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Symbolism in A Tale of Two Cities Essay

A change can be noticed and identified by other changes. In the novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens uses symbolism, allusions, and foreshadowing to convey his attitude towards the French Revolution while also heightening the suspense of the upcoming turmoil.

Symbolism is used in A Tale of Two Cities to convey Charles Dickens’ attitude towards the upcoming revolution. Charles uses the sea as a symbol for the social unrest of the people of France, “the sea did what it liked and what it liked was destruction.”(22) The sea is used here as a representation of the rising French Revolution that was not only affecting France, but England as well, marking the start of rebellious actions that began to creep their way into the people’s minds. Though the signs of revolt are everywhere, Dickens gives Lucie Manette a look of hope and compassion in the dark world showing the women’s role of gaining trust and raising spirits for the ones involved in the Revolution.

Charles Dickens uses the spilt wine outside of Monsieur and Madame Defarge’s wine shop to symbolize the blood that is going to be spilt during the revolution when a, “large cask of wine,” was, “dropped and broken.”(32) The wine running through the streets is being used to symbolize the blood that is soon going to be running through the same streets during the Revolution. The fact that it was outside of Madame Defarge’s wine shop symbolizes the blood that is spilt around her throughout the remainder of the book.

Allusions are also used in this novel to convey Charles Dickens’ attitude towards the women in the French revolution. Madame Defarge is used as an allusion to The Fates from Greek mythology as she knit’s the names of the people she wants dead such as, “John,” the name she was, “deftly knitting.”(187) As Madame Defarge knit’s the names of her enemies she is effectively sealing their deadly fate. Though the women had little political intervention, they made themselves important in their own way, either giving themselves a bad reputation (Madame Defarge) or a good reputation (Lucie Manette).

Dickens also uses Lucie Manette as an allusion to The Fates from Greek mythology saying that, “She was the golden thread that united him to a past beyond his misery,”(84). Like the Fates and Madame Defarge, Lucie controls the destiny of the people around her though, unlike Madame Defarge, uses this control to bind the people into a better destiny. Lucie is a symbol of hope and compassion and Dickens conveys this through her ability to help people in the times of trouble, like the revolution that the French are about to set off.

Foreshadowing is used in A Tale of Two Cities to heighten the suspense of the upcoming French Revolution. The wine running through the streets is a symbol, but is also used to foreshadow the spilling of blood that was about to take place as the wine poured over, “the rough, irregular stones of the street.”(32) Because the wine is a symbol of blood, as the wine spills over the street a certain apprehensive feel is established, creating a heightened suspense of the revolution that is being foreshadowed in this passage.

Once again, this significant moment takes place outside of Madame Defarge’s shop, signifying her participation in the revolution and the blood that will be spilled around her. After the Marquis kills the boy, “one woman,” still, “knitted on with the steadfastness of Fate.”(117) This woman is Madame Defarge knitting his name into the pattern so that some harm will come of him, this is foreshadowing his death that will come later in the book. This is another example of Madame Defarge’s importance in the book as shown by Charles Dickens, and makes it suspenseful, all wondering when the Marquis might meet his demise.

Dickens use of symbolism, allusions, and foreshadowing show his attitude towards the subject of the French Revolution and heighten the suspense of the upcoming revolt. It also shows the importance that the women had in the revolution and how they functioned in the book.


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