The Conflicts In A Tale Of Two Cities By Charles Dickens

As with any historical fiction of work of literature, conflict is a required element in a novel. Its general purpose is to build plot and suspense. A Tale of Two Cities written by Charles Dickens is an excellent example of a novel in which conflicts between play an important role and in this novel it is mainly the struggles between social groups (which are of massive importance) and personal lives. It especially highlights the protagonists struggles and feelings with the ongoing conflicts of both their personal lives, as well as The French Revolution; a key point to the novel. A tale of two cities demonstrates how major conflicts can cause such a major effect on not only the characters involved, but the whole society as well.

The main conflict of a tale of two cities is the French Revolution as the novel revolves around this conflict. The revolution is between the lower-class of France and the upper-class of France, it shows the differences in incomes and how that affects the two classes. The French government and upper class are allowed to follow an expensive, lavish lives while the lower-class of France is filled with hard working, poverty-ridden, lower-income citizens and/or peasants. The peasants: “had gone a terrible grinding and re-grinding in the mill, and certainly not in the famous mill which ground old people yong, shivered at every corner, passed in and out at every doorway, looked from every window, fluttered in every vestige of a garment that the wind shook. The mill which has worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old”. The lower class citizens have become a mechanized force, and rather than human beings, these citizens are just grist for the mill which churns up the lower-class of France. This made the lower class citizens include resent towards the upper class, the royalty and the aristocracy. The idiocy of the upper-class established an ongoing revolution between the two classes of wealth. The upper-class also is mindless inhuman. Dickens describes the minds of the Upper Class as “The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon monseigneur”. The mindlessness can cause an outrage. Since everyone is “unreal”, it shows that all of the upper-class is fake and mindless. If the upper class is not careful and becomes too abusive, it can cause a major outrage since the lower-class will start to rebel. The peasants started to question the upper-class’ idiocy and began to rebel against the French aristocrats who had been tyrannizing them for an extensive amount of time. As a result of this, France was required to take a long time to recover from the revolution since so many people and resources were involved, and all of this was coming from France. This made France overworked and thus, they were required to recover. The lives of the idiotic French aristocrats are described by Dickens as : “And who among the company at Monsignor’s reception in that seventeen hundred and eightieth year of our Lord, could possibly doubt, that a system rooted in a frizzled hangman, powdered and gold-laced, pumped, and white-silk stockinet, would see the very stars out!”. In short, this metaphor which compares the system of the aristocracy to the stars, is described by Dickens as so bad, that the stars of our solar system would burn out before the system started working in everyone’s favour.

The deaths of what would appear to be worthless peasant-like lower-class citizens had no effect on the luxurious upper class in the slightest since they were too focused on themselves. Charles Darnay was arrested twice mainly because he was born a French aristocrat, and revolutionists wanted him killed for treason because of the crimes that his father and uncle committed. Since the French do not care about anyone else but themselves, Darnay has rejected his French background and all the wealth that comes with it because he knows that what the French aristocrats are doing is wrong, and he actually cares about other people. Since Darnay sets out and lives a life in England, the French view his relatives actions as traitor-like and that is why he is tried for treason. “Charles Darnay stood there before him upon his trial; that the jury were wearing in . . . ”. The punishment for treason is death, and that would mean that if Darnay was proven to be guilty, he would die. However, Darnay manages to escape this conflict because his trial is thrown into uproar and the judge’s final verdict is that the case is acquitted. Through all of this, the reader is able to know the struggles of Darnay and how his original background causes so many problems for himself and nearly gets him executed. These conflicts assist in showing Darnay’s true colours by revealing that he is a noble gentlemen who thirsts for justice. It is revealed through his actions of selflessness, like helping Lucie Manette with her father, and protecting her from the antagonist Madame Defarge.

