illustration of a guillotine

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

Start Free Trial

In A Tale of Two Cities, why is Madame Defarge so vengeful towards the aristocrats?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Madame Defarge has lived her life witnessing and experiencing the horrors that the French aristocracy inflicts on the peasant class. She sees them as a part of society that should be completely and violently abolished in order to make way for a more just and egalitarian nation.

However, her lust for the destruction of the aristocracy is more than simple ideology. She has a personal score to settle. Near the end of the story, we learn more about her traumatic backstory. It turns out that French aristocrats, namely the Evremonde brothers, are responsible for the destruction of her entire family. When she was young, the Evremondes raped her sister, which ultimately resulted in the death of the sister, her sister's unborn child, her father, her brother, and her brother-in-law.

Madame Defarge dedicated her life to vengeance. However, she does not just want the Evremonde bloodline, which includes Charles Darnay, forever wiped out; she wants the entire system that allowed for such oppression and barbarity destroyed forever. The irony here is that by seeking to dismantle an oppressive society, Madame Defarge becomes just as callous as the people she seeks to destroy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For Madame Defarge, the personal is political. The violation of her sister and the subsequent deaths of her father and brother weren't just a personal affront but acts of political oppression, waged against her class by an effete aristocracy. It's not enough, then, for her to gain revenge on the man responsible for her family's misfortunes; she must destroy the whole aristocracy. Only this way will she finally be bale to erase all the pain, suffering, and humiliation that her family has experienced over so many years.

It doesn't work out like that, of course. Even after the aristocracy has been swept from power by the radical phase of the Revolution, Madame Defarge's thirst for vengeance shows no sign of being satisfied. She becomes ever more deranged, demanding the destruction of anyone who gets in her way, irrespective of their social origins.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Madame Defarge is a radical supporter of the French Revolution and is depicted as a villain for the majority of Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities. Her vendetta against the Evremondes seems unfounded until the reader discovers her tragic backstory. Despite this backstory, it’s difficult to empathize with Madame Defarge because she relentlessly goes after innocent people.

Madame Defarge intensely despises the aristocracy because she blames it for the deaths in her family. Defarge’s sister was raped by the Marquis de Evremonde in her youth, a crime that resulted in both her father and brother’s deaths because of their respective grief and quest for revenge.

For Madame Defarge, it isn’t enough to have punished her sister’s rapist; she wants to destroy his entire bloodline. This is best exemplified in the following quote:

It was nothing to her, that an innocent man was to die for the sins of his forefathers; she saw, not him, but them. It was nothing to her, that his wife was to be made a widow and his daughter an orphan; that was insufficient punishment, because they were her natural enemies and her prey, and as such had no right to live.

This shows the depths of Madame Defarge’s hatred, and although she might have a reason to hold a grudge, her nefarious plans transcend what is rational. Madame Defarge blames the aristocracy for her own pain and suffering, and she will not stop until she wipes them out of existence. Of course, this hatred is her own kind of flaw since it also causes Miss Pross to kill her.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial