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A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
List of main characters:
— Dr. Alexandre Manette
— Lucie Manette, daughter of Alexandre Manette
— Charles Darney
—Sydney Carton, an attorney
— Monsieur Ernest Defarge, a wine shop owner
— Madame Therese Defarge, wife of Mr. Defarge
— Mr. Jarvis Lorry, banker
My favorite scene in A Tale of Two Cities is one of the last scenes, when Sydney Carton is about to go to the guillotine. It takes place in Paris, near a prison, and many people have gathered to watch french aristocrats be beheaded. The atmosphere is tense and chaotic; Sydney, however, remains calm, even though he is about to be killed. Sydney is holding the hand of a young girl who is given no name other than a “poor little seamstress”. Sydney and the seamstress, who are both being wrongfully killed, comfort each other just before they reach the guillotine, and they seem to have an instant romantic connection with each other. I loved this scene because it showed that Sydney Carton had finally found someone who could love him, as he could love them, but it saddened me that he had found her just before their deaths.
Another scene I particularly enjoyed was the scene in which a large cask of wine had dropped and broken in the street. Because many people had very little to eat or drink, a large crowd gathered around the dirty puddle and began drinking what they could of the spilled wine. This scene was very descriptive, explaining how the people tried to scoop up the wine in their hands, and how they soaked it up with handkerchiefs from women’s heads and squeezed the wine into infants’ mouths. Other people licked the stones in the street or sucked on the pieces of wood from the cask. This passage showed how unfortunate many of the people were, without actually saying that they were just poor. Specific words and phrases were used to effectively paint a vivid picture of the scene.
One of the most important scenes in this novel was the scene in which Dr. Manette is at the house of the Evremondes’, tending to a psychotic young peasant girl. The two Evremonde brothers convince Dr. Manette to come with them, to see someone who they believe needs help. When he arrives at their spacious house, he immediately hears piercing screams, coming from upstairs. He is taken to the room, to see a girl, about 20 years old, who is tied down to a bed, shrieking loudly, and thrashing around. The doctor gives her medication, seemingly to no avail. Meanwhile, the “elder” brother takes him to another patient, the girl’s brother, who has a fatal wound in his chest. The younger Evremonde brother had stabbed him with a sword, and he was dying. The dying peasant then tells Dr. Manette of the horrors that the Evremonde brother subjected on their servants, and then dies, after cursing the whole Evremonde family. The doctor then returns to the girl, who calms down after 26 hours, and who dies after a week.
If I were transported to this scene, I believe I would have acted much in the way that Dr. Manette did. He went along with the brothers, out of fear, but at the same time was horrified by their actions. I feel immense sympathy for the girl, who was tortured in many ways by the Evremonde brothers. I would have tried to comfort her, as the doctor did, but I think I would have been thoroughly scared by her constant screaming. The evil Evremonde brothers would have scared me even more, though, and I think I would have stayed away from them as best as I could, given the situation. I also would have stayed with the brother, and tried to comfort him too, because although he was sane, he was also in a great deal of emotional pain due to the actions of the Evremonde brothers.
A Tale of Two Cities takes place in many different settings. As the title states, it takes place mainly in two cities, Paris and London. The characters all go back and forth between cities, some being originally from France, and some being originally from England. Much of the novel takes place in the Bastille, a dank, dark prison in Paris, because Dr. Manette, Charles Darney, and Sydney Carton all occupy the Bastille at some point during the novel. Various other settings include Lucie’s house, where she lives with her father and Charles, a courtroom, in which Charles is tried, and a wine shop, which is where Mr. and Mrs. Defarge work , as well as hold their secret meetings.
The plot in this novel is very complicated and well written. It begins with an incoherent Dr. Manette being released from prison, after being falsely confined for over twenty years. Lucie, his daughter, takes him out of France, and back to London, where they live for five years. After five years, the story is resumed, and Charles Darney is now on trial for conspiracy against the French government. Lucie had a brief encounter with Darney while she was on a ship taking her father home, and much to her dismay she is called to testify against him in court, because she saw him carrying supposed conspiratorial papers at this time. Sydney Carton, a drunken lawyer who looks like Charles Darney, is able to get Charles acquitted by standing in view of the court, and making the argument that the conspirator may have been someone who looked like Charles. Charles and Sydney both are in love with Lucie, but it is Charles who marries her, and they have two children, one of whom survives.
