Blinded by Revenge: An Analysis of Charles Dicken’s Novel, A Tale of Two Cities By Trudy A. Martinez
Charles Dicken’s novel, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, a fictitious historical novel, presents a narrow view of history through fictional individuals who link real and imaginary individual figures and events. You are reminded immediately that the novel is historical by the authors use of the past tense. There is a theme of balance though out the novel, i. e. , a social commentary on rich and poor, a narrative between two cities, London and Paris, and two languages, English and French, which reigned under two kings, “George III — on the throne of England,” and “Louis XVI — on the throne of France”. Charles Dickens, the author, designed the novel to give the reader a perception of confusion, chaos, and paradox while at the same time leaving the interpretation open. Dickens technique of linking fictional individuals and fictional events with actual figures and events in history is very successfully achieved as it gives the reader a strong sense of the attitudes and the beliefs of the individuals and the cultures, English and French, from the beginning of the novel to the end, as a result history comes alive. The atmosphere and tone of the whole novel is set in the opening line. Although the story begins in “the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred seventy-five,” the plot begins in the year one thousand seven hundred fifty-seven.
“It was the best of times”
The nobles had maintained their privileged status, the church continued to support the corrupt government; the bourgeoisie, the upper middle class, had prospered, increasing in wealth and status, some used foresight, purchased titles, thereby exempting them from taxes and the dual standards employed within the society of classes.
“It was the age of wisdom”
The scientific community had made discoveries in the 17th century that revolutionized the thought processes; those processes were carried further in the 18th century which saw further achievements in astronomy, chemistry, and biology. New ideas emerged resulting in inventions that would progressively aid industry.
“It was the season of light”
Reaction to the age of wisdom and foolishness produced the age of reason; then subsequently a new idealism, in opposition to materialism, and finally humanitarianism and an increased emphasis on reform movements in answer to problems that faced society.
“It was the season of darkness”
The upper-middle-class on down to the peasantry had begun to lose their faith in the system. Over population had increased along with taxation. Oppression was on the rise, illness, disease, abuse, and death had increased dramatically. All hopes of improvement were fading rapidly. Louis XVI attempted through his ministers to initiate financial reforms by imposing moderate land taxes, cuts in royal household expenses, and abolishing some pensions, but met with opposition from the nobles of the court and the queen. The minister of finance. Robert Turgot was dismissed. Ministers that followed met with resistance and failed. Louis XVI personal attempts to institute new taxes failed due to the strong opposition of the privileged class.
“It was the spring of hope”
Louis XVI had seen the light and was attempting to change the system. Louis called for an assembly of notables, he appealed to them for understanding. They strongly rejected the request. Under duress and coaxing of the nobles, Louis XVI summoned the “Estates-General,” delegates were selected; all tax-paying male householders were allowed to vote. Elected delegates were provided lists of wanted reforms. Middle-class intellectuals and politicians sought to create a constitutional monarchy using the English and American forms of government as examples. The states general assembly produced the “Tennis Court Act:, their promise not to disband until a constitution was produced. The assembly defied the king’s order to reconvene as separate estates and declared themselves the “National Constituent Assembly of France”. Louis XVI unwilling accepted the National assembly, but had troops moved to the vicinity of Versailles. Fearing military interference, the middle-class panicked and called for popular support, joined by shopkeepers and the working class, they stormed the Bastille and liberated the prisoners.
“It was the winter of despair”
The previous winters had not been pleasant, in fact, they had been quiet rough for the oppressed with their subsistence existence, death, and the injustice within society. Their future had not promised much hope.
