What effect does Madame Defarge have on Lucie when the Defarges visit Lucie's apartment in A Tale of Two Cities? How does Charles Dickens symbolically show this effect?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What a lot of changes Lucie Darnay has endured is a very short time when we meet her in Book III chapter 3 of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Jarvis Lorry has gotten his beloved Lucie an apartment then returns, of course, to the bank. There he is met by a sober Defarge, bearing a letter from Lucie's father as well as a note from Charles, so Jarvis takes the Defarges to Lucie's apartment. 

It is not a pleasant meeting.

While Lucie is elated at getting news from her imprisoned husband, the Defarges--and particularly Madame Defarge--remain stoic and sober. Lucie

turned from Defarge to his wife, and kissed one of the hands that knitted. It was a passionate, loving, thankful, womanly action, but the hand made no response—dropped cold and heavy, and took to its knitting again.

There it is. The disparity between the news the Defarges bring and the response Madame Defarge has is terrifying to Lucie Manette. At one point, Madame Defarge even points "her knitting-needle at little Lucie as if it were the finger of Fate." There is a great sense of foreboding and fear on Lucie's part as she stands before the intimidating woman--and rightly so, we will soon learn. Lucie even wraps herself around her young daughter in an effort to protect her from an unspoken threat that seems to emanate from the older woman. 

The effect of Madame Defarge on Lucie is chilling, and Dickens depicts that by casting Madame Defarge in darkness and shadow and Lucie in the light of innocence and passion. Think of them kind of like ice and fire.

Madame Defarge, says Dickens, is constantly in the shadows, "threatening and dark" toward both Lucie and young Lucie. Dickens uses words like "menace" and "coldly," and of course she is accompanied by The Vengeance. She is unmoved by Lucie's pleas and remains implacable to the younger woman's impassioned pleas. She is ice.

On the other hand, Lucie tries to appeal to Madame Defarge's female sensibilities and virtually begs for mercy for the innocent. She is so grateful that she kisses the woman's hand just because she has brought a letter from her beloved Charles, but the woman is unmoved. Lucie's plea is for her daughter, for herself, and for her innocent husband. She asks Madame Defarge to have pity on them, but the woman remains pitiless.  Lucie is on her knees, protecting her child, and her emotions are near the surface. She appeals to Madame Defarge as "sister-woman," but that is a flattering description to the French woman, as the two of them are nothing alike. One is pitiless; the other is tender and compassionate. Licie is passionate, emotional fire.

After Madame Defarge and The Vengeance leave, Lucie says this to Jarvis Lorry:

"I am not thankless, I hope, but that dreadful woman seems to throw a shadow on me and on all my hopes."

While Lucie is compassionate, hopeful, and sensitive, Madame Defarge is unbending, unemotional, and throws a shadow of foreboding wherever she goes--especially here. 

For more interesting analysis and insights on this classic Dickens work, check out the excellent eNotes sites attached below.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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