How is the motif of dualities present in Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dualities in A Tale of Two Cities serve to point to the similarities of internal problems in England and France as well as developing themes and characterization.

From the opening of this classic novel on, there are presentations of dualities. With thesis and antithesis, Charles Dickens points to the similarities between England and France in the opening chapter, as he compares the king of England with the king of France while the Woodman, symbolic of the guillotine, and the Farmer, symbolic of the peasants who stormed the Bastille, work unheeded.

Some characters act as dualities, as well, as Dickens often places an English character in contrast to a French one:

  • Sydney Carton -- Charles Darnay (Evremonde)

The brilliant, but dissipated, Carton sees in noble Darnay what he could have been, and he is inspired by his idealized love for Lucie Manette to redeem himself through self-sacrifice. "For you and for any dear to you, I would do anything," he declares to Lucie in Chapter 13 of Book the Second. In the end, Carton finds redemption after he replaces Darnay in the prison and goes to the guillotine in place of Charles Evremonde (Darnay), who escapes with his family to England.

  • Mr. Lorry -- Dr. Manette

The "man of business," as he describes himself, is often in sharp contrast to the delusional and irrational Dr. Manette. Often, too, he lends a sympathetic ear and moral support to Lucie and the weakened physician.

Mr. Lorry is a loyal and sensible friend to Dr. Manette as, for instance, after Manette learns the real identity of Charles Darnay on his and Lucie's wedding day, the physician has a relapse and pulls out his shoe-making kit.

After this relapse, Mr. Lorry consults with Dr. Manette about a "friend" who has resorted to working on his occupation, an activity from a time in his life that should be put behind him. Dr. Manette suggests destroying that which he occupies himself, and he agrees to its destruction if the object can be taken from him when he is not around.

  • Dr. Manette -- Manette

In a sense, Manette is a duality himself. He is the imprisoned man, who has spent many years in the Bastille. On the other hand, he is a man who has been rescued from a living death, who sometimes loses his hold upon life and regresses to his old occupation when he was in prison.  

  • Lucie Manette -- Madame Defarge

The stereotypical Victorian heroine, Lucie is kind and loving while, in contrast, Therese Defarge is a malevolent force. Lucie stands outside her husband's prison window so that he may see her. She also brings out the best in Sydney Carton, motivating him to sacrifice himself on the guillotine for Charles so that he may leave France with his family:

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known."

On the other hand, Madame Defarge is a force of evil, knitting the names of her victims into the material that she fashions. Consumed by the desire for revenge against the French aristocracy, particularly the Evremonde family, who are responsible for the deaths of her sister and brother, Madame Defarge pursues Charles Darnay in her effort to annihilate the aristocrats. When her husband suggests that she be merciful to Dr. Manette because of the anguish of his daughter, Madame Defarge insists that the Evremondes are summoned to answer for the things they have done to her family. Guilt lies on Dr. Manette because he aided the Evremonde brothers. She tells Monsieur Defarge,

Then tell the Wind and Fire where to stop,...but don't tell me."

Madame Defarge is certainly a classic villain in her singleness of intent for vengeance, just as Sydney Carton is the redemptive hero. The contrasts of such characters and others in the motif of dualities certainly provide a strong effect for A Tale of Two Cities.

Read the study guide:
A Tale of Two Cities

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question