In A Tale of Two Cities, chapters 14-24, what are some words and phrases used by Charles Dickens to decribe the French mob?   

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Charles Dicken's diction inA Tale of Two Citiesstrongly conveys the the wildly reckless mood and the dangerous power of a mob.

In Chapter 21, Mr. Lorry and Mr. Darnay converse about the rising storm in France.  Dicken's diction describing the mob at Saint Antoine evokes imagery of untamed nature.  First describing the crowd as a "vast, dusky mass of scarecrows," Dickens adds a dangerous edge to the comparison, noting "gleams of light above the billowy heads."  The gleams of light are not halos of angels, but rather weapons, "steel blades and bayonets [that] shone in the sun" (Chapter 21).  His comparison to the dark figures of the mob to scarecrows has strong connotation, an unsettling image of dark-winged carrion birds poised for the feast.

In the same passage, Dickens uses another nature metaphor to convey the tumultous storm-like passion of the crowd.

A tremendous roar arose from the throat of Saint Antoine, and a forest of naked arms struggled in the air like shrivelled branches of trees in a winter wind: all the fingers convulsively clutching at every weapon or semblance of a weapon that was thrown up from the depths below, no matter how far off. (Chapter 21)

Diction choices like "shrivelled" and "convulsively" depict the mob not just as being physically unwell, but absolutely unhealthy, even possibly dying.  The mob in this sentence is desperate as suggested by Dicken's verbs: "struggled" and "clutching", as if the people are reaching out desperately for something to save them, and finding their hands empty, reach for weapons instead. 

Dicken's language describing the mob creates a mood that is angry and  unsatisfied.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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