In A Tale of Two Cities, how does Dickens personify "Want"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the metaphoric and deeply symbolic Chapter V of Book the First, "The Wine-Shop," a large cask of wine has been broken and it spills throughout the streets as the desperate inhabitants of St. Antoine with "matted locks, and cadaverous faces" race to drink it in their terrible hunger.

The mill which had worked them down was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sign, Hunger.

Hunger prevails everywhere as the streets are empty of firewood, bread, and "husky chips" of potato fried in a few drops of oil. Everywhere in the town, there is "Want." 

The trade sign...were, all, grim illustrations of Want. The butcher and the porkman painted up, only the leanest scraps of meat; the baker, the coarsest of meagre loaves.

Scarcity is representative of "Want":  There is little to eat or drink, the stones of the street are broken, few chimneys have smoke, the lamplights on the street are dim.

Later in the narrative, in Chapter VII of Book the Second, "Want" is portrayed in the peasants who come around the carriage of the Marquis d'Evremonde after one of its wheels "came to a sickening little jolt." When one man informs the Marquis that a child has been killed, the others say nothing,

So cowed was their condition, and so long and so hard their experience of what such a man could do to them, within the law and beyond it, that not a voice, or a hand, or even an eye was raised.

Dickens personifies "Want" in the meagerness of food, drink, clothing, and supplies that characterizes Saint Antoine. Later, "Want" of pride is portrayed in the sumissiveness of the peasant who tells the Marquis that his carriage has killed a child; further, it is portrayed in passivity of the people who know that a crime has been committed.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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