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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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How does Charles Dickens represent the idea of fate through Madame Defarge?

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Perhaps the most salient reminder of the presence of fate with the character of Madame Defarge is in her persistent knitting, "to be registered, as doomed to destruction." In Chapter XV of Book the Second, entitled "Knitting," Ernest Defarge tells a Jacques that the entire Evremonde family is registered.  When Jacques Two worries that the coded knitting might be discovered or Madame Defarge may not remember all the names, Defarge responds to him,

“Jacques,” returned Defarge, drawing himself up, “if madame my wife undertook to keep the register in her memory alone, she would not lose a word of it—not a syllable of it. Knitted in her own stitches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as the sun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge.”

That Madame Defarge is the agent of fate is also evident in the next chapter which is entitled "Still Knitting."  For, after John Barsad has come into the wine-shop, Madame Defarge registers the English spy's name in her knitting.  Then, she counts the coins of their money and begins to knot the coins in her handerchief in a chain of separate knots.  M. Defarge complains that "it is a long time" since they have begun their plans for revolution.  Mme. Defarge retorts that is takes a long time for an earthquake, yet it comes.  She tells her husband, 

"Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule....But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieces everything before it."...She tied a knot with flashing eyes, as if it throttled a foe.

“I tell thee,” said madame, extending her right hand, for emphasis, “that although it is a long time on the road, it is on the road and coming.

"I tell thee it never retreats, and never stops. I tell thee it is always advancing. Look around and consider the lives of all the world that we know, consider the faces of all the world that we know, consider the rage and discontent to which the Jacquerie addresses itself with more and more of certainty every hour. Can such things last? Bah! I mock you....I believe with all my soul, that we shall see the triumph.  But even if not, even if I knew certainly not, show me the neck of an aristocrat and tyrant, and still I would---"

When Defarge, who was the servant of Dr. Manette, says that he wishes that Manette and Darnay would stay out of France, Mme. Defarge remarks that their names are already registered and that Darnay's "destiny...will take him where he is to go, and will lead him to the end that is to end him. That is all I know."

In the evening, all the women of St. Antoine knit; Mme. Defarge moves from group to group, the agent of fate, as darkness surrounds them.  Dickens foreshadows the coming of the revolution and its guillotine,

Another darkness was closing in as surely‚ when the church bells‚ then ringing pleasantly in many an airy steeple over France‚ should be melted into thundering cannon; when the military drums should be beating to drown a wretched voice‚ that night all potent as the voice of Power and Plenty‚ Freedom and Life. So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting‚ knitting‚ that they their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt‚ where they were to sit knitting‚ knitting‚ counting dropping heads.





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Madame Defarge believes in fate over free will.  Madame Defarge represents fate in a couple of ways.  First of all, she argues that she has nothing to do with events, but fate determines them.  For example, if Darnay and his family do not come back to France, they won't be killed.  If fate brings them to France, they will be killed.  She removes herself from the equation.  All aristocrats must die.  This is their fate.  The does not see herself, or any of the revolutionaries, as having a moral choice.

Another way that Madame Defarge represents fate is in her struggle with Miss Pross.  If Madame Defarge had lived, Lucie and her daughter would likely have been killed.  Yet since she died and Miss Pross lived, Lucie survived.  To Madame Defarge, it was not her actions as a person that mattered, or Miss Pross’s.  It was fate’s intervention.

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