In the second book of Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities, the author dedicates a chapter to the characters known as C.J. Stryver, a lawyer of questionable ethics and of even more questionable competency, and Sydney Carton. Lawyers endure endless barbs and criticisms, some good-natured, others not, and some legitimate, others not, regarding their ethics or moral compasses and their oft-times seemingly avaricious nature. The chapter devoted to these two lawyers is titled “The Jackal,” a reference to a member of canine species known for its opportunistic and omnivores nature. They can be considered scavengers, as they generally feed off of already-dead animals, as well as plants (hence, “omnivores”). In short, to compare an individual to this particular animal is to suggest someone of a somewhat menacing and opportunistic character. Note in the following passage from this chapter of A Tale of Two Cities the author’s description of the relationship between Stryver and Carton:
“Sydney Carton, idlest and most unpromising of men, was Stryver’s great ally. What the two drank together, between Hilary Term and Michaelmas, might have floated a king’s ship. Stryver never had a case in hand, anywhere, but Carton was there, with his hands in his pockets, staring at the ceiling of the court; they went the same Circuit, and even there they prolonged their usual orgies late into the night, and Carton was rumoured to be seen at broad day, going home stealthily and unsteadily to his lodgings, like a dissipated cat. At last, it began to get about, among such as were interested in the matter, that although Sydney Carton would never be a lion, he was an amazingly good jackal, and that he rendered suit and service to Stryver in that humble capacity.”
These two attorneys, then, could be said to complement each other quite well. If the lion, ‘the king of beasts,’ is considered the more noble creature, however, it is the jackal who is revealed as the more noble of the two men. In the next passage, again from the chapter titled “The Jackal,” the dialogue between Stryver and Carton reveals something of the latter’s nature that will prove instrumental to the story’s outcome:
“The old Sydney Carton of old Shrewsbury School,” said Stryver, nodding his head over him as he reviewed him in the present and the past, “the old seesaw Sydney. Up one minute and down the next; now in spirits and now in despondency!”
“Ah!” returned the other, sighing: “yes! The same Sydney, with the same luck. Even then, I did exercises for other boys, and seldom did my own.”
Combined with the narrator’s description of Carton’s demeanor and mode of dress (“his torn gown half off him, his untidy wig put on just as it had happened to fight on his head after its removal, his hands in his pockets, and his eyes on the ceiling as they had been all day”), and giving some consideration to the suggestion that Carton is bipolar, this exchange could denote a more hapless individual than perhaps is fair to the character of Sydney Carton. Notable, however, is Dickens’ emphasis on the physical similarity between Carton and the man these two lawyers are representing in court, Charles Darnay. Read again Carton’s self-deprecating comment: “Even then, I did exercises for other boys, and seldom did my own.” As readers of A Tale of Two Cities learn, Carton will ultimately sacrifice his life for Darnay, exploiting their physical similarities for a noble cause. Carton may be the jackal—and Dickens employs the animal metaphor extensively in this chapter—but Stryver is associated with the lion for his more dominating personality and professionally-successful career. As the narrator points out later in the novel, “Mr. Stryver shouldered his way through the law, like some great engine forcing itself through turbid water, and dragged his useful friend in his wake, like a boat towed astern.” Carton is destined to live a life of ignominy. At best, he can pick up the scraps left behind by his more forceful partner, although the latter can hardly be accused of being particularly capable (“a glib man, and an unscrupulous, and a ready, and a bold, he had not that faculty of extracting the essence from a heap of statements”). In any event, Stryver is the lion; Carton is the jackal.
Dickens uses the metaphor of a jackal to describe Carton. The jackal is a scavenger. In the same way, Carton lives off other peoples happiness without creating any of his own.
Stryver is described as a lion, the king of beasts. while he does kill, he will also eat what others have killed. However, he is a little more noble about it, and has a much better reputation. Such is the way with Carton and Stryver as attorneys.
Stryver is also physically described as stout, loud, red, buff, and free from any drawback of delicacy, haad a pushing way of shouldering himself into companies and conversations.