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A Tale of Two Cities: Sentimentality
In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens’ choice of sentimental expression had an excellent effect on the readers’ responses to the characters. The use of exaggerated sentimentality helped create a clear picture of the story’s issues in the readers’ minds; it gave a feel for the spirit of the times, and made it easier to understand the characters’ points of view. It was this very sentimentality that Dickens strived to achieve.
What comes to mind first when dealing with the lively imagination of Dickens is the creative and detailed picture he gives. In describing Dr. Manette, for instance, Dickens exaggerates his characterization by saying Manette’s voice was like “the last feeble echo of a sound made long, long ago.” From this alone you can hear the faintness of his voice and feel the suppressed dreadfulness of his past. In this way, the sentimentality of it all gets the reader involved emotionally and makes the character come alive.
Also, the sentimentality, although at times difficult to endure, produced a deeper understanding and emphasis of the harsh conditions that the people of France dealt with. For example, when Dickens describes France as having “its one poor street, with its poor brewery, poor tannery, poor tavern, poor stableyard ...” and says. “It had its poor people, too,” you can relate these horrid conditions to the world in which we now live. For this reason, Dickens use of emotive words aids you in grasping the circumstances that influenced the characters’ actions and thoughts.
Lastly and most importantly would be Lucie’s elaborate expression of sentimentality in her constant fainting at the least sign of distress. However unbearable it might have seemed, the reader could not fully appreciate the significance of her character and why she was loved by so many equally sentimental; characters in the novel. When Lucie early on testifies at Darnay’s trial in the English court, she says, “He was kind, and good, and useful to my father. I hope,” and here she bursts into tears, “ I may not repay him by doing him harm here today.” Her deep sensitivity and generous nature shines through. And remember, when Lucie stands forlornly and devotedly at a place near the Paris prison in order for her husband, Darnay, to glimpse her and their child, it is clear that Dickens wanted to portray her as a loving, faithful, and sympathetic person.
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As you see, there are many scenes where much tenderness, faithfulness, and loyalty are done with much feeling and some exaggeration. All this is necessary and a part of Dickens’ plan. From narrative description to flowery dialogue and noble monologue, from hateful vengeance to heroic bravura, sentimentality is used effectively.