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Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities

By bluebubble3 Mar 07, 2006 2871 Words
A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, which occurred from 1789 until 1799 (Bulliet, 652). An eruption of feelings from the rising lower class broke way for Charles Dickens, the author, to write a novel filled with historical information intertwined with developed characters and actions to give a taste of how life was during the French Revolution. The historical events are embedded in the conflicts and through the characters of Marquis Evremonde, Doctor Manette, and Madame Defarge and their actions. The documents "The Progress of the Human Mind," the "Declaration of the Rights of Man," "On the Moral and Political principles of domestic policy," and "Reflections on the Revolution of France" are effective at accurately showing lifestyles of all classes and people. These documents portray the history precisely, and illuminate the positive and negative aspects to the way the French Revolution unraveled. The historical events are rooted in the character of Marquis Evremonde, a horrific man of who represents the French aristocrats. Marquis Evremonde, an aristocrat, runs over a child while heedlessly rushing home in his carriage. The child is the son of a poor man named Gaspard. Instead of apologizing, he blames the crowd for being in the way. Being more worried about his horses, Evremonde scornfully tosses a gold coin on to the street and announces that the people should take better care of their children and themselves. Defarge, a leader of the French Revolution, throws the coin back into Evremonde's carriage. Marquis curses them all and says that he would gladly ride over any of them, especially the rascal that threw the coin. "I would ride over any of you very willingly, and exterminate you from the earth"(Dickens, 102). This quotation affirms that Evremonde is so insensitive towards the lower class, he even feels the world would be better without their presence. The quotation implies that the pheasants are like rodents or pests to the aristocrats. Gaspard, angered by the lethargic insolence of Evremonde, joins the Defarges in the French Revolution, and hides under Evremonde's carriage and murders him at night. Gaspard becomes Jacques 1, one of the three revolutionaries who secretly plan the revolution. Evremonde's character represents the horror and power of the aristocracy. Other areas that showed the revulsion of the arisotcacy toward the poor were places associated by Doctor Manette. Doctor Manette alludes to the historical evidence by his memories of the prison called the Bastille, the Tellson's bank and the Tower of London. This prison swarms with prisoners accused of speaking out against France at the beginning of the novel. Dr. Manette had been an innocent victim of aristocratic oppression for eighteen years, causing him loss of memory and no desire to live. Though the Bastille later imprisons the aristocrats when the French Revolution rises, the Bastille is covered in memories of the atrocious aristocrat. The horrors of the aristocrats live on inside Dr. Manette so well, that when he finds out that his daughter Lucie Manette, married a family member of the Evremonde's, he withdraws into his state he was in while imprisoned and appears old, scared, and lost. He cobbles shoes, which he only does when he is miserable and haunted by memories of the Bastille. Charles Dickens describes that the Tellson Bank (an English bank that had a branch in Paris and catered to the aristocratic clients) as similar to the great Bastille prison, in how it holds many dark secrets, promotes death, and buries people alive. "It was an old fashioned place…the partners in the House were proud of its smallness, proud of its darkness, proud of its ugliness, proud of its incommodiousness" (Dickens, 46). The Tower of London (a prison Darnay was imprisoned in) also shows the atrocities of the aristocrats. Darnay tells Dr. Manette and others a story of how workmen had apparently come upon an old dungeon, unused for a long time, with names of prisoners carved upon the walls. While digging below a corner stone, where a prisoner had carved the word dig, they found the ashes of a paper along with the ashes of a leather bag. The story of the prison unnerves Dr. Manette, once again revealing the effects of the dreadfulness of the aristocrats. The historical events of the French Revolution can also be illustrated by the character Charles Darnay. The character Madame Defarge's actions shows the historical events embedded in the plot. The French Revolution was a time of distrust and accusation. Monsieur Defarge worked years before as a servant for Dr. Manette. Madame Defarge's brother was killed and her sister was molested by Marquis Evremonde. Madame Defarge is observant and controls much of the French Revolution. She incessantly knits the names of all the aristrocrats who do harm to the lower class into her scarf ("registers them"). When she hears that Lucie Manette (Dr. Manette's daughter) is marrying Charles Darnay, who is Evremonde's relative, she immediately registers Darnay, and wants him dead. "Her husband's (Charles Darnay) destiny…will take him where he is to go, and will lead him to the end that is to end him"(Dickens,170). Madame Defarge is thirsty for revenge, and when the Revolution rises, Darnay is imprisoned. Darnay had been imprisoned before (accused of being a traitor to George III, King of England, by assisting Louis XVI, King of France, in his wars against England) and the mob is relentless. Darnay, a good man, is convicted since he is in the Evremonde family. Though he changed his name and disagrees with his family's actions, he is denied justice, and is convicted guilty. Darnay is luckily saved by a lawyer named Sydney Carton, who cleverly saved him during his first trial. He