Study Guide

A Tale of Two Cities Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Charles Dickens

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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory


Dickens isn’t exactly placing this metaphor delicately into his readers’ hands. He’s shoving it down our throats. If you missed the part where he warns us that blood will soon spill in the streets like wine, check out most of Volume One again. We promise you, it’s easy to find.

Using the wine that spills into the streets early in the novel as a metaphor for the blood spilled in the revolution serves a practical purpose: the Defarges run a wine shop. The Defarges are the hub of revolutionary activity. It all fits together neatly.

More important, however, allowing wine to stand in for blood allows Dickens to hint at the fatal flaws in the revolutionaries’ plans: too much wine makes people drunk and often more than a little crazy. A few glasses too many, and suddenly you’re not thinking nearly as well as you probably should be.

Similarly, spilling a little blood makes people hunger for more. Suddenly, it’s not enough to kill the people who’ve wronged the poor. It’s also pretty fun to kill their wives, their sons, their daughters, and that guy that people once saw standing next to them. See how things can get out of control? La Guillotine becomes a glutton, demanding more and more wine to satiate her ever-growing thirst. Revolution may be a great idea theoretically. According to Dickens, however, it just gets you too drunk too fast. Violence, folks, is not the answer.

Golden thread

Lucie is the "golden-haired doll" who charms just about everyone she meets with her beauty. She’s got yellow hair, as you’ve probably guessed. More interestingly, however, Dickens uses her hair color as an image that binds her family together. She becomes the "golden thread" that unites her father with his present, not allowing him to dwell too much in the horrors of the past.

A golden thread almost sounds like some sort of magical power; in fact, the Manettes lead a "charmed" life in Soho. Lucie may not be the character that gets the most screen time in this novel, but Dickens makes sure that we all know she’s its heart. Lucie unites Carton to Darnay, Dr. Manette to Darnay, and Mr. Lorry to the family in general. Lucie becomes the reason that Charles escapes the grasp of the Republic’s "justice."

In one terrifying moment of the novel, Jacques Three speculates about how wonderful it would be to see her golden hair on the chopping block of La Guillotine. The charm of Lucie’s influence, however, makes this an impossibility. Mr. Lorry and Sydney are determined to save her at any cost. Guess being a blonde has some good points, after all.


Monseigneur is a character. He’s also an allegory.

Wait, how can a character be both a character and an allegory? Well, Dickens describes Monseigneur as a member of the aristocracy. It becomes pretty clear, however, that "Monseigneur" also becomes a shorthand way for Dickens to refer to the aristocracy as a class.

For example, when the narrator spends a good portion of a chapter describing how Monseigneur takes his hot chocolate, we could be reading about one man. When we read, however, that "Monseigneur, as a class, had dissociated himself from the phenomenon of his not being appreciated," it seems fairly self-evident that we’re reading about more than one individual. In fact, we’re reading about an entire class of people (2.24.3).

Why the blurring between individual and class? Well, for one thing, it allows Dickens to describe an entire group of people rather quickly. Once we know how picky and self-satisfied Monseigneur is when he drinks his chocolate in the morning, we’re probably pretty ready to hate on him for the rest of the novel.

In some ways, that’s not a fair analysis. Charles Darnay is a monseigneur, if we get right down to it. But maybe the allegory becomes as important for the ways that it doesn’t fit as for the ways that it does. We’re ready to hate all aristocrats. They’re all bad. But that makes us…rather like Madame Defarge. Scary, huh?

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