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The Use of Literary Devices in A Tale Of Two Cities Essay


Charles Dickens is undoubtedly one of the greatest English writers of all time just take a look at his masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities. The novel chronicles the years before, during, and after the French Revolution. Dickens characters come to life, especially the grotesque ones, through their in-depth portrayals. The sorrow and horrors of the French Revolution are easily imagined through Dickens detailed and visual descriptions. And most powerfully, Dickens employs many metaphors throughout the story, representing both the tragedies in his characters lives and of the events taking place around them. Ultimately, Dickens exploration of characterization, imagery, and metaphors is what makes him such a celebrated stylist.

Sydney Carton, Madame Defarge, and the Monseigneur, arguably the most grotesque characters in the novel, display Dickens talent for characterization. When Carton is introduced, we know him to resemble prisoner Charles Darnay, a moral man, yet there is something especially reckless in his demeanour which contrasts him from Darnay. (83) Through his actions of drinking, Carton is shown as a drunk with no ambition or purpose in life. It is he who saves Darnay from imprisonment, yet he is in the shadow of his partner Stryver, who takes the credit and leaves Carton unrobed andnone the better for it in appearance. (88) Carton has low self-esteem and doesnt expect much of himself, evident in his conversation with the superior Stryver, You were always somewhere, and I was always nowhere. (96) Later on, Carton, while looking at himself in the mirror, shows his hatred for himself through his monologue, There is nothing in you to likewhat you have fallen away from, and what you may have been! (91) This is further developed in the opinion of others around him, such as Darnay, who calls Carton a problem of carelessness and recklessness. (207) Darnays wife Lucie does not concur, however, because she is the first one to see Cartons true colors a man desperate for redemption. In a rare moment of sincerity, he reveals his love and adoration for her, that he would do anything and even give his life for her and anyone dear to her. It is here when Carton begins to change as a character. At the end of the novel, Carton gives his life to the guillotine in order to save Darnay and give Lucie a happy ending. At this pivotal point, Dickens characterizes Carton as a generous soul, the soul of atonement. In his last thoughts before death, he foresees the future in which he is reborn, I seea childwho bears my namewinning his way up in that path of life which was once mine. (366) Here, Dickens portrays him as a Christ-like figure. This truly shows the development of his character throughout the novel, from someone without any direction to someone who surpasses even the most moral figures. Similarly, the sinister Madame Defarge is an equally dynamic character, albeit in completely different aspects. Dickens demonstrates her vile ways through her actions mainly, knitting. She knits the names of the people who will die in the Revolution, thus determining their fate. Defarge has a watchful eye and great composure, which makes her a suspicious character from the beginning. (40) When the French Revolution gets underway, Madame Defarge takes charge. It is not until later, however, that Dickens reveals the real motives behind her fervor for her, the Revolution is not political, but it is personal. In a conversation with her husband, she reveals that she is the sister of the woman Darnays family, the Evremondes, raped, Those dead are my dead, and that is why she is fighting this war. In an attempt to convict Lucie and her child, she is killed, proving that evil self-destructs. Likewise, the wealthy Monseigneur is haughty in manner with a face like a fine mask. (114) His defined features demonstrate his coldness towards others for instance, when French citizen Gaspard asks for help with his dying child, Monseigneur replies that, One or the other of you is for ever in my way. (116) He cares more about his own well-being, even the well-being of his horses, than his countrys. His next words further define his selfish personality, I would ride over any of you very willingly, and exterminate you from the earth. (117) This shows the pure evil of Monseigneurs character. Dickens characterization of all three aforementioned characters is so very different, yet at the same time, very powerful.

Dickens use of imagery serves to enhance the events occurring it shows rather than tells the story. In the beginning, when the stagecoach is traveling uphill, theres a steaming mist in all the hollowslike an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. (16) This sets the stage for the dark and gloomy days ahead. One of the most powerful examples of imagery used is the imagery of blood, or its metaphor, wine: The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground. (37) The fact that it is red wine makes it clear that Dickens is talking about blood, as he points out, The time was to come, when that wine too [blood] would be spilled on the street-stones. (38) In this case, imagery foreshadows the foreseeable future of the Revolution, in which blood would be shed all throughout the streets of France. The effects of the Revolution are further shown when Dickens describes the great Hunger of the people, Hunger was the inscription on the bakers shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread. (38) The bad bread iswell, bad, but the people are so hungry that they will eat it, and even that is scarce in these harsh conditions. In comparison, Dickens description of the grindstone, which sharpens the tools of the revolutionaries, shows the horrors of the battle there were men with spoils of womens lacewith the stain dyeing those trifles through and through. Hatchets, kniveswere all red with it. (260) The grindstone shows hell. The men had raped and attacked women and kept their treasures, or garments, soaked with blood. Imagery is also present in describing Tellsons Bank. Jarvis Lorry, a loyal employee of the bank, refers to himself as a man of business, and it is because of this small, very dark, very ugly, very incommodious bank that he is so uncaring. (61) The depressing imagery shows the coldness the bank brings forth. They wanted no light and it is here where one encounters the light and dark imagery present throughout the novel. Tellsons, which is dark, makes Lorry a detached businessman while Lucie, the golden thread, brightens up his life and gives him real emotion. Thus, imagery plays a great part in showing us the true colors of the Revolution.

Metaphors play the biggest role in Dickens storytelling. There are a number of important metaphors in the novel one of the most significant is Madame Defarges knitting. Knitting, when used in its general meaning, is usually thought of as a womans hobby; however, here it symbolizes death. Spy John Barsad remembers that when he was talking with her, that terrible woman had knittedand had looked ominously at him as her fingers moved. (297) Madame Defarge is knitting the names of the people who will die in the Revolution the ominous look she had given him was because she was determining his fate. Lucie, on the other hand, is the golden thread in this weaving of characters. Her blonde hair is used as an extended metaphor we first encounter it when Manette, in his disheveled state, reveals the lock of golden hair he kept during his eighteen years in prison it is the inspiration that kept him living. Years later, Manette tells his daughter how she made his future far brighter and brought him consolation and restoration. (190) Golden hair, which is thought of as bright and sparkly, serves to bring light into Manettes life Lucie is the thread that held him together. This contrasts with the metaphor of the wood-sawyer, who cuts pieces of wood for the guillotine. This is symbolic in contrast to the golden thread because it is metaphorically cutting Lucies family apart the guillotine is going to kill her husband Darnay. While awaiting his death, she sees a mob of people before her dancing like five thousand demonslike a gnashing of teeth in unisonhazard had brought them together. (275) This outrageous dance the Carmagnole represents the turmoil of the Revolution, the chaos and violence that has ensued. In the chapter appropriately titled Echoing Footsteps, Lucie worries about the footsteps that rumbled menacingly in the corneras of a great storm in France with a dreadful sea rising. (212) This storm and rising sea represent the revolutionary movement. She fears the incoming intruders in the life of her and her family, which is symbolic of the storming of the Bastille, the headlong, mad, and dangerous footsteps that were not easily made clean again of once stained red. (213) These footsteps represent the true beginnings of the violence of the Revolution, the blood that is going to be shed. Dickens is extremely skilled in effectively using these metaphors to show the true meaning behind his words.

Characterization describes, imagery shows, metaphors compare. All three tools of rhetoric are key in A Tale of Two Cities. The compelling characters of Carton, Madame Defarge, and the Monseigneur are enriched by Dickens thorough analysis; the violence of the French Revolution is shown through his use of imagery; and the factors of Fate, death, and everything else are easily depicted in the metaphors that express just how great of a stylist Charles Dickens was.

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