A Tale of Two Cities

When writing a book, most authors are writing about an issue they have.

However, other themes become apparent through the course of the piece, either

consciously or subconsciously. One such theme is a reversal of characters in A Tale of

Two Cities. Individuals and groups of people change dramatically from the outset of the

book all the way up to its conclusion. Three of the most obvious changes in character are

Sydney Carton, Madame DeFarge, and the French people as a whole.

Sydney Carton is first described at Darnay’s trial as not paying attention to what’s

going on, sort of an oaf. He is portrayed as a drunk, and even admits this to Darnay on

their “date.” However, love, they say, is strong; Carton’s love for Lucy changed him

greatly though the course of the novel. He stopped drinking when he visited, and even

pledged his life to her, and everyone she loved. Carton changed even more dramatically

when death on the guillotine was approaching. He waxed philosophical about the future,

and even quoted a few scriptures. This is most certainly not the man first seen at the Old

Bailey with the sideways wig.

Another interesting change took place in the character of Madame Defarge. She

is first portrayed as a woman of principle who is helping her husband with the revolution.

However, Madame Defarge makes a startling metamorphosis from supporting character

to antagonist when she is revealed to be the shadow. She is shown to be cruel and petty,

not the compassionate woman one would assume of a leader of a revolution against

tyranny. This part of the novel casts a shadow of doubt over the rest of the characters,

and one begins to question the validity of all the characters.

Finally, the French people themselves start out as downtrodden and miserable

victims of a corrupt system. But it is illustrated that they could be just as heartless as

their rich counterparts, the aristocrats, when it came down to it. For example, anyone

who was an aristocrat, or even associated with aristocrats, was sentenced to death. As

the novel went on, the French people grew more heartless, for the executions continued

without end. This last reversal in character is the most disturbing, because it holds true

in the real world.

These examples are but a few of the many in A Tale of Two Cities, and this

theme of character reversal one of a myriad of possible interpretations. However, the

fact remains that these integral characters all changed drastically: Carton for love,

Madame Defarge for revenge, and the French people for power. The cause of these

reversals was honor; Carton had pledged his life to Lucy, and Madame Defarge and the

French people wanted to honor France. Without these reversals in character, Dickens

would have had a much more convoluted novel, and perhaps would have even had to

introduce even more characters into the plot. As it is, the changes wrap up the book with

one decisive stroke, leaving the reader with a sense of closure rather than apprehension.

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