The concept of life after death has always been one of the fascinations of humans. With multiple religions in our world, there are many different ideas as to what happens after one dies. The prospect of heaven and hell, a luxurious afterlife, and resurrection are all thoughts that come to mind. In order to have a great after life, one must live life responsible and ethically. Charles Dickens brings up the idea of resurrection in A Tale of Two Cities. This novel shows what people will do in order to live a greater afterlife. In the story, different characters go to extraordinary lengths to preserve their space in the afterlife. In Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, the theme that purity and unadulterated actions lead to resurrection is shown through motifs, symbols, and paradoxes.
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Motifs play a large role in Dickens’s novel, showing how various characters are associated with various characteristics. One of the main characters, Lucie Manette, is full of purity and innocence, and Dickens shows her virtue through motifs. The motif that is best associated with Lucie Manette is her golden hair. This golden hair portrays her ability to help others. The aura of innocence that surrounds Lucie is due to her golden hair, which shows what she does to help others. Her golden hair is pure and shows that Lucie is one of the purest characters in the novel. Not only does Lucie have a sense of compassion, but it is with this compassion that she is able to help others, such as her father. Barely eighteen years old, she chooses to help take care of her father, a man who she has never met. Her actions cause her to be “the golden thread that united him to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery: and the sound of her voice, the light of her face, the touch of her hand, had a strong beneficial influence with him almost always” (Dickens 80). She guides her father out of his misery through her love and helps support him. Not only does Lucie help Dr. Manette, but she is the one who supports Sidney Carton during the time when he is struggling with his life and career. Lucie raises a family with Charles Darnay, who sees her as the ideal companion. Lucie is full of compassion and kindness and from her “flows the energy that nurtures all who surround her. Lucie is the daughter who nurses her ailing father, Dr. Manette, back to physical and mental health, she is the maiden who brings an alcoholic suitor, Sidney Carton, into contact with his inner self and to spiritual rebirth, she is the wife and mother who creates a new country and a new family for her husband, Charles Darnay” (Hamilton 204). By helping others, Lucie becomes the most angelic character in the whole novel.
In opposition to Lucie’s purity, there are also scenes in the novel where compassion is lacking greatly. Outside the Defarge’s wine shop, a wine cask has broken and people are surrounding the blood-red wine attempting to drink some of it. This scene shows the savageness of people as well as foreshadowing the future revolution. The wine represents blood in this scene, yet the people are going after it like brutes. This foreshadows what will occur during the war when real blood is going to be shed. During this scene, “some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped, or tried to help women, who bent over their shoulders, to sip, before the wine had all run out between their fingers. Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths” (Dickens 31). As Dickens predicts future violence, he also hints at how desire for brutality will transform caring human beings into bloodthirsty animals. When the wine runs out and people return to the activities of their daily lives, the mark of hunger is visible on all of them. Even the street signs reflect this hunger, with the butcher’s sign painted with only a scrap of meat, the baker’s with a tiny loaf. This scene not only shows what will happen in the future, but it also shows how “the Defarge shop provides the opportunity for a sort of red mass in which the wine, tasted by all people, smeared on their lips and faces, becomes blood; there is, pointedly, no bread of life – no body of Christ – for the hungry in this mass, and for that very reason the blood is solely a portent of destruction, not a promise of redemption” (Alter 17). This passage also shows that it was the Defarge’s wine shop that began to cause the humans to behave like animals since the wine is referred to as blood. This is also a foreshadowing of the Defarges leading the revolution, with the wine shop as their center base. Later in the story, it is seen that all of the “raging circled around Defarge’s wine-shop and every human drop in the caldron had a tendency to be sucked towards the vortex where Defarge himself, already begrimed with gunpowder and sweat, issued orders, issued arms, thrust this man back, dragged this man forward, disarmed one to arm another, labored and strove in the thickest of the uproar” (Dickens 211). The wine shop attracts the attention of all those fighting, and Madame Defarge is also getting together her band of women who will fight in the revolution. Not only do the Defarges wish to fight in the battle, but they want others to join them as well. By force, “internal aggression is brought under control, and the generation in power transmits its own authority – its own image – to those who follow” (Hutter 46). With all of the commotion and destruction going on around them, the Defarges are the opposite of Lucie, having an extreme lack of purity.
The aspect of resurrection has a great effect on one’s actions. If one believes that there is another life after death, than they will try to follow the noblest path in order to get a better life. Charles Darnay is no exception to this rule and it is seen in the novel. Darnay was born an aristocrat, but did not like the way the common folk were treated and the common folk do not like the aristocrats. As Madame Defarge says to the road mender, “These fools [the aristocrats] know nothing. While they despise your breath, and would stop it forever and ever, in you or in a hundred like you rather than in once of their own horses or dogs, they only know what your breath tells them. Let it deceive them, and then, a little longer; it cannot deceive them too much” (Dickens 171). Darnay feels the same way about the aristocrats, and wants to keep them in denial. At the beginning of the story, the French aristocrats exercise complete control over the lower classes. Later, when the tables have turned, it is the peasants who use their newly discovered power to harshly persecute the aristocrats through mass executions and imprisonment. Darnay notes when he is first interred in La Force prison that the rough looking men are in charge and the prisoners are polite and civil. He begins to think of his family, the Evremondes, and sees how he could be one of them. He thinks that if he had stayed with his noble side, he would still be happily married to Lucie. He begins having these thoughts daily and the reader can distinguish Darnay’s repetitive behavior as abandonment of social responsibilities and broken vows to his loved ones” (Sims 219). Not only does Darnay wish to go back to his old lifestyle, but that will mean risking losing Lucie as Darnay cannot marry someone who is not an aristocrat.
