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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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What is the symbolic meaning of the chocolate and Monseigneur in Chapter 7, Book II of A Tale of Two Cities?

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In considering this excellent chapter, which contains lots of prime examples of Dickensian irony, you need to consider how Dickens presents the upper classes. Note that this chapter occurs before the Revolution has actually started, and we see the French upper class, symbolised by Monseigneur, in all of their finery and vapid wealth. Consider the following description of Monseigneur and his beloved chocolate:

Monseigneur was in his inner room, his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of Holiests to the crowd of worshippers in the suite of rooms without. Monseigneur was about to take his chocolate. Monseigneur could swallow a great many things with ease, and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but, his morning's chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur, without the aid of four strong men besides the Cook.

Note the emphasis on the idle luxury of the rich. Dickens begins by ironically referring to the "inner room" as the "Holiest of Holiests," making an allusion to the inner sanctum of the Hebrew temple in the Bible, where no one could enter except the high priest. This exaggerates the importance and power of Monseigneur. Likewise he is shown to be rather pathetic and lazy in needing the aid of "four strong men" who are employed for no other purpose except to bring Monseigneur his chocolate. Dickens, of course, is one of those "sullen voices" who think that Monseigneur is actually consuming France by this exaggerated display of wealth and luxury whilst so many French citizens are living in dire poverty. It is important not to read this chapter in isolation but to consider how it is juxtaposed with Chapter Eight, which presents us with a very different seen as we meet the people who have to pay the price for such lavish displays of opulence.

Therefore, in this chapter the emphasis is on the exaggerated displays of wealth, symbolised partly through the chocolate and the Monseigneur, that help us to understand the rage of the French citizens. It is important to note, however, that Dickens is very careful not to approve of neither the excesses of wealth displayed by the French aristocracy, nor the violent measures that the French citizenry take to rebel against it.

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