Free Study Guide: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - Free BookNotes|
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A TALE OF TWO CITIES: LITERARY CRITICISM / BOOK SUMMARY
Madame Defarge meets her end in this chapter, and the reader is made to feel that Dickens is almost too kind to her in the end, for she dies without pain or punishment. The fight between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge can be described as the clash of Titans. Both women are very strong and determined to get their way. Ironically, they fight over Lucie; but Miss Pross fights out of love for Lucie, and Madame Defarge fights out of hatred for her. When Miss Pross identifies her enemy as the wife of Lucifer, she is close to correct.
Dickens' faith in divine providence and the goodness of life is exemplified in the outcome of this struggle. In the end, love triumphs in the battle, and hatred is put to death in the figure of Madame Defarge. The outcome of this fight is parallel to the escape of Darnay. Because of Carton’s love of Lucie and his willingness to sacrifice himself to make her happy, love again triumphs over the hatred of the revolutionaries.
The pace in this penultimate chapter of the book is frenetic, and the atmosphere
is charged with great apprehension. Up until the preceding chapter, evil
has reigned supreme, with no victories for the innocents. In addition,
the reader has been made to fear Madame Defarge throughout the novel.
She comes to Lucie’s lodging with hatred in her heart and death on her
mind; she is armed with a knife and a gun. It would seem that Miss Pross
has little hope to succeed against this demon. The only way for Dickens
to handle the struggle positively is to end it with irony. It is Madame
Defarges own gun, used to kill many innocents, that accidentally goes
off and leads to her sudden and melodramatic death.
The fifty-two prisoners are carried in six tumbrels that grind through the cobbled streets of Paris. Carton stands at the back of the third tumbrel with his head bent down, trying to ignore the roar of the crowd. He talks to the young and frightened seamstress while holding her hand. He notices that in front of the guillotine, seated in chairs, are a large number of women knitting. One of the most noticeable women is The Vengeance; she looks frantically around in search of Madame Defarge.
The first tumbrels arrive, and the guillotine starts crashing. The women count
each head as it is held up. The third tumbrel arrives, and Carton steps
down, holding the hand of the seamstress. He places her with her back
to the guillotine; she looks bravely into his face and thanks him for
his kindness. Carton kisses her as she heads for the guillotine. He then
follows in a calm and victorious mood. As he goes to his death, Carton
has a vision that all the revolutionaries will follow him to the guillotine.
He also envisions the Darnay family living happily, making the sacrifice
of his wasted life very worthwhile. Carton is also pleased to think that
he will always be remembered and honored by the Darnays. His last thought
comes to full fruition when Lucie and Darnay name their son in honor Carton.
The title of the last chapter is significant. The echoing footsteps, symbolic of fear and heard throughout the novel by Lucie and Lorry, now die out forever. With the death of Madame Defarge, the Darnay family can now live in peace and freedom. Darnay no longer has to search for the lost sister; Dr. Manette no longer has to fear the Evremondes or his own revenge; and Lucy does not have to fear losing her husband. It is a happy ending for them, but it is bought with great tragedy.
Carton's sacrifice and Madame Defarge’s death are victories of the innocents over the revolutionaries. They are prophetic signs that the Reign of Terror cannot last forever; the patriots can be defeated and a better society will emerge. Lucie and Darnay’s son, named after Carton, is a symbol of hope for the future.
The final scene of Carton holding the hand of the seamstress as they ride
and depart the tumbrel is quite touching, almost too sentimental. But
it is the fitting visual end for Carton. He has made the ultimate sacrifice,
laying down his own life, because of his love for Lucie. It is, therefore,
quite appropriate that he comforts another young woman as he goes to his
death. He has become the symbol of the kind Savior. Through him, Dickens
implies that love is immortal because it comes from God. Carton's resurrection,
therefore, can be seen both in religious and secular terms. He will literally,
in name, be reborn through the son of Lucie and Darnay. He will also go
to eternal rest because of his ultimate sacrifice; he has redeemed his
wasted life. Appropriately, Carton’s last words end the novel: "It
is a far, far, better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far,
far, better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
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