In The Scarlet Pimpernel Sir Percy is compared to "an eagle" and Chauvelin is compared to "a fox." Why? (Use research and examples to back up your answer.)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sir Percy Blakeney is compared to an eagle because he exhibits the traits of high intelligence, keen perceptiveness, and strength. Chauvelin is likened to a fox since he is sly and cunning and he uses traps against his enemies.

In Chapter X of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin, an agent of the new revolutionary French government, who is described as having a "fox-like mask" of a face, has come to England to find the Scarlet Pimpernel and anyone else who attempts to rescue French aristocrats. Earlier he has discovered a letter signed by Lady Blakeney's brother, Armand, who is involved with assisting French aristocrats in their efforts to flee the country. Confident that he now has a way to blackmail Lady Blakeney into helping him find the Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin corners her at the opera and tells her that he is in possession of a letter written by her brother Armand. In this letter, Armand has revealed that he is one of the members of the Pimpernel's group working to save the lives of the French royals.

With his "fox-like eyes" Chauvelin informs Lady Blakeney that when he is captured, Armand will go to trial, be convicted of treason, and receive a death sentence. But, if she will cooperate with him in unveiling the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, he will turn over Armand's letter to her. Then her brother will not be charged with treason. Although Marguerite Blakeney admires the Pimpernel, she feels that she must agree to assist Chauvelin to save her beloved brother's life. Thus, the comparison of Chauvelin to a fox is appropriate as he demonstrates that he is sly, cunning, and manipulative. In fact, it is noted that Chauvelin's "keen, fox-like eyes would terrify her" (Ch. XIV) at once were Marguerite to try and see him during the last hour before the late-night meeting called by the Pimpernel because she fears so much for her brother Armand.

Further, in Chapter XV Lady Marguerite Blakeney wishes that she were in the supper room where she could watch as the Scarlet Pimpernel enters at one o'clock. She feels that her "woman's penetration" would enable her to recognize the stranger because he would possess:

...that strong individuality which belongs to a leader of men—to a hero—to the mighty high-soaring eagle, whose daring wings were becoming entangled in the ferret's trap.

Here Sir Percy Blakeney is compared to the eagle because of his daring rescues of the French nobility. 

Then, in Chapter XXV, entitled "The Eagle and the Fox," after Lady Blakeney discovers that her husband is the Scarlet Pimpernel, Lady Blakeney solicits the aid of Sir Andrew, and they set out for Calais, France. There she hopes to warn her husband of the trap she has unwittingly set for him with Chauvelin. When Sir Percy enters the Chat Gris Inn where he is expected, he encounters Chauvelin, disguised as a priest, having some soup at a table. The "eagle" eyes of Sir Percy see through the disguise, and he speaks with nonchalance to Chauvelin at length, much as an eagle circles in the air over his prey. Indeed, Sir Percy's air of confidence is not unlike the mighty eagle who soars above his prey.

As he talks to Sir Percy, the sly "fox" Chauvelin watches the time as he awaits his men and Desgas. But the daring "eagle" gets Chauvelin, who is very fond of snuff, to try some that Sir Percy claims is superior to any he has ever had. When Chauvelin inhales the pepper that Sir Percy has put into his snuff box instead, he begins to sneeze uncontrollably, and the "eagle" makes his escape.

drjrjherbert eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sir Percy, also known as 'the Scarlet Pimpernel' to the reader at least, is compared to all of these creatures in different ways as a sign of his bravery, slyness and, in the case of Chauvelin, as a sign that others for a long time do not know of his identity as the pimpernel. 

The eagle is associated with power, freedom, courage and strength and was a well known heraldic symbol at the time and, indeed, the American eagle is still used to symbolise many of these virtues to this day. 

Equally, one could argue that the fox is symbolic of slyness and cunning. Of course, in a particularly English setting - Sir Percy being a representative of Englishness during the French revolution - the fox was also recreationally hunted by the English upper classes. Sir Percy, in the guise of the Scarlet Pimpernel, is also hunted and evades capture, like the fox, as a result of his cunning. 

The comparison to Chauvelin is a more complex one in so much as the two characters are opposed within the novel. The fact that both are utterly convinced of the correctness of their positions might make them comparable, just as Chauvelin was formerly acquainted with Sir Percy's wife and, in that sense, they are also comparable.