A Tale of Two Cities Essay: From Abused to Abuser

A Tale of Two Cities Essay: From Abused to Abuser

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From Abused to Abuser in A Tale of Two Cities  
 

Throughout the novel, A Tale of Two Cities , Charles Dickens’ judgment and portrayal of France, the Revolution, and the people themselves undergoes some very basic changes. Dickens is always in control of the reader by successfully reaching his goal of leading the reader by the hand through a series of emotions and ideas emanating from the plot and its characters. During the first few chapters of “Book the First,” Dickens has the reader sympathize with the plight of the French commoners. However, when the revolution begins, he does an about-face. Through narrative, scenes, and dialogue, the reader starts to consider both the aristocrats and the downtrodden as one and the same in moral and political culpability.

Charles Dickens strongly believes that the French Revolution was inevitable because the aristocracy had exploited and plundered the poor until they were driven to extreme measures. Nowhere is that more evident than in Dickens’ portrayal of the Marquis St. Evremonde. This nobleman is the poster-child of selfish privilege. He is uncaring and has no respect for life. This is especially apparent when he cold-heartedly runs down an innocent child with his carriage. “But for the latter inconvenience, the carriage would probably not have stopped; carriages were often known to drive on, and leave their wounded behind, and why not?” In payment for the inconvenience, Monseigneur throws a single coin to the child’s parent. How well this personifies exactly how cold and unsympathetic too many of the aristocracy had become. Dickens has nothing but scorn for the high-handed behavior of the nobility, with their lack of faith, their selfishness, and their distance from reality. But Dickens’ all-seeing eye then rivets on the commoners, whom he likens to animals: “The rats had crept out of their holes to look on, and they remained looking on for hours.” But these qualities were also attributed to the Marquis who, denying the humanity of the poor, became subhuman and beastly himself.

“A large cask of wine had been dropped and broken in the street ... . Some men kneeled down, made scoops with their two hands joined, and sipped ... Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths.” The metaphor is well taken.

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Their hunger, their need for vengeance and relief confirms the inevitability of revolution.

Dickens graphically shows us the shallowness of the aristocrats and their allies by the emphasis they place on external rituals meaningless pretenses. “All the company at the grand hotel of the Monseigneur were perfectly dressed. If the Day of Judgment had only been ascertained to be a dress day, everybody there would have been eternally correct.” Dickens sarcastically and masterfully demonstrates that emphasis on external show masks an internal emptiness, which is an attempt to deny the death that had begun to surround them.

With the storming of the Bastille, the burning of the chateaux, and the murdering or imprisonment of the members of the former regime, Dickens’ earlier portrayal of the poor does an about-face. The people had been, up to then, exploited, gaunt, and submissive. Now they were a howling, breast-beating band of bloodthirsty demons. A celebrated cause became mob rule. Once an abused people, they now use their power to destroy all that is not a part of them. They discard the crosses around their necks for miniature guillotines. And the once oppressors now go to their deaths as martyrs.

 
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