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A TALE OF TWO CITIES: LITERARY ANALYSIS
The idyllic mood in the courtyard is interrupted by rain, just as the mood
of the story begins to shift. Darnay's story about something buried in
the prison has a disturbing effect on Dr. Manette, for it seems to revive
painful memories. Once inside, tea is served by an upset Miss Pross, who
grows more irritated upon the arrival of Carton. The premonitions of Lucie
and Carton are negative and hint at disastrous things to come.
Monseigneur, the Marquis, is an influential member of the ruling oligarch, known for his selfishness. He sits in his Parisian suite drinking chocolate served by four men. Various members of high society congregate in his reception rooms. Their fancy dress and false conversations are reflective of their pretentious natures. Known for their disinterest and uselessness, they are engaged in occupations about which they know little and which interest them little.
Monseigneur makes a brief public appearance during which he scorns one of the petitioners; it is Marquis St. Evremonde, a man of about sixty. He is handsomely dressed and has a haughty manner. His pale face is clearly defined like a fine mask. Evremonde is infuriated at the slight and curses Monseigneur to the devil.
The Marquis takes his carriage through the streets of Paris with his coachman driving recklessly, unchecked by his master. There have been many complaints about the rash driving by the aristocracy that has endangered and maimed many a commoner, but Evremonde does not care. When his carriage swoops around a corner, one of the wheels comes to a sickening jolt. There is a loud cry from a number of voices, and the horses rear and force the carriage to halt. The frightened valet gets down hurriedly, while the Marquis calmly asks what the matter is. A child has been killed by the carriage, and a thin man, Gaspard, is bent over the body, howling loudly. After a while he gets up and rushes to the Marquis, arms in the air, yelling, "Killed" and "Dead." The people gather around without hostility or anger.
The Marquis scornfully tosses a gold coin on to the street and announces that the people should take better care of their children and themselves. He is more worried about his horses than the dead child. Gaspard cries out again, but is stopped by the quick arrival of another man, for whom the others make way. Gaspard breaks down and sobs on the man’s shoulder while pointing to the lifeless bundle lying near the fountain. The man tells Gaspard to be brave. He then says that it is probably better that the child has died without pain rather than living in misery. This man knows that the poor never have so much as an hour of happiness. The Marquis calls him a philosopher and asks him his name. The man identifies himself as Defarge, a wine merchant. The Marquis throws a gold coin at him and again asks his coachman about his horses since he is ready to leave.
Suddenly a coin flies into the Marquis’ carriage. The Marquis demands to know
who has thrown it, looking at the spot where Defarge had stood a moment
before. Gaspard, the wretched father, is still groveling on the pavement.
Standing next to him is a dark, stout woman, who is knitting. Since no
one will answer him, the Marquis curses them all and says that he would
gladly ride over any of them, especially the rascal that threw the coin.
The common people are so cowed by the aristocracy that no one dares to
speak or even raise a hand or eye. They know from personal experience
that aristocratic men often inflict great harm. Mrs. Defarge is the only
woman in the group that seems to have any stamina to stand up to the Marquis.
As she knits, she looks the Marquis squarely and steadily in the face.
The Marquis' contemptuous stare passes over her; he then motions for the
driver to go on. Very shortly, other carriages, carrying members of high
society, follow the Marquis, nonchalantly passing the spot of tragedy.
In this chapter, the ostentation of the rich contrasts sharply with the utter misery and deprivation of the poor. There is an air of unreality and emptiness in the way the aristocracy spends its time, either at receptions or at the opera house. Ironically, the stark reality of the majority of the population never seems to enter the consciousness of the wealthy. The description of the Monseigneur's rooms in Paris and the reception he holds seem almost like a fairy tale in contrast to the reality of how most people live. The Monseigneur himself is an ogre, and the petitioner, Evremonde, is likened to a tigerish sorcerer about to transform himself. Evremonde also takes the role of a wicked uncle of folklore, who takes away his nephew's fortune. In this novel, however, it is the nephew, Darnay, who renounces his inheritance.
The reckless and inhumane way that Evremonde’s carriage travels through the streets of Paris is a comment on the manner in which the aristocracy rules the nation. The poor are totally disregarded, as evidenced in the death of the child; Evremonde is more concerned about his horses than the common people. To clear his conscience of the death, he flippantly tosses a gold coin to the grieving father.
Gaspard, the man who wrote blood on the wall in an earlier chapter, is the father of the dead child. He is greatly grieved over the “murder”, and his hatred of the aristocracy is simply fanned. Defarge appears on the scene to see what is going on. He comforts the grieving father and issues revolutionary words about the plight of the poor. Defarge's sardonic advice is missed by the Marquis. In fact, the Marquis is so impressed by his words, that he tosses Defarge a gold coin. It is the sinister figure of Madame Defarge, the dark, stout woman who is always knitting, who bravely throws the coin back at him. She is also the only person who looks this hated man in the eye.
This is a very important chapter, for it is filled with irony and significant
events. The callous and ruthless behavior of Evremonde towards the unfortunate
father and the rest of the gathered crowd is representative of the oppressive
attitude of the aristocracy towards the poor and downtrodden. It is ironic
that the father of the dead child is Gaspard, who has already been pictured
as an outspoken revolutionary. It is significant that Defarge arrives
on the scene to prove that he is still an effective leader, the mouthpiece
of revolutionary thought. It is also significant that Madame Defarge throws
the coin back at Evremonde, indicating the common people are tired of
the oppression and ready to fight back. Dickens’ sympathy is obviously
against the nobility and with the suffering masses.
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