Charles Dickens’ Novel A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens’ Novel A Tale of Two Cities

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Outside resources and research often inspire authors to write about their personal feelings. Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities satirizes the French Revolution, based upon his infatuation with French culture. The novel opens in the pre-revolution year of 1775, when Lucie Manette (a classic Victorian heroine) is told that her father is alive. Dr. Manette, Lucie’s father, has been imprisoned for 18 years in the Bastille, a prison in Paris. Even though Lucie has never met her father, she is drawn to him by love and treats him as if she has known him her entire life. Lucie along with her father travels back to London to start a new life, and along the way meet a man traveling under the name of Charles Darnay. Lucie and Charles fall in love with each other and move back to London with Dr. Manette. Several years later Charles is drawn back to his home city of Paris only to find that the revolutionaries have taken over France and have become the hated leaders themselves. The novel A Tale of Two Cities illustrates that intentions, ambitions, and power can overtake people, making themselves into the hated leaders. Revolutionaries in the novel were (very poor) third class citizens hoping to bring justice to France. Some citizens of Paris were so poor that a bandanna of wine was an infant’s meal for the day. “Or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants mouths” (Dickens 21).

The aristocrats also treated the peasants poorly. In chapter 7 of the first book, Gaspard’s child is ran over by the carriage of a rich monseigneur. Instead of showing concern for the dead child the rich man asks, “The horses there; they alright?” (Dickens 85). Once the revolution began however, these patriots drunken with abusive power, start the extermination of the much-hated aristocrats. Power driven peasants would often become the oppressors out of their intentions to establish justice as Dickens states:

[Revolutionaries will] Crush humanity out of the shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression over again and it will surely yield the fruit according to its own kind (288). This quote explains why the revolutionaries overtook the aristocracy, killing innocent people such as the seamstress. Using their power driven designs they become “the same tortured forms” as the uncaring aristocrats once were.

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Dickens creates Madame Defarge, another power-driven character, who is the leader of the revolutionaries. Husband of Dr. Manette’s former servant Ernest Defarge, Madame begins her quest for justice by knitting a registry of all the aristocrats and spies she plans to kill. To get revenge from tragic events years ago, she plans to behead all of the St. Evérmonde family. Unfortunately, Charles Darnay’s real name turns out to be Evérmonde.

Madame Defarge not only has plans for Charles, but also Charles’s innocent wife and daughter. “The Evérmonde family is to be exterminated, and the wife and the child must follow the husband and father” (Dickens 279). Jacques Three, a good ally to Madame Defarge asks her is she going to end the killings, “’At extermination,’ said Madame” (Dickens 263). At the end of the book the enraged Madame Defarge cares less about seeking justice and focuses more on killing innocent families and peasants to ensure her own power over the aristocracy, and her position as a leader in the revolution. Madame Defarge not only exterminates, but also enjoys watching people being tormented and executed for her entertainment. After the capture of the accused Foulon, who told starving peasants they should eat grass, the revolutionaries bound him and tied grass to his back. Madam Defarge watched and enjoyed the public execution with enthusiasm. “’That was well done to tie a bunch of grass upon his back. Ha, ha! That was well done. Let him eat grass now!’ Madame put her knife under her arm and clapped her hands as if at a play” (Dickens 172). Not only has she become morbid, she has become unstoppable. She even states to her followers, “Tell the wind and fire to stop, not me!” “Which her hearers derived a horrible enjoyment from the deadly nature of her wrath” (Dickens 265). Madame Defarges thirst for justice turned into a deadly wrath of killing for power and enjoyment. Ambitions can take over anyone who takes their intentions to the extremes. These people can be humble peasants searching for justice, or an evil wife of a wine shopkeeper seeking revenge. If the oppressed let power get the best of them, they become the oppressors themselves without realizing it. Dickens wanted to illustrate this in A Tale of Two Cities because it happens often in history, and is one of the main themes through out the novel.
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