How can I compare and contrast the two female characters, Miss Lucie and Madame Defarge?A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of all the novels that Charles Dickens has written, A Tale of Two Cities has received the most criticism regarding characterization. Critics especially remark upon Lucie as the stereotypical Victorian heroine who is often emotionally reticent and faints under stress. While this may have been true-to-life for Dickens, critics say, the passage of time has made this stock character obsolete both as a literary figure and social actuality.  Certainly, Lucie Manette is a passive character that Dickens has failed to bring to life. For instance, she inspires love in almost every character around her as "the golden thread," but the reader must take this on faith as there is no dialogue or action to point to as proof of this. So, she is, in a sense, a catalyst for others, inspiring them to transform themselves.

While Madame Defarge is also in many ways a stock character as the passionately vengeful revolutionary with an idee fixe ofdestroying every aristocrat she can, especially the Evremonde family, she is anything but lifeless like Lucie. In the wine shop, she picks her teeth, raises her eyebrows, looks suspiciously around, knits relentlessly, ferociously ties coins in knots, beating them on a table as though they were the necks of the First Estate.  When her husband has misgivings about including Dr. Manette in the roll of those to be executed, Madame Defarge interprets his scruple as weakness.  Then, as Ernest Defarge asks if the revolution will not come too late for them, anyway, Madame Defarge answers her husband as though she were an element of nature herself.

“A long time, I suppose,” said Defarge.

“But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieces everything before it. In the meantime, it is always preparing, though it is not seen or heard. That is your consolation. Keep it.”

She tied a knot with flashing eyes, as if it throttled a foe.

“I tell thee,” said madame, extending her right hand, for emphasis, “that although it is a long time on the road, it is on the road and coming. I tell thee it never retreats, and never stops. I tell thee it is always advancing. Look around and consider the lives of all the world that we know, consider the faces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to which the Jacquerie addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour. Can such things last? Bah! I mock you.”

However, although she is an elemental force, there is in Madame Defarge some of the makings of a rounder character as she secretly and cunningly arranges for Darnay's rearrest, a plan which displays intelligence and malice.  Her knitting indicates, too, her patience and her intense hatred and desire to retaliate. So bent is she upon the destruction of the Evremondesthat Madame Defarge intrudes upon the Darnay household, seeking Charles so she can shoot him and fighting Miss Pross until her death. If Lucie acts as a catalyst who gives new life--physical or spiritual--Therese Defarge is the paraclete of death. 

q30r9m3 | Student

They are both women and married. Madame Defarge wants revenge on the nobles. Miss Lucie is kind.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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