is a struggling alcoholic whose only happiness in life is his love of Lucie Manette, whom he promises to die so the one she loves can live. Carton fulfills this promise when Darnay (whom Lucie loves) is sent to the guillotine. Because of their ironic similarities in appearance (they have opposing personalities), Carton takes Darnay's place and sacrifices himself. Madame Defarge's character highlights the historical events of the French Revolution, just as many documents from the French Revolution addresses the issues of the French Revolution. The documents of "The Progress of the Human Mind," "On the Moral and Political principles of domestic policy," "Declaration of the Rights of Man", and "Reflections on the Revolution in France" impacts the plot, conflict, setting as well as character's actions in The Tale of Two Cities. The French Revolution brutally transformed France from a monarchy with a rigid social hierarchy into a nation where the social structure with the middle class and lower class gained more power, temporarily (Bulliet, 553). A Tale of Two Cities covers a period of eighteen years. It starts in 1775, fourteen years before the fall of the Bastille and continues until the Reign of Terror (1792-1793). Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities an effect of the French Revolution. Many theories and opinions erupted about the French Revolution; some which are seen through historical documents such as "The Progress of the Human Mind." The essay "The Progress of the Human Mind" by Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet discussed the way the ideas of the enlightenment spread through Europe but were hindered by the French Revolution. Condorcet believed that the French Revolution was too violent. Condorcet's view of the Revolution being too violent was accurately shown through the plot of A Tale of Two Cities in the viciousness of the mob. For example, Darnay is a member of the Evremonde family, but chooses to change his name because he disagrees with his family's actions; he is a good and honest gentleman who thinks the aristocrats should not exploit the poor, but instead help the poor. When Madame Defarge finds out that Darnay is a member the Evremonde family, she immediately wants him killed, and persuades the mob to seek his death. In the first trial, Dr. Manette convinces the people of his son- in-law's innocence, and Darnay is discharged. However, in the next trial Darnay is convicted. Darnay is brought in front of the same unjust Tribunal. According to the Public Prosecutor three people denounce Darnay: the Defarges and Dr. Manette. Dr. Manette is confused, until Defarge explains that he found a certain paper in the walls of Dr. Manette's Bastille cell. The whole courtroom waits eagerly to hear the contents of the letter. He reads the manuscript. Dr. Manette's letter is full of revenge, abduction, cruelty, victimized women, nervous breakdowns, curses, and prisons The letter also solves several mysteries of the novel, illustrating Madame Defarge's motivations. The manuscript discloses that the peasant family was Madame Defarge's family, and also unveils Darnay's lineage and motive. The manuscript explains how Dr. Manette was jailed, the shock that propelled Dr. Manette into his old mental state after Lucie's wedding. After Darnay reads the letter, he crowd wants vengeance. The jury then unanimously votes that Darnay is to be executed. Though Carton with the help of Barsad (Miss Pross's brother who works at the prison) saves Darnay, the violence of the mob is unmasked through A Tale of Two Cities. The lower class wanted their voices to be heard, but Dickens is showing that he felt the Revolutionists (Defarges and Mob) went a little too far. The Third Estate of France, the class representing all non-aristocratic citizens, from the bourgeoisie to the beggars, declared themselves the National Assembly, and wrote a new constitution limiting monarchial power. Condorcet felt the ideas of the revolution were relevant, but the approach was corrupt. The essay elucidates that the foundation of laws was needed in order to progress. "The only foundation of the natural sciences is the principle that the general laws…which regulate the phenomena of the universe are regular and constant…"(Condorcet, 140). Condorcet's view was shared by Darnay, the Manettes, and Sydney Carton, who felt that the mob violence was too intense to achieve a beneficial result. Darnay, the Manettes, and Mr. Carton tried to prove Darnay's innocence and redeem his freedom against the Defarges. Though they agreed the aristocrats were doing harm, they did not fight. Condorcet believed the French Revolution was too aggressive, but not all people felt the same way; some felt brutality was necessary. The opposing view from Condorcet, seen in the essay "On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy" by Maximelien Robespierre, remarks that violence was necessary in the defense of liberty, noting "…as the sword that gleams in the hands of the heroes of liberty resembles that which the henchmen of tyranny are armed." The lower class felt that because they had no representation in the government, the only way they could achieve attention of the aristocrats was to use cruelty and violence. The necessity of violence can be shown through the characters of Madame Defarge and Monsier Defarge, who have been repressed by the aristocrats and want ultimate revenge. The Revolution slowly emerges, after a buildup of impatience. There are events that illustrate the continued cruelty and the growing impatience of the mob. For example, Foulon, an aristocrat who fakes his own death to protect himself, suggests that grass is an appropriate food for the pheasants. Another incident that exemplifies the cruelty of the aristocrats is Marquis Evremonde's apathy for the pheasants. The mob in the middle of the novel is sick of the punishment and