Charles Dickens ends his book A Tale of Two Cities with the lines: “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.” From the title of the book to these ending quotations, Dickens based the entire literary piece on the concept of doubles, opposites, parallel and contrasting concepts. The story is about French revolution, but it also shows the revolutionary struggles inside the characters. Every aspect, whether it is the character, setting, plot, symbolism or messages being conveyed by the author, is written in twos and each one arrives with its opposite or balancing half.
First and foremost, the characters are placed with doubles, which share certain characteristics but are ultimately positioned in a way which forces the reader to realize the vital balance in the universe. Starting with the females, women have generally been seen as man’s victims, ever sacrificial and obedient. On the contrary, they are also the birth givers and nurturers responsible for keeping life vibrant. Both of these extremes are seen through the characters of Lucie Manette, Madame Defarge, and Miss Pross. Lucy and Miss Pross represent a woman’s positive nature whereas Madame Defarge symbolizes the ruthless aspect. Nurturing, forgiving, caring, loving, passionate, obedient, faithful and loyal are all words, which suit Lucy’s personality and depict her as the ideal woman, who is responsible for the world’s peace keeping.
Breaking the traditional view of the fragile and obedient female, Miss Pross is the epitome of the toughened, yet a loyal woman. Her view is more realistic, as not all real women are, however, as obedient and perfect as Lucy. Miss Pross is loyal, passionate, motherly in a disciplined sense, and carries a strong set of personal values. In fact, she is the perfect match, which eventually brings down everything that Madame Defarge stands for, which is revenge, hostility, mercilessness, violence and national revolution. Even though Lucy might seem to be the suitable opposite for Madame Defarge, it is Miss Pross, who is the case as Lucy does not possess the stamina or ability to physically defeat Madame Defarge. Having the characters complement each other and work together, Dickens first uses Lucy’s personality as the foundation for weakening Madame Defarge and luring her into the trap, which puts an end to her thirsty vengeance.
Furthermore, the male characters, Carton and Darnay provide the perfect examples of complementary opposites. In order to attract audiences, Dickens aims at their emotions by having the men share physical characteristics yet lead completely differing life styles, with Darnay being highly privileged by birth and Carton leading a worthless life by choice. Throughout the novel, the reader believes Carton to be the foil that will bring about Darnay’s demise or ruining. However, there is a twist as the author’s true agenda is revealed when Darnay becomes the reason for Carton’s end.
Carton’s feelings of unworthiness and self-pity keep growing as he continues to compare his failures with Darnay’s successes. Not only is Darnay noble by birth, but he has all the luxuries of the world, including his true love. Carton reaches the level of self-forgiveness and satisfaction, when he sacrifices his freedom, life and true love for Darnay, thus achieving a noble and honorable purpose in life. Just as Darnay was noble by birth, he was arrested because of his ancestral background as well, whereas Carton faced the guillotine by choice. This decision elevated him above Darnay in all aspects for eternity.
Another interesting perspective, which comes from the use of doppelgangers in the case of Carton and Darnay, is that one individual is given the chance to live two lives and see his life twice with alternate endings. This means that Carton is literally able to see what life would have been like if he was born in Darnay’s household and Darnay is able to experience Carton’s life in return. This concept of destiny and rebirth is prominent in Dicken’s work, which further connects with the concept of a universal cycle and balance. Furthermore, the rebirth concept is coupled with its double opposite, death. After Carton’s death, he is resurrected figuratively in the hearts and minds of the other characters as a savior because of whom their lives will be peaceful. Along with actual death, there is political resurrection in the form of the French revolution.
Moreover, doubles concept is complicated with parallels between the characters. For instance, the Marquis Evremonde and Madame Defarge might not seem to be the ideal doubles or opposites Dickens was aiming for, but they do serve great examples of parallel doubles in society. Whereas the Marquis Evremonde is a born aristocrat, Madame Defarge falls in the working or peasantry class, and both possess traits and personalities that have been molded based on this foundation. Their anger is triggered by the balancing crimes, which each party commits to the other. Marquis Evremonde hates peasants and publically makes despiteful comments, which follow hateful actions or crimes. He proudly boasts after running over a peasant child, “I would ride over you willingly and exterminate you from the earth” (Dickens 131).
Both are similar in their goals of protecting the family honor, without regards to anyone else’s life or honor. The difference is that the Marquis Evremonde is pressured by his social ranking to do this and Madame Defarge is encouraged by her plans for revenge, thinking that only then will the family honor be reestablished. She states: “Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is a rule” (Simon 12). Furthermore, there are various clues that Dickens provides for the readers to make the seemingly unlikely connection between the upper class Marquis Evremonde and the seemingly quaint Madame Defarge. Both persons lead double lives by constructing false visages and secretly doing deeds that no one will suspect.
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Specifically, Madame Defarge comes off as a simple, homely lady, who quietly spends her time knitting, without bothering anyone else. However, her secrecy includes making shrouds and planning names for revenge during the revolution. The Marquis Evremonde is also connected to death as he has not only caused it repeatedly, but also dies because of Madame Defarge. The ultimate, blatant connection is revealed to the reader later, which is the reason for Madame’s distaste for the elite, specifically her parallel Marquis Evremonde. Because of the greedy and careless actions of a rich, spoiled man, Madame Defarge lost her family and developed a ruthless alter personality. Through this revelation, Dickens shows the connection of events in the universe and how one action is always a balancing act or parallel to another.
Acting as clues for foreshadowing future events, doubles are paired with symbols, which further suggest twists in the novel. The most prominent symbol is the shadow or darkness seen in various settings. Literally, the characters cast or come under the casting of certain shadows, which foreshadow negative events. For instance, at the beginning of the book, there are shadows around Jarvis Lorry and Lucy, which suggests the seriousness and grimness of the present and future events (Carton 1). Figuratively speaking, Charles Dickens reminds the reader that everyone carries their burdens of secrets, which are all connected in the ultimate universe balance. This is revealed in the chapter known as “The Night Shadows” (Cotsell). The grim reality that Dickens is portraying is that there are some shadows that can be deadly, referring to secrets, which can only end in the grave or continue as resurrections in other connected souls, thus continuing the painful cycle for eternity.