Are cultural/ethnic differences between the French and English reflected in A Tale of Two Cities?I am struck by the fact that cultural differences are not really taken into account. For instance,...

Are cultural/ethnic differences between the French and English reflected in A Tale of Two Cities?

I am struck by the fact that cultural differences are not really taken into account. For instance, the nationality of the main characters does not seem to be a factor in their outlook on life. Darnay, Lucie and Docteur Manette act as if they were English or could very well be English. Is this a way for Dickens to warn that what happened in France could very well happen in England, that the French Revolution is not just "a French thing", that even in England injustice could lead to revolution?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting question, the answer may be as interesting but in a different direction. Critics tend to regard Dickens' characterizations in A Tale of Two Cities as "flat" rather than as conveying symbolic significance. David Perdue's Dickens Web site makes a point of emphasizing that Dickens had prepared meticulously for accurately representing the facts and social realities of the French Revolution, so much so that you might even say Paris is a principal character in the novel. Whereas Darnay, Lucie and Docteur Manette might act as though they are thoroughgoing English gentlefolk, Paris is fully developed in the picture of horror, bloodshed and anarchy that characterized it during the Revolution.

Additionally, while England cheered the French Revolution at its beginning, the country soon came to be aghast at the wholesale slaughter of men and women of the nobility and aristocracy. I find no research online to support the following, but I might conjecture that Dickens made the French characters seem English in order to emphasize that many people being killed so ruthlessly were, in fact, just like the English, with no other crimes on their heads than the crime of family, birth, wealth--in the French Revolution, high crimes indeed. Based on Dickens' meticulous representation of the historical and social truths, the enlivening of Paris to the point of being a character and England's horror at the progress of what was a welcomed Revolution at the start, I would argue that, in creating English-type French characters, Dickens is not trying to warn England that injustice could open the same path as was opened in France but rather that Dickens is underscoring the common humanity of the wholesale victims in the slaughter that the French Revolution became.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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