In A Tale of Two Cities, is Charles Dickens more sympathetic towards the aristocracy or the peasants?In A Tale of Two Cities, is Charles Dickens more sympathetic towards the aristocracy or the...
In A Tale of Two Cities, is Charles Dickens more sympathetic towards the aristocracy or the peasants?
I think that Dickens is a bit too complex to be reduced to one side or the other. In a way, he condemns both in his novel. On one hand, it is evident that Dickens is not very sympathetic towards the aristocratic individuals that failed to treat other human beings with respect and dignity. Evremonde would be an example of this. If his actions are representative of the aristocratic regime in France, Dickens seems to be suggesting that the response of the revolution is understandable, if not justified. At the same time, Dickens' critique of the Reign of Terror is one where the peasants are not absolved of responsibility for their actions. For Dickens, the peasants' quick and easy embrace of the Reign of Terror is something towards which he can not voice support. Dickens might be willing to concede that the peasants could have been manipulated by individuals in the position of power, like Madame Defarge, who sought their own agenda. Yet, in the end, the embrace of the Reign of Terror and its consequence of mass death without cause and in a repugnant public manner is a reality that Dickens criticizes. In this light, I think that Dickens criticizes both social conditions in the idea that both groups demonstrate the use of human beings as means to an end as opposed to an end in themselves.
There are moments in this novel when both the aristocrats and the peasants look bad, and the message of that is clearly that money is not what makes the difference between good character and bad character, between good behavior and bad behavior. That being said, it is the aristocrats who are the first to kill (going back to the Evremonde brothers) and often kill without cause. That does not excuse the bloody rampage of the peasants, but at least they had a legitimate cause for which to fight. I would tip the scales just a bit in favor of Dickens favoring the peasants.
With characters such as Vengeance and Madame Defarge and Book the Second's satiric chapter "Monseigneur in Town" in which the decadent aristocrat has become so effete that he is unable to drink his morning's chocolate without the aid of several servants, as well as the chapter "Monseigneur in the Country" it seems that Dickens favors neither the common man nor the aristocrats. Rather, Dickens's sympathies seem to lean to the individual men who are patterned after himself, Charles Darnay and his double Sydney Carton.