ridicule they are receiving, and they explode and hang anyone associated with the aristocrats. The Defarges begin to start a revolution. Once the Revolution starts, the mob follows the Defarges diligently and hangs Foulon, Evremonde and other aristocrats at the guillotine. At the beginning of the novel (5 years before the revolution), the pheasants were upset, but the revolution did not start rolling until 1789. Furthermore, other documents besides "On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy" showed the historical accuracy and situations of the French Revolution. The representatives of the French people who were organized as the National Assembly wrote the constitution "Declaration of the Rights of Man" of 1789 which underscores that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man is the sole cause of public calamities and of the corruption of governments. The Declaration of Man set forth a solemn declaration of the natural, unalienable, and sacred rights of man (Stewart, 118). "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights"(Stewart, 118). In France, people were allowed rights granted by this document, however, it did not mean that they were enforced. This law represents the characters that felt that everybody should have equal rights such as the Defarges, Gaspard, and the Manettes, who wanted equality of the aristocrats and the pheasants. "Declaration of the Rights of Man" formulates that the revolution ultimately succeeded in one way or another, for the pheasants achieved a constitution that gave all citizens' equal rights, freedom of speech and religion. Other documents investigate other areas of the French Revolution. The essay, "Reflections on the Revolution in France" by Edmunde Burke was written in 1870. "Reflections on the Revolution in France" exposes a view that the revolutions meddle with the foundation of France, and the traditions France holds. The document stresses the hypocrisy of the Third Estate's choosing the leaders of the Revolution. "These false deputies have not even been elected by the people," declares the Third Estate did not even elect their own representatives. Burke communicates this hypocrisy and feels revolutions just cause the crumbling of a long standing powerful government. Dickens does not agree with Burke's views much, though he does agree with some of the hypocrisy. This can be shown through the fact the Defarges believe so strongly in individual rights, but do not let Darnay explain that though he is related to the Evremonde's he disagrees with the aristocrat's actions. "Reflections on the Revolution in France" conveys the opinion that the Revolution intervenes with the traditional government, and is somewhat hypocritical. In conclusion, Dickens feels that the French Revolution was for a good cause, but he indicates the Revolution had a few problems of carrying the revolution out in a manner that would produce a more peaceful transition. He expresses his views most clearly when he shows how uncaring the aristocrats were to the common people and pheasants. But he is able to shift his sympathy away from the mob of French patriot revolutionaries by showing some of the horrible things the revolutionaries did, such as putting people such as Darnay in jail for being in the same family as an aristocrat. He shows this hypocrisy since the French revolutionists were devoted to individuality, but later did not give Darnay a chance to show his individual choices separated him from his aristocratic family. A Tale of Two Cities is exceptionally detailed, balanced with a perfect mix of historical information and development of characters and plots. The plot is not too dull and shows both sides of the French Revolution. The linkages from the past to the French Revolution come together in the end. The book could have been a little less descriptive at some points, but Charles Dickens had a point to every piece of information he put in his story. The book is effective in giving a perspective of the French Revolution by showing the culture and giving the reader a taste of what life was truly like during the French Revolution. A Tale of Two Cities exaggerates a little bit with the fortunate escape of Darnay because of Carton's witty thinking. The process of putting Darnay to sleep and replacing Darnay with Carton is a complex plan that is unlikely to have truly succeeded in the French Revolution. However, A Tale of Two Cities is powerful at proclaiming the lifestyles of all classes and people, as well as showing the good aspects and negative aspects to the way the French Revolution unraveled.

Works Cited

Bulliet, Richard W., The Earth and Its Peoples; A Global History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 552-560.

Burke, Edmund. "Reflections on the Revolution in France". 1790: Rpt. In Johnson, Oliver A. Sources of World Civilization: Volume II: Connections and Conflict. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education: 2004. 153-157.

Condorcet, Antoine-Nicolas de. "Progress of a Human Mind." Rpt In Johnson, Oliver A. Sources of World Civilization: Volume II: Connections and Conflict. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education: 2004. 138-142.

"Declaration of the Rights of Man." 1789: Rpt In
Johnson, Oliver A. Sources of World Civilization: Volume II: Connections and Conflict. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education: 2004. 119-125.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Bantam Books, 1981. (Bantam Classic Edition 1859).

Johnson, Oliver A., Sources of World Civilization: Volume II: Connections and Conflict. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education: 2004.

"Robespierre, Maximelien." 1789.: Rpt In
Bulliet, Richard W., The Earth and Its Peoples; A Global History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 558-559

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