Study Guide

A Tale of Two Cities Warfare

By Charles Dickens

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Book the First: Recalled to Life
Chapter One – The Period

It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history (1.1.4).

Dickens foreshadows the events of history with a heavy hand. Does this help to make revolution seem fated or inevitable?

Volume I, Chapter Five – The Wine-Shop

The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there. (1.5.5)

The blurring between wine and blood in this text allows both to function interchangeably as liquids for which the citizens of France lust. Like wine, the blood that spills in the streets intoxicates the populace.

Volume II, Chapter Fifteen – Knitting
Ernest Defarge

"To be registered, as doomed to destruction," returned Defarge.

[…] "The chateau, and all the race?" inquired the first.

"The chateau and all the race," returned Defarge. "Extermination." (2.15.63-67)

"Extermination" becomes a pretty sweeping term. It’s easy enough to justify violence against the occupants of a chateau… but the extermination of a race?

That’s hard to justify at all—as Dickens makes clear.

Volume II, Chapter Sixteen – Still Knitting
Ernest Defarge

"It does not take a long time to strike a man with Lightning," said Defarge.

"How long," demanded madame, composedly, "does it take to make and store the lightning? Tell me." (2.16.25-26)

Madame Defarge’s implacable rage allows her to wait for the oncoming of revolution. Note the naturalized metaphors in this scene: her rage is as certain (and as natural) as the elements themselves.

Madame Defarge

"But it is your weakness that you sometimes need to see your victim and your opportunity, to sustain you. Sustain yourself without that. When the time comes, let loose a tiger and a devil; but wait for the time with the tiger and the devil chained—not shown—yet always ready." (2.16.39)

Madame Defarge shows restraint where her husband shows passion. At the moment, this seems like a good strategy; it also foreshadows her pitiless treatment of the Manettes later in the novel.

Volume II, Chapter Twenty-One – Echoing Footsteps

With a roar that sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on depth, and overflowed the city to that point. Alarm-bells ringing, drums beating, the sea raging and thundering on its new beach, the attack began. (2.21.36)

Like the quote earlier, this depicts the uprising of the people as an event as natural and unstoppable as nature. Individuals become indistinguishable in the "sea" of violence that sweeps the country.

For, they are headlong, mad, and dangerous; and in the years so long after the breaking of the cask at Defarge's wine-shop door, they are not easily purified when once stained red. (2.21.79)

Dickens’s opinion of the French Revolution is a complicated one: while the sort of poverty that causes people to grovel for wine in the streets is pitiable, the mob mentality that thirsts for blood is a terrible force in this novel.

Book the Third: The Track of a Storm
Volume III, Chapter One – In Secret
Ernest Defarge

"Well, well," reasoned Defarge, "but one must stop somewhere. After all, the question is still where?"

"At extermination," said madame. (3.12.17-18)

If Madame Defarge had her way, there would be no real end to the violence of the revolution. As we see, "extermination" becomes an all-consuming and vastly unjust undertaking.

For, the footsteps had become to their minds as the footsteps of a people, tumultuous under a red flag and with their country declared in danger, changed into wild beasts, by terrible enchantment long persisted in. (2.24.2)

The coming of war is signaled by the devolution of a nation into a pack of wild animals.

Madame Defarge

"Then tell Wind and Fire where to stop," returned madame; "but don't tell me." (3.12.36)

By the end of the novel, Madame Defarge is more of a supernatural force than a natural one. She’s ultimately terrifying in her unwillingness to deviate from her plans for revenge.

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