A Tale of Two Cities 3

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Capitol Punishment: Toy of Evil Men

One might believe that because capital punishment plays such a large role in Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, that Dickens himself is a supporter of it. This just simply is not true. Dickens uses capitol punishment as a tool to define the evil embodied in both the French ruling class, and the opposing lower class during the French Revolution; as well as comment on the sheep-like nature of humankind. In the beginning of the novel, capital punishment serves as the "cure-all" for France’s social problems. After all, "death is nature’s remedy for all things, and why not legislation’s?" (62). It is this attitude that strikes fear into the lower class citizens, causing them to refrain from speaking out against their oppressors. Instead they are encouraged to "speak well of the law…and leave the law to take care of itself." (68). The fact is, that the blackened hearts of the aristocracy saw capital punishment as a convenience, rather than justice. The guillotine "cleared off (as to this world) the trouble of each particular case, and left nothing else with it to be looked after" (62). This negative light that the ruthless use of capital punishment casts upon the rulers of France is exactly what Dickens had intended. When the revolution actually takes place, the Jacques become drunk with bloodlust. Their methods of restoring order and peace are exactly the same as those they opposed: send anyone to the guillotine who disagrees with them. "They are murdering the prisoners," says Mr. Lorry to Darnay after arriving in France (260). Again Dickens uses capitol punishment as a way to show the reader the atrocities that humanity can create when consumed with hatred and evil. Dickens can be seen approaching the subject of the guillotine with cynical sarcasm when he writes, "it was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibly prevented the hair from turning...
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