Tale Of Two Cities Charictarization Essay, Research Paper
-LUCIE MANETTE (DARNAY)
One way you may approach Lucie Manette is as the central figure of
the novel. Think about the many ways she affects her fellow
characters. Although she is not responsible for liberating her
father, Dr. Manette, from the Bastille, Lucie is the agent who
restores his damaged psyche through unselfish love and devotion. She
maintains a calm, restful atmosphere in their Soho lodgings,
attracting suitors (Charles Darnay, Stryver, Sydney Carton) and
brightening the life of family friend Jarvis Lorry.
Home is Lucie’s chosen territory, where she displays her fireside
virtues of tranquility, fidelity, and motherhood. It’s as a symbol
of home that her centrality and influence are greatest. Even her
physical attributes promote domestic happiness: her blonde hair is a
“golden thread” binding her father to health and sanity, weaving a
fulfilling life for her eventual husband, Charles Darnay, and their
Lucie is central, too, in the sense that she’s caught in several
triangles–the most obvious one involving Carton and Darnay. Lucie
marries Darnay (he’s upcoming and handsome, the romantic lead) and
exerts great influence on Carton.
A second, subtler triangle involves Lucie, her father, and Charles
Darnay. The two men share an ambiguous relationship. Because Lucie
loves Darnay, Dr. Manette must love him, too. Yet Darnay belongs to
the St. Evremonde family, cause of the doctor’s long imprisonment,
and is thus subject to his undying curse. Apart from his ancestry,
Darnay poses the threat, by marrying Lucie, of replacing Dr. Manette
in her affections.
At the very end of the novel you’ll find Lucie caught in a third
triangle–the struggle between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge. Miss
Pross, fighting for Lucie, is fighting above all for love. Her
triumph over Madame Defarge is a triumph over chaos and vengeance.
Let’s move now from Lucie’s influence on other characters to Lucie
herself. Sydney Carton, who loves Lucie devotedly, labels her a
“little golden doll.” Carton means this ironically–he’s hiding his
true feelings from Stryver–but some readers have taken his words at
face value. They see Lucie as a cardboard creation, and her
prettiness and family devotion as general traits, fitting Dickens’
notions of the ideal woman.
Readers fascinated with Dickens’ life have traced Lucie’s origins to
Ellen Ternan, the 18-year-old actress Dickens was infatuated with
while writing A Tale. Ellen was blonde, and she shared Lucie’s habit
of worriedly knitting her brows. Of course, the artist who draws on
real life nearly always transforms it into something else, something
Finally, consider viewing Lucie allegorically–as a character acting
on a level beyond the actual events of the story. Dickens frequently
mentions Lucie’s golden hair. The theme of light versus dark is one
that runs all through A Tale, and Lucie’s fair hair seems to ally her
with the forces of light. The force of dark seems to come from
Lucie’s opposite in most respects, the brunette Madame Defarge.
Sydney Carton dies on the guillotine to spare Charles Darnay. How
you interpret Carton’s sacrifice–positively or negatively–will
affect your judgment of his character, and of Dickens’ entire work.
Some readers take the positive view that Carton’s act is a triumph of
individual love over the mob hatred of the Revolution. Carton and
the seamstress he comforts meet their deaths with great dignity. In
fulfilling his old promise to Lucie, Carton attains peace; those
watching see “the peacefullest man’s face ever beheld” at the
guillotine. In a prophetic vision, the former “jackal” glimpses a
better world rising out of the ashes of revolution, and long life for
Lucie and her family–made possible by his sacrifice.
This argument also links Carton’s death with Christian sacrifice and
love. When Carton makes his decision to die, the New Testament verse
beginning “I am the Resurrection and the Life” nearly becomes his
theme song. The words are repeated a last time at the moment Carton
dies. In what sense may we see Carton’s dying in Darnay’s place as
Christ-like? It wipes away his sin, just as Christ’s death washed
clean man’s accumulated sins.
For readers who choose the negative view, Carton’s death seems an act
of giving up. These readers point out that Stryver’s jackal has
little to lose. Never useful or happy, Carton has already succumbed
to the depression eating away at him. In the midst of a promising
youth, Carton had “followed his father to the grave”–that is, he’s
already dead in spirit. For such a man, physical death would seem no
sacrifice, but a welcome relief.
Some readers even go so far as to claim that Carton’s happy vision of
the future at the novel’s close is out of place with his overall
gloominess. According to this interpretation, the bright prophecies
of better times ahead are basically Dickens’ way of copping out, of
pleasing his audience with a hopeful ending.
