A Tale of Two Cities: Connection to the French Revolution
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, is set during the French Revolution time period. A young man named Charles Darnay moves to England with his wife to start a new life after rejecting the harshness of his family, the Evrémonde. Darnay goes back to France after receiving a letter from Gabelle, who got himself into legal issues and needed his help. Upon arriving he gets arrested for the crimes his family committed. Darnay tries to explain that he was nothing like his family, but the court still finds him guilty and sentences him to the guillotine for execution. Sydney Carton then gives his life and dies for Darnay due to his love for Luci Manette and his desire to finally make his life worthwhile. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens employs many characteristics of the French Revolution into this literary work, depicting the impact the French Revolution had on his life.
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Charles Dickens displays his acrid point of view on the aristocratic class during the French Revolution through Charles Darnay as well as Marquis Evrémonde who are two key characters in the plot of the novel (Cicarelli 361). Darnay is an affiliate of the Evrémonde decent which is part of the French elite (Cicarelli 361). Darnay rejects the characteristics that his harsh family is known for, and he escapes to London in order to start a new life and neglect the memories of the cruel acts that his ancestors committed (Cicarelli 362). The reader may first see this as a chivalrous act, but Dickens portrays Darnay’s character negatively since his behavior is that of a coward because he flees to England instead of getting up on his feet and fighting to stop the brutal treatment of the lower class peasants (Cicarelli 363). The Evrémonde, with the exception of Darnay, are all cruel and inhumane (Davis 224). Dickens depicts the atrocities brought upon the common people of France by the aristocracy (Moss 71). He cleverly utilizes the characters in A Tale of Two Cities, to formulate an extremely cynical view of the nobility as harsh and barbaric, and the French people cannot rely on these nobles for their well-being (Moss 71). The harsh portrayal of French aristocracy in A Tale of Two Cities directly correlates to the aristocrats during the French Revolution (Cicarelli 366). They took advantage of the poor and treated them unjustly, so it is clear that Charles Dickens sympathizes with the peasants (Moss 73).
In contrast, Dickens almost entirely disregards the severe domination of the middle class during the Reign of Terror, and he places the blame on blood-thirsty mobs calling for the Guillotine instead (Davis 262). The characters of Dr. Manette, Sydney Carton, and Luci Manette are the three most important characters from the middle class, yet they are not involved in the Revolution and are portrayed as positive characters (Brown 86). Dr. Manette is a man who had everything taken from him by the aristocracy, yet he never wishes to exact revenge on their brutality until the mob essentially forces him (Davis 307). Lucie Manette is the charming daughter of Dr. Manette who brings the best out of every person around her (Brown 92). Sydney Carton is the hero of the tale who sacrifices himself for his rival out of love for Lucie and the desire to make his life worthwhile (Brown 97). None of these characters embody the clever and cold-blooded leadership that embodied the middle class during the Revolution (Brown 98). This twist of historical facts could either be biased for or against the middle class by Dickens depending on his point of view (Davis 329). Since the Industrial Revolution was occurring in England during Dickens’ time period, he may have put the middle class in good view due to amount of respect paid to the middle class in Britain at the time he wrote the novel (Pritchard 97).
In A Tale of Two Cities, Monsieur and Madame Defarge represent the lower working class during the French Revolution (Cicarelli 377). Monsieur Defarge is a leader in the cause for revolution who once served Dr. Manette. Madame is a vengeful and blood-thirsty revolutionary that keeps track in her knitting the people that must die in the Revolution (Pritchard 102). It appears as though Dickens over exaggerated the power of that working class has during the French Revolution (Frey 47). This overstatement could come out of his personal feelings towards the working due to his childhood experiences (Frey 49). Another possible bias when discussing the role of the lower class here is his bias toward the peaceful transition toward a more democratic system like that of Britain (Frey 49). He could be making the statement that if the change had come from the top, rather than from the bottom, the more educated and less base members of society could have made the transition smoother and altogether less violent (Bloom 80). This interpretation further emphasizes Dickens’ belief that the changes were necessary, but that he ostracized the violence (Bloom 81).
Also, the symbol of wine is used in A Tale of Two Cities to represent the blood of the French Revolution (Cicarelli 399). Moreover, the wine was spilled in the house of Monsieur Defarge, one of the head revolutionary Jacques (Cicarelli 398). Clearly, Dickens shows his readers that all citizens living under the oppression of the French Government will one day be stained red with blood (Cicarelli 396). Soon, all the citizens nearby have come to drink the wine with an animalistic lust, and they even drink the wine off of the ground (Cicarelli 401). The citizens become beastly in the presence of wine, just like how they will become beastly in the presence of blood during the French Revolution (Frey 61). The blood-like wine further symbolizes the wide encompassment of people involved in the bloodshed of the revolution. The wine is “red…and had stained the ground of the narrow street…where it was spilled… it also stained many hands, too, and many faces”(Bloom 98). This shows readers that the beginning of the bloodshed will be initiated by these common, oppressed people. It also creates imagery of the blood, about to be shed during the French Revolution (Bloom 99). The spill of the wine symbolizes the inevitability of the revolution through both the intolerable suffering of the common people, as well as the literal imagery of blood-stained people (Bloom 99). Later, when the French Revolution does begin at the Bastille, Dickens uses the same imagery of wine representing blood (Moss 84). As revolutionaries gather at the Bastille, “women held wine to their mouths…and what with dropping blood” (Moss 85). Wine is a powerful, common image that represents both the extensive reach and the beastly nature of the Revolution (Moss 87).
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Charles Dickens incorporates many characteristics of the French Revolution into the novel, A Tale of Two Cities. He uses symbolism as well as many clever instances of literary elements to depict the impact the French Revolution had on his life and the people around him during his time period. Charles Dickens displays the historical event through the characters by placing them in different social classes and making them act accordingly to fit the major conflict between the social classes during the French Revolution.
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