In A Tale of Two Cities, why is the farmer called "Death"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your question refers of course to Chapter 1 in Book the First of this excellent novel. Consider the following quote that introduces us to the "Farmer, Death" and the "Woodman, Fate":

It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and  a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution.

Here, Dickens is personifying the forces of Death and Fate, so prevalent in the novel and in the period in which the novel is set, as a Farmer and a Woodman, who are going about there work "unceasingly" and "silently". Dickens is thus foreshadowing the role of Death and Fate in the novel by introducing them in this personified fashion before the novel begins, linking Fate to the construction of the "movable framework" (the guillotine) and Death with the setting apart of the "tumbrils", the carts that were used to transport the nobility and other prisoners to their execution at the hands of Madame La Guillotine.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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