Use of Repetition in "A Tale of Two Cities"

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Repetition is one of the linguistic devices of which Charles Dickens is very fond, and the novelist makes things easy for his readers by his constant repetitions, and his habitual phrases are remembered by readers who are not used to reading with close attention. Dickens’s stylistic use of repetition reaches its climax in A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Therefore, it is fruitful to deal with the language of Dickens, especially that of A Tale of Two Cities, from the point of view of repetition in order to explore his linguistic artistry with which the novelist, inheriting the language of the 18th century, improved upon the style of English prose. In fact, Dickens exploits various types of repetition, that is, repetition of sounds, morphemes, words, phrases, and sentences for various stylistic purposes, such as association, implication, irony, characterization, or verbal iconicity. However, in this paper I focus my attention on the repetitive use of words or phrases.

“Dickens makes a broader use of the symbols and allegories that had long been dear to him.” (Monod) In reality, A Tale of Two Cities is full of repeated imagery and symbolic patterns. We hear again and again the footsteps and the rising storm; we see the drinking of wine and the staining blood. This novel achieves linguistic and stylistic contiguity through the repeated use of symbolic words like “footstep,” “echo,” and “wine,” “blood,” which are closely related to the subject matter of the novel. To put it another way, repetition of symbolic words fulfills an important function of promoting the thematic cohesion, by which the themes of this novel are brought to light.

Here, I concentrate my attention on the repetition of the key word “wine,” and its related words “red” and “blood.” These words often co-occur with one another, and convey additional and different meanings as well as their own specific meanings, in accordance with the scenes or contexts, especially between the English and the French scenes.

The word “wine” occurs 120 times, “red” 56 times, and “blood” 35 times in total.11 The chapters of the novel are divided into three groups: English chapters, French chapters, and English-French chapters, depending on the location of the incidents in each chapter.

It is often pointed out that the word “wine” and its related words “red” and “blood” frequently co-occur as an indication of the French Revolution’s slaughter and bloodshed. This does not reveal how the words create the symbolical imagery of the bleeding Revolution. Needless to say, the Revolution’s slaughter and bloodshed are not simply hinted at and represented through the repetition and co-occurrence of these three words, but the related words co-occurring with them in the same contexts contribute to creating the bloody imagery.

The different or contrastive use of repeated words in the English and the French scenes in A Tale of Two Cities enables the reader to realize the author’s deliberate exploitation of words in terms of the subject matter, that is to say, contrast between the two cities. The repetition of “plane-tree” together with that of “pleasant” serves to create a favorable family atmosphere in the English scenes. In sharp contrast to this, in the French scenes, the words “fountain” and “fate” directly convey some of the dominant themes of the book: death, future life, fate, and resurrection. It seems that Dickens suggests the inevitable outbreak of the French Revolution and the characters’ sealed destinies through the verbal associations of such repetitive words arranged mainly in the French scenes. It is worth examining the repetitive use of “plane-tree” and “fountain” more closely and concretely. The words convey not only their own meanings but additional ones as well, for instance, foreshadowing.

One example of the repeated use of “plane-tree” and “pleasant” in the English scenes can be observed in passage (8):

(8) On this occasion, Miss Pross, responding to...
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