Dickens was well known for creating powerful scenes of imagery, and the scene with the grindstone has a deep symbolic meaning as well. When Lucie goes into hiding, she looks out the window into the courtyard and sees the grindstone. There are two men turning it and more quickly join, ready to begin the bloodthirsty battle for freedom. Lucie observes that “the grindstone had a double handle, and, turning at it madly were two men, whose faces, as their long hair flapped back when the whirlings of the grindstone brought their faces up, were more horrible and cruel than the visages of the wildest savages in their most barbarous disguise. False eyebrows and false moustaches were stuck upon them, and their hideous countenances were all bloody and sweaty, and all awry with howling, and all staring and glaring with beastly excitement and want of sleep” (Dickens 279). The men are sharpening the weapons that will be used in the war and the grindstone is assisting them. The grindstone is a symbol for the fury of the mob that will soon take over all of Paris. Once Lucie Manette sees that the two men have begun creating the tools that will help them kill others, she knows that the war is now inevitable. Knowing that Lucie is afraid for her husband’s life, Mr. Lorry attempts to calm her down by saying that the men are simply arming themselves in case of an attack. It can be seen that “this sense of inevitability, I would suggest, is deliberately reinforced by the use of coincidence in the plot” (Alter 22). While Mr. Lorry is trying to help Lucie maintain her composure, he knows what is really going on. There is no doubt in his mind that a war will occur, and his main goal is to protect Lucie, Darnay, and himself.
Dickens also uses paradoxes to help convey the theme that purity leads to resurrection. In order to help the woman he loves be with the man that she loves, Sidney Carton makes the ultimate sacrifice. Since he cannot have Lucie in this life, he decides to make her happy so that he may find his lover in the next life. It is with confidence that Carton leaves the world, saying “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” (Dickens 374).Not only does he willingly die for Lucie, but he also welcomes death as he knows that he will be reimbursed for his good deed. All the time that he is waiting in line to be killed by the guillotine, he still has the aura of a man who is professionally prepared. By knowing that he is dying for Lucie, he maintains his composure as he walks up to be killed. He not only dies for Lucie, but “the nature and quality of Carton’s commitment to his professional identity give him an authority that is denied most of the professional men in A Tale of Two Cities” (Petch 31). In order to keep Lucie happy, Sydney Carton gives his life away in hope that he will find his true lover again in the afterlife. Dickens also shows that there is a religious aspect while dealing with death. Nearing Carton’s death, Jarvis Lorry begins to talk about how God may help save them from too much sorrow. Lorry states that “”If it had pleased GOD to put it in the hard heart of either of the brothers, in all these frightful years, to grant me any tidings of my dearest wife-so much as to let me know by a word whether alive or dead-might have thought that He had not quite abandoned them. But, now I believe that the mark of the red cross is fatal to them, and that they have no part in His mercies . . . I denounce them to Heaven and to earth” (Dickens 329-30). Not only is Lorry talking about how God may help them, but he is also talking about how destiny plays a part in death. Dickens says that Carton was meant to die since he would be resurrected and be happier in his next life. This proves that “Resurrection, then, is more than just another double for narration; it also doubles the novel’s competitive relationship to the theatrical doubles” (Gallagher 90). It shows how there is always a purpose for one’s life and that Carton’s purpose is to help Lucie Manette.
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Perhaps the greatest paradox in the entire novel is the one between weaving and knitting, which represents the two opposing characters, Lucie and Madame Defarge. Lucie is known to be kind and gentle, while Madame Defarge is known for leading the women during the revolution. As the “golden thread” that binds the lives of Doctor Manette, Mr. Lorry, Darnay, and Carton together, Lucie is a passive character who influences others through who she is rather than by what she does. Her goodness enables them to become more than they are and to find the strength to escape the prisons of their lives. During the time when she was “ever busily winding the golden thread that bound them together, weaving the service of her happy influence through the tissue of all their lives, and making it predominate nowhere, Lucie heard in the echoes of years none but friendly and soothing sounds” (Dickens 209). Even Lucie’s past has been full of purity, which causes her to be the most compassionate character in the novel. On the other hand, Madame Defarge stands at the center of the revolutionary activity in Paris, even when she is just sitting in the wine-shop and knitting her death register. Madame Defarge instigates hatred and violence. Her patient ruthlessness helps to support her husband when he has doubts about the Revolution. “The grim knitting of the wives of the Revolution, led by Madame Defarge, expresses in regular nervous motion the irresistible impulse of vengeance working within the women, and, in the allegorical scheme of the novel, it is made clear that they are the Fates, knitting an irreversible pattern of doom” (Alter 17). These women are the contrast of Lucie, knitting people’s death sentences into charts. Not only is Madame Defarge considered ‘evil’, but the entire action of knitting is considered to be foul. In one instance, Madame Defarge pointed “her knitting-needle at little Lucie as if it were the finger of Fate” (Dickens 259). This action is so powerful that Lucie fears for her child’s life, even though she does not know about the register, and quickly holds little Lucie close to her. A very dark shadow which makes her lose all of her hope is put over Lucie and her child by Madame Defarge and it is this shadow that makes Madame so feared. “While the weaving motif is associated with light, life, and salvation, ‘knitting’ is surrounded by darkness, condemnation, and death” (Hamilton 204). The two symbols, which represent the two characters may be similar at first sight, but are completely different when compared analytically. Weaving creates a bond, which is what Lucie is known for, her compassion. Knitting on the other hand, is accomplished with two needles, and only a single threat is used, making the bond less secure.
Throughout the novel, Dickens makes several references to unadulterated actions through motifs, symbols, and paradoxes. He uses Lucie’s golden hair as a motif for her purity, and wine as a motif for blood. The various symbols in the novel, such as the grindstone and the aspect of nobility foreshadow the revolution and the culture of the time.
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