|A Tale of Two Cities
The French Revolution was a brutal, bloody transition for France from a monarchy to a republic meant to serve the needs of the people. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens mirrors the events occurring in France during the time of the French Revolution. In the opening line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” makes it understood that this novel was going to shed light on how the positive and exciting transformation to a government for the people was achieved through violence and executions. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens uses his characters to take the reader on a personal journey through the French Revolution.
Dickens begins the novel by commenting on what life was like in France during 1775, just a few years before the French Revolution would be in full swing. He alludes to France’s financial problems by bringing up that France is great at “making paper money and spending it” (7). He also mentions the cruel punishments, such as “have hands cut off” or “tongue torn out with pincers” (8), for common people for the most minor offenses. The financial crisis and poor treatment of those in the lower class were two issues that pushed France toward revolution. By mentioning this, Dickens is letting the reader know that the atmosphere is full of tension. This sets up the book for the rest of the events to come during the revolution and what the characters will have to possibly deal with.
As the book progresses, the reader can identify more characteristics of the French Revolution. The terrible treatment of the common people slowly comes to an end when they take power of the government. They have an uprising, chateaus are “left to flame and burn” (229), and many aristocrats are hauled off to jail. Gabelle, a former servant to Darnay, is one of the unfortunate who had been seized. In his letter to Darnay he details how he has “suffered a great deal”, his “house has been destroyed”, and he is imprisoned for “treason against the majesty of the people” (237). Many aristocrats would lose their homes and be thrown into prisons where they would sit and await their execution. The letter allows the reader to understand that the roles of classes have turned; the bourgeois are exercising their power and the aristocracy was left helpless.
By the end of the book, France’s revolution is in full swing. Aristocrats are being executed by the infamous guillotine, a device with a sharp, angled blade that would chop of it’s victim’s head. 40,000 people lost their lives to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Dickens personifies the guillotine as a woman who was “loyal and good” (273) and the blood spilled by her was “all red wine”. Darnay, the husband of Lucie, is set to meet with Madame Guillotine. His ties to nobility along with the crimes committed by his father and uncle leaves him with no chance of being set free. Darnay’s unfair trial and sentence to pay for what his relatives did also reflects the ways in which people were indicted; in an unfair and unjust manner.
A Tale of Two Cities gives the reader a first hand account of what life was like for an aristocrat before and during the French Revolution. By paralleling his story with real life events, Dickens effectively portrays the evolution of society by placing his characters in the middle of all the action. While the book may seem to be full of bloodshed, drama, and fear, the positive comes in seeing France rise as a republic and characters fulfilling their purpose in life.