If Sydney Carton’s motives seem complicated to you, try stepping back
and viewing him as a man, rather than an influence on the story.
He’s a complex, realistic character. We see him so clearly, working
early morning hours on Stryver’s business, padding between table and
punch bowl in his headdress of sopping towels, that we’re able to
feel for him. Have you ever known someone who’s thrown away his
talent or potential, yet retains a spark of achievement, as well as
people’s sympathy? That’s one way of looking at Sydney Carton.
Dickens adds an extra dimension to Carton’s portrait by giving him a
“double,” Charles Darnay. For some readers, Carton is the more
memorable half of the Carton/Darnay pair. They argue that Dickens
found it easier to create a sympathetic bad character than an
interesting good one. Carton’s own feelings toward his look-alike
waver between admiration and hostility. But see this for yourself,
by noticing Carton’s rudeness to Darnay after the Old Bailey trial.
When Darnay has gone, Carton studies his image in a mirror, realizing
that the young Frenchman is everything he might have been–and
therefore a worthy object of hatred.
It’s interesting that both Carton and Darnay can function in two
cultures, English and French. Darnay, miserable in France, becomes a
happy French teacher in England. In a kind of reversal, Carton, a
lowly jackal in London, immortalizes himself in Paris.
Carton and Darnay have one further similarity–the doubles may
represent separate aspects of Dickens. If we see Darnay as Dickens’
light side, then Carton corresponds to an inner darkness. The
unhappy lawyer is a man of prodigious intelligence gone to waste, a
man who fears he’ll never find happiness. These concerns mirror
Dickens’ own worries about the direction his career was taking in the
late 1850s, and about his disintegrating marriage. It’s been
suggested that Dickens, though a spectacularly successful writer, had
no set place in the rigid English class system. Regarded from this
perspective, Dickens, like Carton, was a social outsider.
Charles Darnay has many functions: he holds a place in the story, in
Dickens’ scheme of history, and in Dickens’ life. We can view him on
the surface as A Tale of Two Cities’ romantic lead. We can also look
for depth, starting at Darnay’s name.
St. Evremonde is Darnay’s real name. He is French by birth, and
English by preference, and emerges as a bicultural Everyman. He’s a
common, decent person, caught in circumstances beyond his control.
Darnay isn’t merely caught in the Revolution, he’s pulled by it, as
if by a magnet. He’s at the mercy of fate.
Besides fate, a leading theme, Darnay illustrates a second concern of
the novel: renunciation or sacrifice. He gives up his estate in
France, substituting for his old privileges the very unaristocratic
ideal of work. Darnay’s political liberalism and decision to earn
his own living (tutoring young Englishmen in French language and
literature) put him in conflict with his uncle, the Marquis St.
Evremonde. If you’ve ever disagreed with a member of your own
family, multiply your differences by ten and you’ll understand the
relationship between Charles Darnay and his uncle. The two men live
in different philosophical worlds. Young Darnay signals the new,
progressive order (though you’ll see that he’s never tagged a
revolutionary); the older Marquis sticks to the old, wicked ways.
The resemblance between Darnay and Sydney Carton is so marked that it
saves Darnay’s life at two critical junctures. As we’ve seen, the
two men are doubles. For many readers, they form halves of a whole
personality. Darnay is sunny and hopeful, representing the chance
for happiness in life; Carton is depressed and despairing. Both
characters compete for Lucie Manette, and both enact the novel’s
all-important theme of resurrection. If we think of Darnay, saved
twice by Carton’s intervention, as the resurrectee, then Carton
becomes the resurrector. (As you’ll recall, Carton in fact dies
imagining himself “the Resurrection and the Life.”)
Many readers have noted that “Charles Dickens” and “Charles Darnay”
are similar names, and they view Darnay as the bright,
forward-looking side of Dickens, the hero. Though he undergoes trial
and imprisonment, Darnay ultimately gets the girl and leads a long,
blissful life. He has a pronounced capacity for domestic happiness,
something Dickens yearned for.
There’s also been debate over whether Darnay is a fully realized
character or just a handsome puppet. You’ll have to reach your own
conclusions about Darnay, of course. In doing so, take into account
that Dickens intended his plot to define character, and was working
in a limited space–A Tale of Two Cities is one of his shortest
-DR. ALEXANDRE MANETTE
Dr. Manette’s release from the Bastille after 18 years of solitary
confinement sounds the first note in the theme of resurrection, and
sets Dickens’ plot in motion. The secret papers left in Manette’s
cell lead directly to A Tale’s climax, Charles Darnay’s sentence to
Does the doctor seem believable, a man of psychological depth? To
support a yes answer, look at Dickens’ rendering of a white-haired
man, just released from his living tomb, whose face reflects “scared,
blank wonder.” As the story continues, Dr. Manette’s spells of
amnesia feel authentic. Doesn’t it seem natural that Dr. Manette
returns to shoemaking–the task that preserved his sanity in the
Bastille–whenever he’s reminded of that dark period of his life?
