What are some examples of paradoxes of character in A Tale of Two Cities?A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A novel of dualities, A Tale of Two Cities contains characters who are much like other characters; and within themselves there are two apparently contradictory sides to the characters.  Even extremely minor characters exhibit paradoxical qualities. One such personage is the Monseigneur of Chapter 7 of Book the Second, who is one of the great lords in power at the Court in Paris, yet he is unable to drink his morning chocolate without the much assistance:

Monsiegneur could swallow a great many things with ease, and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but , his morning's chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur, without the aid of four strong men besides the Cook.

Another minor character who exhibits paradoxical characteristics is Jerry Cruncher.  Claiming to be "an honest tradesman," who runs errands for a highly reputable bank by day, Jerry commits crimes at night as he exhumes cadavers and delivers them for profit to medical schools.  Jerry's self-bestowed sobriquet of "Resurrection Man" seems contradictory, but when Jerry goes to exhume Roger Cly one night in London, he finds no body.  Noticing John Barsad while he is in France, Jerry figuratively "resurrects" Roger Cly by reporting that the funeral for this person has  been staged.  Thus, he exposes Miss Pross's brother, whose name is really Solomon, as a double-spy.

C. J. Stryver, whose acumen is not as great as that of Sydney Carton, nevertheless possesses enough analytical and logical skill to be a practicing barrister in London.  Yet, paradoxically, he is too obtuse to even catch any of the hints that Mr. Lorry provides him regarding Lucie's lack of interest in him as a husband. In the chapter entitled paradoxically "The Fellow of Delicacy," Mr. Lorry does his best to persuade Stryver not to go to the Manette's and propose to Lucie.  However, Mr. Stryver misconstrues completely what Mr. Lorry implies about him, thinking instead that Lorry means that Lucie "is a mincing Fool."

Dr. Manette, too, is paradoxical.  For, while he has his spells of insanity, he yet can lucidly talk of his mental malady with Mr. Lorry as long as they discuss Manette as though he were another man about whom Mr. Lorry is consulting him.  In fact, in Chapter 19, "An Opinion," Manette even analyzes his ailment:

...it is very hard to explain, consistently, the innermost workings of this poor man's mind.  He once yearned so frightfully for that occupation, and it was so welcome when it came; no doubt it relieved his pain so much by substituting the perplexity of the fingers for the perplexity of the brain...

With Mr. Lorry's gentle coaxing, Manette agrees to the cure.

The paradoxical qualities of the characters of Dickens's great classic recall for the reader the famous opening passage of the novel:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,....we had everything before us, we had nothing before us....

The Monseigneur has everything before him, but later has nothing, Stryver has all the evidence before him but has no understanding, Dr. Manette has his family, but must regain his mental strength.  Like life itself, many of the characters seem contradictory in nature.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Paradoxes are already interesting, because they take what seems to be and then twist it into something else, as well.  In A Tale of two Cities, paradoxes can be found in several characters.

Of course, Sydney Carton is a paradox.  Here is a man who has wasted his entire life doing nothing--or as close to nothing as he can get.  He's lackadaisical and even disrespectful in the courtroom, yet he has a sharper legal mind than the most up-an-coming lawyer in the town (and he actually makes Stryver's cases for him).  He is a man who doesn't care in the least what people say about him, yet he very much wants to be seen in a positive light to Lucie. He's not particularly a man of action, yet he is forceful and commanding in Paris during the crisis.  Finally, of course, he is a man who loves the pleasures of life but is willing to give his for the man Lucie loves.

Miss Pross is also a rather paradoxical creature.  She's kind of crazy in many ways, yet she is loyal to a fault.  She rants and raves at Jarvis over ridiculous nonsense, yet she is fierce and determined when she needs to be.  She's all crazy or all business.

Ernest Defarge is a man who is willing to shed blood for the cause of freedom for his fellow men; he's also compassionate toward Charles Darnay (or as compassionate as his wife will let him be), one of the aristocrats Defarge has purposed to rid the world of.

Jarvis is the funniest paradox to me.  In those opening scenes he is quite clear about being a "man of business" in everything; however, he is compassionate with Dr. Manette as a broken man and cries at Lucie's weddding.  He's clearly not all about business. 


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A Tale of Two Cities

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