Cly’s body after the ceremony, but found only bricks in the casket. Thus Cly was “resurrected” when it was found that he had never died.
A more important resurrection occurs in the case of Carton and Darnay. Carton is a lawyer who defends Darnay against the charges of treason against France. Carton is an insolent, boorish alcoholic for whom “no man on earth cares for,” in his own words. He could generally be considered a failure in life, while Darnay is a remarkable contrast to this man. Darnay is gentile, successful, and refined, and represents to the reader all that Carton could have been in life, but was not. The extraordinary similarity between Darnay and Carton makes the dichotomy between the two characters more evident. The two were so similar that they could be mistaken for one another, and this in fact, is one of the defenses used by Carton when an eyewitness at Darnay’s trial claimed that Darnay was a spy.
Early in the novel, Carton speaks to Lucie alone, and confesses his love for her, and that he at any time, he would trade his life to save someone she loves. Years pass, and Lucie marries Darnay. Soon after, Darnay is once again accused of the crime of being a spy; this time it is Dr. Manette’s written testimony, found in his cell in the Bastille, which provides the evidence against him that could not get him convicted in the previous trial. Darnay is convicted, and sentenced to death, as a punishment for the crimes of his father and uncle. When the verdict is announced, Carton remembers his promise to Lucie from years prior, and plots with John Barsad to save Darnay. Carton’s plot was this: he would go to Darnay’s cell, change clothes with Darnay, and replace him at the guillotine; thus Carton would be executed instead of Darnay.
By doing this, Carton was able to “ressurect” his life, and make it meaningful after so many years of his being a dissipated alcoholic. Carton could have done nothing, and just watched as Darnay’s head was chopped off, but in doing so, he would have made himself even more of a failure: if he could have helped save the husband of the woman he loves, but he chose to do nothing, he would have again proved that he was a selfish, insolent man, and a failure in life. Had he done this, he would have been a forgotten man, whom no one would weep for when he died. However, by fulfilling his promise to Lucie, he has made his life meaningful, and he is “resurrected” in that he will forever be remembered by the people for whom he sacrificed his life.
Similarly, in Great Expectations, there are dichotomies between characters that are representative of the themes of the novel. One of the major themes is the conflict between good and evil, and between guilt and innocence. This theme manifests itself in many ways. The first instance of this theme is when Pip meets a convict in the cemetery where his parents’ tombstones are located. Pip provides the convict with a file and some food, for which Pip later feels very guilty. This guilt causes Pip to become paranoid about his getting caught for his deed; he imagines everything to be a sign that he will soon be caught, such as when policemen come into the house with handcuffs, which they simply wanted Joe to fix. Pip continues, even at a later age, to see displays of the conflict between good and evil going on in his mind. When he visits London, he sees images of justice and punishment, such as the gallows, throughout the city. When he finds out that his secret benefactor is, in fact, the convict that he had helped years ago, and not Miss Havisham as he had hoped, Pip began to feel all the more guilty. He increasingly associates one part of his life, that dealing with the convict and his guilt, with evil, and the other part, that dealing with Estella and Miss Havisham, with good.
The conflict in Pip’s mind between good and evil appears in the form of a dichotomy between characters as well. Throughout the novel, Joe, the husband of Pip’s sister, a blacksmith, is the personification of all that is good. He is a gentle, benevolent man to whom Pip becomes apprenticed. Joe serves as the guiding force through much of the boy’s childhood, although Pip trades Joe for money and higher social class later in the novel.
Dolge Orlick, on the other hand is the novel’s representation of pure evil. Ugly and oafish, Orlick harasses Pip as a child, and scares the boy into thinking that the devil lives in the shop. After fighting with Mrs. Joe over his taking a holiday, it is suspected that he shot Mrs. Joe and left her paralyzed. Later in the novel, Orlick colludes with Compeyson and attempts to kill Pip, after accusing him of coming between him and his woman. Pip is saved, however, by Herbert and a group of men, who scare away Orlick.
Dickens, besides simply personifying good and evil, represents the conflict between good and evil in reality. When Mrs. Joe has a heated argument with Orlick over his holiday, Joe and he get into a physical fight, which Joe wins handily. In creating and describing this scene of conflict, Dickens is essentially describing which force he believes will win out in a conflict between good and evil. He believes that it is good that will eventually win out, represented by Joe, very similar to the outcome of the battle between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities.
The last dichotomy between characters that is representative of the theme of good and evil in Great Expectations is that between Magwitch and Miss Havisham. Pip believed and hoped, through much of the novel that it was Miss Havisham’s intention to marry Pip to Estella and to make his fortune, these were his “great expectations.” His expectations were further encouraged by the fact that he believed, and Miss Havisham led him to believe, that Havisham was in fact his secret benefactor. He associated the upper-class nature of Estella and Miss Havisham with good, and thus sought to elevate himself to their rank.
Evil, on the other hand, Pip associated with Magwitch and Pip’s helping the convict escape. His deed often haunts him, as he becomes paranoid and imagines everything to be images of the punishment he will soon receive for his act: handcuffs, gallows, police.
Pip’s clearly defined line between good and evil begins to unravel, however, when Magwitch re-enters his life. Magwitch informs Pip that he is in fact Pip’s benefactor, and not Miss Havisham. In response to this, Pip is disgusted and no longer wants anything to do with his riches, as their source is the same place he associates with evil and guilt. However, Pip soon begins to see Magwitch’s inner kindness and helps the old man, eventually plotting his escape with Herbert.
Furthermore, when Pip finds out Estella is Magwitch’s lost daughter, he is all the more devastated. Having associated her for so many years with good, and innocence, and a position to strive for, Pip realizes she has come from a lowlier place than his own—she is the daughter of a convict. This further confuses the lines between good and evil in Pip’s mind, as his embodiment of good has risen from his embodiment of evil.
Dickens, by merging the plot lines and showing that Pip can no longer distinguish clearly the difference between right and wrong, demonstrates that although humans may attempt to draw a clear line between right and wrong, as Pip did, this line may eventually prove to be a false one, and a person must realize for himself that which is the distinction between good and evil in different circumstances.
Thus, dichotomies between characters in Charles Dicken’s novels Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities are representative of the themes of the two novels, and these characters include Madame Defarge and Miss Pross, and Carton and Darnay, Orlick and Joe, and Miss Havisham and Magwitch.