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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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How does Dickens use misinformation to create mystery in A Tale of Two Cities by Book II?

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One of the features of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is his duality of identity in several of his characters.  One minor character who is pivotal to the plot of the novel is the spy who testifies in Chapter 2 of Book the Second.  "The virtuous servant" as he is ironically termed by Dickens is named as Roger Cly. He is the "forger and false swearer" who claims that Charles Darnay has spoken against the King of England and is guilty of treason. 

Later in the novel, Jerry Cruncher witnesses the "funeral" of this Roger Cly, an incident that creates misinformation.  This witnessing by Jerry Cruncher and his later discovery that there is no body in the grave makes Jerry a lever in the plot when his knowledge of Cly's fake burial enables Sydney Carton to blackmail John Barsad effectively.  John Barsad is the spy for the French whom Carton is able to manipulate into allowing himself to be switched in Charles Darnay's place at the prison in which the aristocrats are kept before being guillotined.

But, to add further to the misinformation about Roger Cly/John Basard, as well as the mystery, neither of these names are real.  In actuality, this man is Solomon Pross, the brother of Miss Pross, nurse to Lucie Manette.  To add to the misinformation surrounding her brother, Miss Pross believes that her brother is a decent and admirable person when Mr. Lorry in Chapter of Book II has discovered

the fact that her brother Solomon was a heartless scoundrel who had stripped her of everything she possessed,...and had abandoned her in her poverty for evermore, with no touch of compunction.

Another example of misinformation about a character is in the descriptions of Sydney Carton as the "jackal."  For, a jackal is a scavenger who feeds from prey that other animals have already killed or that have already died.  However, in truth it is C.J. Stryver who preys upon Carton and feeds from the brillance of Carton's mind in their legal cases.  He has Carton sit for hours figuring the best way to win.  When Carton arrives at his place, Stryver refers to him as "Memory" and orders him to get to work.  This "idlest and most unpromising of men," as Dickens writes is truly the brillance behind Stryver's legal arguments.

Still another misinformation is Dickens's use of hyperbole to suggest other ideas. In Chapter 6, for example, Miss Pross complains to Mr. Lorry that "Hundreds" of people have come to visit her "Ladybird" that are not worthy of "the pet."  In reality the house in Soho is on the end of a quiet street and only a few visitors come to visit.  However, Dickens uses the figurative "hundreds of people" to foreshadow the true marching of hundreds in the revolution that will soon come to pass in France.

Finally, the misinformation about Madame Defarge as merely one of the revolutionaries adds much to the mystery of the novel.  For, she is the link to the persecution of Charles Darnay, ne Evremonde, and, later Lucie.  Because her entire family perished as a result of the cruelty of the twin Evremonde brothers, she has vowed to exact revenge upon this family as well as the entire race of French aristocrats, serving as a symbolic character to the intensity and bloodlust behind the French Revolution.

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