How are Lucie Manette and Madame Defarge different in A Tale of Two Cities?
Lucie Manette and Madame Defarge really couldn't be more different. Lucie, Dr. Manette's devoted, loving daughter, is very much the kind of idealized female figure so beloved of Dickens and his Victorian readership. As well as being a dutiful daughter, she's also a helpmate to her husband. Lucie is presented to us as almost a ministering angel, uniquely able to dispel the blackest mood from her father's tortured mind. Though soft, courteous, and delicately feminine, she is also a very strong woman, able to keep things together in the midst of the most trying circumstances. (Of which there are many).
Madame Defarge, on the other hand, is one of the Revolution's many furies. In the hands of Lucie, knitting would be a perfectly normal, harmless distraction for respectable women. In the case of Madame Defarge, however, it's an expression of political extremism; she constantly beavers away, knitting the names of aristocratic victims of the Terror. If Lucie is presented as the ideal woman, Madame Defarge is the very opposite. As well as being a dangerous radical, she's brash, vulgar, and sharp-tongued, her manner as loud as her clothes, indicating her status as a parvenu. Unlike Lucie, she's not exactly what you might call demure. At the very least, she's the equal to her husband in terms of running the wine-shop. Her true place in life is in the world outside—the world of business, politics, and revolution; a world not normally accessible to women at that time, or in Dickens's, come to that.
Dickens appears to be suggesting, not too subtly, we might think, that Madame Defarge is as much of a danger to society for abandoning traditional female passivity as she is for her revolutionary activities. He makes no bones about the fact that the strong, gentle, effortlessly feminine Lucie is his preferred ideal of what a woman should be.
Although neither Lucie Manette nor Madame Defarge are well-developed as characters in themselves, both are symbols of opposing forces in The Tale of Two Cities. Lucie is lovely, golden-haired, and good, a symbol of light. Although she herself is not complex, by her very presence she draws people together and brings them to find the best in themselves. She enables Dr. Manette to return to health and peace, and inspires Sydney Carton to find redemption for his degenerate living in the ultimate sacrifice of his life. Madame DeFarge, on the other hand, is symbolic of evil and the uncontrollable forces of the coming French Revolution. Driven by the ravages of the aristocrats to an inconsumable hatred, she sits, patient and sinister, knitting the names of the tormentors soon to be doomed.
Lucie Manette and Madame Defarge are foils to one another in the book. Lucie is the epitome of sacrifice and love, of kindness, of deep care and concern for her fellow man. Madame Defarge lives in a world of violence and hatred, and has lived her life looking to seek vengeance on members of the Evremonde family who hurt her and her family so long ago...even if these family members had nothing to do with the original crime! She even seeks to harm Lucie's daughter, a little girl not even born when Madame Defarge was hurt.
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