Less believable for some readers is the journal Dr. Manette composes
in blood and haste, and hides in his cell. These readers find the
doctor’s journal long and melodramatic, and point to the dying
peasant boy, gasping a vengeful monologue, as an instance of realism
being sacrificed to drama.
From the point of view of the French Revolutionaries, Dr. Manette is
a living reminder of their oppression. They revere him for his
sufferings as a Bastille prisoner. During Darnay’s imprisonment in
Paris, Dr. Manette uses the Revolutionaries’ esteem to keep his
son-in-law alive. As a result, you watch him grow stronger,
regaining the sense of purpose he’d lost in the Bastille.
All through the story Jarvis Lorry protests that he’s nothing more or
less than a man of business. “Feelings!” he exclaims, “I have no
time for them.” Mr. Lorry’s time belongs to Tellson’s bank, “the
House,” his employer for over 40 years. Yet behind his allegiance to
business, Lorry hides a kind heart. When Dr. Manette responds to
Lucie’s marriage by falling into an amnesiac spell, Lorry deserts
Tellson’s for nine full days to look after his friend.
How closely does Lorry conform to modern ideas about bankers and
businessmen? He admittedly values the bank above himself, an
attitude you might consider old fashioned. Readers have described
him as the sort of clerk Dickens saw passing in his own day, and
mourned. Lorry compares favorably with the two other men of business
in the story: Stryver, the pushing lawyer, and Jerry Cruncher, the
“honest tradesman” who digs up bodies and sells them to medical
During the Revolution Tellson’s in London becomes a haven for
emigrant French aristocrats, the same aristocrats found guilty, a few
chapters earlier, of squeezing their peasants dry. How should you
view Tellson’s for sheltering an oppressing class? (Dickens has
already revealed that the cramped, dark bank resists change of any
sort.) More to the point, how should you judge Jarvis Lorry for
dedicating his life to such an establishment? Readers have suggested
that Dickens, despite his liberal politics, found the solidity of
institutions like Tellson’s appealing; the old bank and its banker,
Jarvis Lorry, represent a kind of bastion against the new, aggressive
ways of men like Stryver–and against the frenzied violence of the
Dickens is famous for tagging his characters with a habit, trait, or
turn of phrase. Just as Jarvis Lorry’s constant catchword is
“business,” so Madame Defarge’s defining activity is knitting.
Madame knits a register of those she’s marked for death, come the
revolution. This hobby links her closely with the novel’s theme of
fate. By referring to myth, we may interpret her as one of the
Fates–the Greek goddesses who first spin the thread of human life,
and then cut it off. But it’s not necessary to go beyond the story
for other equivalents to Madame Defarge’s fast-moving fingers.
Dickens implicitly contrasts her ominous craft with Lucie Manette’s
“golden thread,” or blonde hair. Lucie weaves a pattern of love and
light, holding her family together, while Madame Defarge never knits
a sweater, only death.
Occupying relatively little space in the novel, Madame Defarge has
nonetheless been called its most memorable character. She and her
husband have a curiously modern air. Perhaps you can imagine the
Defarges by picturing today’s guerrilla fighters in embattled
underdeveloped countries. Madame Defarge is a professional who knows
how to use political indoctrination. On a fieldtrip to Versailles
with the little mender of roads she identifies the dressed-up
nobility as “dolls and birds.” She’s teaching the mender of roads to
recognize his future prey.
As you read, try seeing Madame Defarge as neither political force nor
mythic figure, but as a human being. Her malignant sense of being
wronged by the St. Evremondes turns her almost–but not quite–into
a machine of vengeance. Dickens inserts details to humanize her:
she is sensitive to cold; when the spy John Barsad enters her shop,
she nods with “a stern kind of coquetry”; at the very end of the
book, making tracks for Lucie’s apartment, she strides with “the
supple freedom” of a woman who has grown up on the beach. Do you
think such “personal” touches make Therese Defarge less terrifying,
since she’s so clearly human? Or does she seem more nightmarish,
because, violent and vengeful, she’s one of us?
Keeper of the wine shop in Saint Antoine, leader of the attack on the
Bastille, Defarge is a man of divided loyalties. He owes allegiance
to 1. Dr. Manette, his old master; 2. the ideals of the
Revolution; 3. his wife, Therese. A strong, forceful character with
natural authority, Defarge can for a time serve three masters.