Dickens set the path of the characters in the novel by linking the two cities, London and Paris, through the business of a bank, Tellson’s Bank, and one of its employees, Mr. Jarvis Lorry. Mr. Lorry’s various duties with Tellson’s Bank brings him in contact with the lives of others within the two cities. One of his duties is to assist a customer of the bank who was liberated from prison, “Recalled to Life,” at the storming of the Bastille by angry mobs. Mr. Lorry was to reunite him with his daughter who was unaware of his existence and living in London. This liberated man’s story of arrest is the plot which began in the year one thousand seven hundred fifty-seven. Through contacts with this man, his daughter, and others and their subsequent contact with others broadens the scope of the reader’s perception of the two separate cultures, English and French, within a society and the development of the two separate nation states, England and France. This approach encompasses the lives of the people of all walks, i. e. , the nobles, the middle-classes, the working class, and the peasantry, and adds to the perception of the reader as Dickens intended. Dickens goes on to give life and vitality to history when he interjects vivid physical descriptions and mental attributes which includes but is not limited to the dress, manners, status, style and the wants and needs of each class level. Dickens then brings into focus the attitudes and climate of society within the two nation states by focusing attention on the individuals of each class level. Dickens then brings into focus the attitudes and climate of society within the two nation states by focusing attention on the individuals of each class within the structure of each government, i. e., constitutional monarchy and absolute monarchy which is attempting to change. Thus, Dickens focus on individuals allows the reader to perceive the personal attitudes of the individuals which gives logic and reason to their level of self-esteem, their suspicions, beliefs, mastery, and behavior through the association of their religion, learning, achievement, and past experience. As a result of the perception of the individuals, the reader’s personal, general, perception of attitudes and behavior of the rich and the poor and the practices and developments within the two governments are conceived. Dickens literary maneuver give the structure of justice and injustice which in turn defines and distinguishes the good and the evil in the nation states. The difference became the distinguishable quality of the two nations states. The quality of the two established nations is reflected by their ability to recognize and effectively change the states of the middle-class in a timely manner when they are faced with threats of revolution. The English under the reign of George III in conjunction with parliament manage to revitalize its middle-class with hopes of a better future, whereas, the French, under the reign of Louis XVI fails when attempts are made to change the system at the expense of the nobles and the clergy, because the nobles failed to recognize and act upon the need of “hope” in a timely manner. This ignorance of the “magic” ingredient “Hope” as a measure to pacify and avoid revolution resulted in their world changing.
Then suddenly everything went “topsy-turvy”: the present was confronted with the past. The good, i.e., the king, the nobles, the upper-classes became the symbols of evil; the middle-class, the working class, and the peasantry became the symbol of good. The upper-middle-class members of the French National Assembly had panicked when all their hopes of reformation were lost; they appealed for popular support and were joined by the urban workers and the peasantry. Turmoil and violence ensued. The assembly moved to make concessions, but it was too little, too late. The fury had been unleashed; Moderates control to change the order of things was diminishing. The Radical voice of the Jacobins was growing stronger. The lower-classes were dissatisfied with their status, Louis was suspected of conspiring with the enemies when French armies suffered defeats. Proof of Louis conspiring brought down the limited monarchy when commander of the invading armies, Duke of Brunswick, threatened destruction of Paris if the king and his family were harmed. The ensuing fury brought control of the assembly to the Radicals. The moderates, Girondists, fled leaving the radicals, Jacobins, in control of the National assembly after debates resulted in the king’s execution.
“IT WAS THE WINTER OF DESPAIR;”
It was the season of darkness;
It was the age of foolishness;
It was the worst of times.”
The aristocrats found their abodes in the dark and dirty dungeons; their status symbols: knee breeches, beards, mustaches, titles, heritage, and manners became their condemnation, i. e., the oppressors became the oppressed. Their self-interest, greed, and ignorance prevented them from seeing the error of their ways.
when they had tried to correct the situation, it was too late. Death became their heritage, La Guillotine their throne.
“IT WAS THE SPRING OF HOPE;
It was the season of light;
It was the age of wisdom;
It was the best of times.”
The middle-classes, urban laborers, and the peasantry organized and united. Their cry, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death.” their colors, red and black, symbolic of blood and death. Blinded by revenge, they became the oppressor. They proudly took the titles of “Citizen” and “citizeness”. It was their age of reason coupled with hysteria. It was their “Republic of Virtue” that called for submission to the “General Will”. Social violence, fear, defensive behaviors reflected the attitudes of the times. “The Committee for Public Safety” and the tribunals brought about the “Reign of Terror” which unleashed suspicion and hatred; neighbor against neighbor. An uncontrollable machine that had corrupted the wheels of progress, headed by Robespierre.
Dickens had set the atmosphere and the tone of the novel in the opening lines; this atmosphere and tone was maintained throughout the novel because of the “topsy-turvy” affect revolution played upon its inhabitants. Dickens method of linking the two cities, London and Paris, the two languages, English and French, and the two nation states, England and France, through incorporation of fictional characters and fictional events into the historical setting gave perception to the reader of the times, the class divisions, the physical and mental attributes, the attitudes and climates of the two nation states, the injustice, revenge, the extremes, the good and evil, and the magic ingredient “hope” and the fury of revolution which resulted in mistrust, blood and death. Dickens made history come alive; feelings were brought to the surface as one of his characters were exposed to the “Reign of Terror”, imprisoned in an upside down world awaiting death by means of la guillotine. Dickens had succeeded in giving the reader a perception of life in revolution as he had intended; history was brought to life right before your eyes.