How are death and fate personified in Chapter 1 of A Tale of Two Cities?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Charles Dickens's monumental classic, A Tale of Two Cities, the employment of the personification of fate as the Woodman and death as the Farmer portends the future actions of the French Revolution. For, it is the woodman who builds the guillotine which effects the many deaths of the aristocracy while it is the farmers' tumbrils which carry them to their deaths at the guillotine, and, of course, those peasant farmers who stormed the Bastille with their pitchforks as they fought in bloody battle against the king's soldiers.

A work of great parallelism, A Tale of Two Cities recalls the images of the Woodman and the Farmer, who "work unheeded" in other parts. For instance, the Woodman finds a parallel in the wood-sawyer of Book III, Chapter 5. This man saws wood for near the prison; as he saws, he pretends that his tool is the guillotine. He tells Lucie who watches for her imprisoned husband:

"See my saw? I call it my Little Guillotine. La, la, la; La, la la! And off his head comes!"....I call myself the Samson of the firewood guillotine.

The farmer finds his parallel in the peasants who surround the fountain with their "misery-worn face[s] and figure[s]" who have watched the child killed by the Monseigneur's carriage and watched the father hang from underneath this carriage in Book II, Chapter 8.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fate is personified as a Woodman, or wood worker who would basically saw out the future of the people among the "woods" of weariness that are forming particularly in  French society.

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.

Death is personified as a Farmer which is basically raising the future victims of the French Revolution.

It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrels of the Revolution.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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