A Tale of Two Cities: Parallels in Characters, Classes, and Events

Essay by seal.philJunior High, 9th gradeA+, April 2009

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Charles Dickens utilizes doubles and contrasts to enhance the plot of Dickens uses parallels in characters, social classes, and events that compliment each other to strengthen the plot. Its themes of violence in revolutionaries, resurrection, and sacrifice also help support the story.

Primarily, the characters in the book are foils for each other. One example is Lucie Manette and Madame Defarge. Lucie is a very gentle and loving woman. Everything that she does shows her kindness and virtue. Her tenderness and adoration for everyone empowers her to unite the family. For instance, when Lucie's father was in a horrible state of depression, the only cure for his sadness was the sight of Lucie's face and the touch of her skin. On the other hand, Madame Defarge is a cruel and fanatical revolutionary. She makes notes in her mental "register" of everyone she decides should be executed. She feels that every heir of the Evrémond family, (Charles Darnay's family) should be exterminated.

After Darnay is released from prison, Madame Defarge reports him to the authorities because of the cruel mistreatment of peasants that his uncle commits, even though Charles strongly disagrees with his uncle's choices. Each of their personalities are so extreme, that they both are foils for each other's characteristics. Another foil in characters, is Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Darnay is an heir to an aristocratic family. He displays exemplary honesty and great virtue. For example, Darnay made a commitment to Lucie's father that he would reveal to him his true identity (heir to the very cruel Evrémond family). Carton, however, is the extreme opposite. He is an unmannerly, unenthusiastic, drunken attorney. His love for Lucie Manette occupies most of his thoughts. However, he has a revolution within himself and transforms from a simple person with no prospects into an honorable hero. When Sydney Carton dies, his sacrifice is meant to give Lucie, Charles, and even Carton a better life. His death is supposed to resemble a "Christlike" figure whose death is meant to rescue the lives of others. He will be symbolically resurrected into the souls of the people who his life touched.

Furthermore, the book covers the everlasting battle between the peasantry and the aristocracy. The main social classes in this book are peasantry and aristocracy. In France, the peasants are very weak in power and indigent. They are forced to follow laws, such as bowing when a group of monks strolled by, with cruel and unnecessary punishments some even severe as death. The Aristocrats, on the other hand, are extraordinarily wealthy in both power and money. They care none about the welfare of human beings other than themselves. They rule and enjoy France with much elegance and incredibly immense residences. Dickens writes, "...sentencing youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards." It is shown here that the aristocrats can make up any law the peasants are compelled to follow. The aristocracy bullied the peasants to a certain point, where the peasants had to revolt.

Finally, the breaking of the wine bottle and the running over a peasant boy are two events that showcase the entire revolt between the peasants and aristocrats. First, In San Antoine, a vessel of wine fell and spilled the liquid, forming a puddle in the middle of the busy street. Dickens said, "All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine." The residents of this impoverished-suburb are so uncommonly poor, that the second they heard the glass shattering against the cobblestone road, they all sprinted to the miniscule puddle of wine in attempt of getting a unsatisfying taste of it. The second event was when Charles Darnay's uncle, Marquis Evrémond, ran over a peasant boy with his carriage. It is revealed that the aristocrats disclosed no regard for any other life that was of a lower status then their own.

In summation, throughout the book, Dickens creates a sense of doubles and contrasts from the first sentence. The themes of the book correspond with the doubles in characters, social classes, and events. The book is evident to the yearning for freedom of all people. Therefore, even though "A Tale of Two Cities" was set in the seventeen hundreds, it has relevance in modern society and future.

Bibliography:Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Signet Classics, 1997.