Later in the story it is discovered that Charles’s real name is Evremonde, not Darney, and that he is a French aristocrat. Dr. Manette had observed a horrendous act of maltreatment by the Evremonde brothers (Charles’s father and uncle), and wrote a letter about the acts while he was in prison. Mr. Defarge finds this letter, and his group of “Republicans” vow to behead Charles, if he ever returns to France. Charles does return to France, to make amends for his family, and he gets thrown into the Bastille, his death certain, which is the main conflict.
The theme of the story is that for love, people will do anything. Sydney Carton pledges his love for Lucie, and tells her that he would do anything for her or for anyone she loves, and so he takes Charles’s place in prison and dies for him. Sydney’s great love for Lucie makes it possible for her and her family to live their lives.
Sydney Carton is the character that undergoes the most change throughout this novel. In the beginning, he is written as “. . .his torn gown half off him, his untidy wig put
on. . . his demeanor not only gave him a disreputable look, but so diminished his resemblance to the prisoner. . .” (Pg 68). Sydney is seen by the reader as nothing more than a calloused, sloppy, drunk who seems infatuated with Lucie. As the novel progresses, we see that Sydney actually has feelings, and that he is completely in love with Lucie. He becomes much softer, and the reader begins to pity him as we see him more and more. After Lucie marries Charles, Sydney “. . . was not improved in habits, or in looks, or in manner; but there was a certain rugged air of fidelity about him. . .”. He often spends time in the Manette household, and at one point he confesses his actual feelings to Lucie, telling her “. . . for you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. . .”, which he later acts on, when he dies for Charles. Sydney is the bad guy that we, as readers, come to love.
Use of devices:
A) Simile: “There was a steaming mist in all the hallows. . . like an evil spirit” (Pg 4)
Metaphor: “. . . A crowd in those times stopped at nothing, and was a monster much dreaded.” (Pg 143)
Personification: “The village had its one poor street, ” (Pg 103)
Use of senses: “So entirely had it lost the life and resonance of the human voice, that it affected the senses like a once beautiful colour faded away into a poor, weak stain.” (Pg 9)
Use of specifics: (about the house of the marquis) “It was a stony business altogether; with heavy stone balustrades, and stone urns, and stone flowers, and stone faces of men, and stone heads of lions. . .” (Pg 108)
“I fear you are not well, Mr. Carton!” (Lucie)
“No. But the life I lead, Miss Manette, is not conducive to health. What is to be expected of, or by, such profligates?”
“Is it not — forgive me; I have begun the question on my lips — a pity not to lead a better life?
“God knows it is a shame!”
“Then why not change it?” (Pg 137)
C) Dickens uses compare and contrast several times throughout the novel between Charles Darney and Sydney Carton. They look similar, and both love Lucie, but they have vastly different personalities.
Lucie was one of my favorite characters, and I think I would chose her to be a close friend, mainly because of her personality. She is described as “. . . a short, slight, pretty figure, a quantity of golden hair, a pair of blue eyes. . . with an inquiring look, and a forehead with a singular capacity. . . of a bright fixed attention”. Lucie’s hair describes her throughout the novel. It is golden, and compares naturally to her angelic nature. She is very compassionate to all people. She is very trustworthy, and when Sydney tells her his secret and asks her to promise not to tell anyone, she respects his wishes, and doesn’t even tell her husband.
I think that this is one of the best books ever written. The plot and conflict are wonderfully constructed, with all of the individual characters pasts weaving with each other. I loved how Dr. Manette wrote a letter that he had no idea would later condemn his son-in-law, and how Charles was noble enough to try to make amends for the sins of his family. I loved how Sydney Carton went to the guillotine for Charles so that Lucie would still have her family; he unselfishly gave his life for her happiness.
I would definitely recommend this book to a friend, because it constantly reveals new unexpected twists to the plot, and it is interesting the whole way through. It even has a little bit of comedy (Jerry Cruncher), and also a little sadness. It is incredibly descriptive, I felt like I could actually see the characters and the places they went. I loved Sydney Carton, and I think that what he did in the end of the novel is one of the most unexpected and heroic acts any character ever performed.
If I were to produce this book as a movie, I would hire Jennifer Love-Hewitt to play Lucie, Dick Vandyke to play Dr. Manette, and Mel Gibson to play Sydney Carton. I would choose Jennifer Love-Hewitt because she seems very innocent, like “the girl next door” . I would choose Mel Gibson, because he has the ability to play tough roles, and also he can be compassionate and caring, when the role is. Dick Vandyke would play a good Dr. Manette because he is a good authority figure, is not very loud, and plays a good father figure.
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