There’s no conflict of interest between taking in Dr. Manette after
his release from the Bastille and furthering the Revolution. Defarge
actually displays his confused charge to members of the Jacquerie–a
group of radical peasants–as an object lesson in government evil.
Only when Revolutionary fervor surges out of bounds are Defarge’s
triple loyalties tested. He refuses to aid Charles Darnay–Dr.
Manette’s son-in-law–when Darnay is seized as an aristocrat; by now
the orders are coming from Defarge’s bloodthirsty wife. Goaded by
Madame, Defarge ends by denouncing Darnay and providing the evidence
(ironically, in Dr. Manette’s name) needed to condemn him. Defarge
stops just short of denouncing Dr. Manette and Lucie, too, but there
are hints from Madame and friends that he’d better start toeing the
Dickens leaves us with the thought that, finally, Defarge is
controlled by a force more powerful than politics, or even his wife.
In Sydney Carton’s last vision, Defarge and Madame Defarge perish by
the guillotine. Is it fate, irony, or historic inevitability that
kills them? You decide.
Eccentric, mannish-looking Miss Pross is a type of character familiar
to readers of Dickens’ novels. Beneath her wild red hair and
outrageous bonnet, she’s as good as gold, a fiercely loyal servant.
Dickens places Miss Pross in the plot by means of her long-lost
brother. Solomon Pross is revealed to be John Barsad, Old Bailey spy
and “sheep of the prisons.”
Miss Pross’ two defining characteristics are her devotion to Lucie
and Solomon, and her stalwart Britishness. When Madame Defarge
marches in, armed, to execute Lucie and her family, Miss Pross
understands the Frenchwoman’s intent–but not a word she says. Miss
Pross has refused to learn French.
Miss Pross’ blind patriotism and devotion work to her advantage.
She’s empowered by love. Mistaking Miss Pross’ tears of resolve for
weakness, Madame Defarge moves toward a closed door, and in a heated
struggle is shot by her own pistol. A Tale of Two Cities isn’t
markedly anti-France or pro-England, but Miss Pross’ victory may
strike you as a victory for her country, too.
Dickens dislikes Stryver. You may be hard put to find a single
lovable feature in this “shouldering” lawyer, who has been “driving
and living” ever since his school days with Sydney Carton. Yet the
ambitious Stryver–his name a neat summing up of the man–is making
his way in the world. With little talent for law, he pays the doomed
but brilliant Carton to do his work for him. For the Stryvers of
society, ambition and unscrupulousness count far more than skill.
Dickens’ Stryver is one of the new men of industrialized Victorian
England. Abhorring his progress in real life, Dickens renders him
the butt of jokes and scorn in the novel: Stryver’s three adopted
sons, though not of his flesh and blood, seem tainted by the mere
Dickens’ portrayal of Stryver as the man we love to hate seems rather
one-sided. Does this make him a more memorable creation, or of
limited interest? Notice how sharply Stryver is drawn in individual
scenes–during his midnight work sessions with Carton, and in his
conferences with Lorry about marrying Lucie. But once Lucie is
married, and Darnay returns to France, Stryver drops out of the
story. His role as the object of Dickens’ satire is at an end.
For some readers, spiky-haired Jerry Cruncher supplies an element of
humor in an otherwise serious novel. Other readers claim that the
Cockney odd-job man who beats his wife for “flopping” (praying) isn’t
a particularly funny fellow. Cruncher’s after hours work is digging
up newly buried bodies and selling them to surgeons, which may not
seem a subject for comedy. But it does contribute, in two important
ways, to A Tale’s development.
Cruncher’s grave robbing graphically illustrates the theme of
resurrection: he literally raises people from the dead. (Victorian
grave robbers were in fact nicknamed “resurrection men.”)
One of the plot’s biggest surprises hinges on Cruncher’s failed
attempt to unearth the body of Roger Cly, the spy who testified with
John Barsad against Charles Darnay. In France, years after his
graveyard expedition, Cruncher discloses that Cly’s coffin contained
only stones and dirt. This information enables Sydney Carton to
force Barsad, Cly’s partner, into a plot to save Charles Darnay’s
As for Cruncher’s moral character, a brush with Revolutionary terror
reforms him. He promises to make amends for his former “honest
trade” by turning undertaker, burying the dead instead of raising
them. In the last, tense pages of the novel, Cruncher’s vow, “never
no more will I interfere with Mrs. Cruncher’s flopping,” finally
strikes a humorous chord. It’s darkly comic relief.
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