Tale Of Two Cities Charictarization Essay Research

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

Tale Of Two Cities Charictarization Essay, Research Paper


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. 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

French mob.


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.