In Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities" who would be a minor character? Is that minor character an antagonist or a character foil?

lit24 | Student

A minor character is a character who plays a very 'minor' or insignificant role in the novel. He usually appears very briefly, sometimes only once in the entire novel. One example of a minor character is Jerry Cruncher who delivers an important message to Mr. Jarvis Lorry as he is on his way to Paris [Book I, Ch.2].  Initially Jerry Cruncher is mistaken to be a highway man by the guard of the Dover Mail, and hence an antagonist or an enemy but Mr.Jarvis Lorry quickly reassures the guard and the others in the coach that there is nothing to be frightened of as Jerry Cruncher is a messenger from Tellson's Bank.

Minor characters are usually 'Type' or 'Flat' characters, that is, they have only one dimension which is indicated by the label attached to them. The word 'cruncher' means 'to add.' Most probably Jerry was a clerk or an accountant in Tellson"s Bank who spent his time adding figures.

In Book I, Ch. 2 of Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities,"  entitled "The Mail" Mr. Jarvis Lorry a confidential clerk of Tellson's Bank is on his way to Dover in the horse driven coach "The Dover Mail." It is around elven on a cold November night and a fog envelops the coach as it struggles to climb up Shooter's Hill. Visibility is practically zero:

"There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horse steamed into it, as if they had made it all."

The passengers had alighted and the coach man Tom and his guard Joe with great difficulty were struggling to push the coach uphill. Just then they heard the sound of a horse galloping towards them. They immediately suspected the rider to be a highway man. The guard of the "Dover Mail" immediately cocked the safety of his blunderbuss and aimed it in the dark in the direction of the horse rider and threatened to shoot him. However, Jerry Cruncher identifies himself as a messenger from Tellson's Bank, London with a message for one Mr. Jarvis Lorry. Mr. Lorry assures the coachman and the guard that there is nothing to be frightened of and receives the message from Jerry Cruncher and reads  it and replies to it. Jerry then returns to London and the Dover Mail continues its journey towards Dover.

Similarly, another example of a minor character is Miss Pross, Lucie's nurse. She is a foil to the major character Madame Defarge. Miss Pross symbolizes order, respectability and loyalty while Madame Defarge symbolizes chaos, ruthlessness and vengeance.

A foil is a piece of glittering paper placed beneath a cheap stone so that it appears brighter and more expensive than it really is. Miss Pross is the minor character and Dickens uses her as a foil to contrast and highlight the major character Madame Defarge. Miss Pross's loyalty and respectability highlight and emphasize the evil and unforgiving nature of Madame Defarge. This contrast is most evident in the Third Book Ch. 14 entitled 'The Knitting Done,' When Miss Pross and Madame Defarge confront one another:

"Madame Defarge looked at her scornfully, but still with something of Miss Pross's own perception that they two were at bay. She saw a tight, hard, wiry woman before her, as Mr. Lorry had seen in the same figure a woman with a strong hand, in the years gone by. She knew full well that Miss Pross was the family's devoted friend; Miss Pross knew full well that Madame Defarge was the family's malevolent enemy."

Soon after they begin fighting and Madame Defarge is accidentally shot to death with her own pistol,

"Miss Pross, with the vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate, [madame Defarge] clasped her tight, and even lifted her from the floor in the struggle that they had."

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A Tale of Two Cities

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