An additional character conflict that brings out the emotions of characters is Lucie Manette. Lucie is described as a “bright beauty springing up” by Sydney Carton. Caron also states that “when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you”. Carton, who has fallen in love with Manette ends up trying to marry her. Manette only ends up marrying Darnay as her husband after ensuring that he will assist her in taking care of her father. Lucie’s first major conflict is that all her life, she thought that her father: Doctor Manette was dead, but in reality he has been imprisoned in a French prison for the past 18 years. This poses Manette with the challenge of freeing her father, and then welcoming him back into society. Once her father has been rescued, she now has to face the challenge of supporting him in getting better since he has been driven mad from eighteen straight years in prison. Doctor Manette does not even sound like the same person. His “voice was pitiable and dreadful . . . its deplorable peculiarity was, that it was the faintness of solitude and disease. It was like the last feeble echo of a sound made long ago”. Doctor Manette’s time in prison has robbed him not just of 18 years, but of his ability to function and re-enter the world. Even his voice seems to have been forgotten. These conflicts have shaped both of the Manettes into completely different people. Lucie went from being a simple character, with no intention of saving her father (since she knew nothing of his existence), to becoming a brave young woman who had the courage, with the help of Darnay to pick up her father from eighteen years of prison. She is now more courageous and cares for others. An example of her devotion for her father is when she says “If, when I hint to you of a home that is before us, where I will be true to you with all my duty and with all my faithful service, I bring back the remembrance of a Home long desolate, while your poor heart pined away, weep for it, weep for it”. Lucie’s immediate devotion to a father that she has never met becomes an opportunity for Lucie to reveal her compassionate characteristics. Whereas her father Doctor Manette went from being an honourable doctor, to being a paranoid shoe maker who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although in the end he does recover, for the majority of the story he is shaken up and not the same Doctor Manette that existed before entering the prison. The Manettes are forever changed by the false imprisonment of Doctor Manette.

An additional major conflict for Darnay and Lucie Manette is Madame Defarge. Madame Defarge serves as the antagonist in “A Tale of Two Cities”. She says “I care nothing for this Doctor, I. He may wear his head or lose it, for any interest I have in him . . . but the Evremond people are to be exterminated”. She wants revenge against the Evremonde Family, specifically Marquis St Evremonde for the deaths of her nephew, sister, brother, father and brother-in-law. Marquis also happens to be Darnay’s uncle, Lucie’s uncle in-law and therefore he is related to their child as well. Madame Defarge realizes this and commences a plan to kill all of the Evremonde family. Lucie quickly realizes her plan and becomes terrified, and personally asks Madame Defarge “For my sake, then be merciful to my husband. For my child’s sake!” because she knows that Defarge will not stop and thus she is asking herself for mercy. Madame Defarge’s sister: Defarge even interrogates Madame Defarge by asking her when will she stop all her violence. Madame, at first takes these as compliments since she now knows she is in power. However, she will not stop because that does not change the fact that Marquis killed her family members. When Monsieur Defarge asks Madame to stop, Madame Defarge responds saying “Tell the wind and fire to stop, not me”. This shows that Madame Defarge is abusive and cruel. Inherently, Madame will not stop because she is too shaken up by Marquis St Evremonde and how he ruined her childhood by murdering her family. In essence, she is holding Lucie and her child hostage since they are both French so they “belong to the aristocracy” so they “must pay” for the murders of her family members. This is Madame Defarge’s inner conflict since she is struggling to seek justice for what happened to her family members, but she is losing her sense of reality in doing so by terrorizing innocent people (like Lucie and Darnay) in the process. Furthermore, the conflict that Madame Defarge creates for Lucie and Darnay is serious since both are left to deal with protecting themselves, and anyone else in their family. Likewise, this also shapes who Madame Defarge truly is as a person. She transforms from an innocent woman who enjoys knitting in her free time to becoming a tyrant who thirsts for justice by attempting to murder others. In a way, she can be seen as similar to Darnay since she also thirsts for justice for fellow family members but she is not the same Madame Defarge as a result of Marquis St Evremonde and his actions as an aristocrat.

The French Revolution; a major conflict which had such an extraordinary impact on not only the majority of France, the land, and its people, but it shaped the lives of the main characters as well. The French Revolution gave Darnay a reason to conceal his French background, and thus shaping his life as an English tutor, who ends up marrying Lucie Manette. It gave the Lower Class citizens of France, an opportunity to voice their opinions which was strictly prohibited at the time. The French Revolution inspired the themes of Justice and Revenge for the main characters like Madame Defarge and Charles Darnay, but also for the Lower Class and Upper Class French citizens. To conclude, a tale of two cities demonstrates how major conflicts can cause such a major effect on not only the characters involved, but the whole society as well.

10 October 2020
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