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Feminism in Tale of Two Cities Essay


Women, during the Victorian age, were thought of and viewed as good and virtuous [women] whose life revolved around the domestic sphere of the home and family with diligence and evident constant devotion to [their] husband. They were pious, respectable and busy - no life of leisure.(Abrams) Women of the French Revolution, however, brought about very different womanly qualities. It was still the job of a woman to provide food and care for her family. Unfortunately, During the French Revolution, there was such a great famine and other social problems that a lot of women could not provide these necessities for their families. Their worlds were turned upside down. They were forced to leave the normal lives they were so used to and accept the terms of the revolution. It was these two contrasting ideals that Charles Dickens employed in his novel A Tale of Two Cities and fashioned into the devoted and loving Lucie Manette and the vengeful and cruel Madame Defarge.

Lucie Manette was the epitome of a Victorian woman. She set off in the beginning of the novel to recover her father and to recall him to life. It is in this first act that Lucies courage and love are seen. With determination and patience, Lucie brings her father back to England and takes care of him. She supports him just as women are supposed to and devotes the next couple of years to taking care and nurturing him back to his former self. Later, when Lucies husband, Charles Darnay, is in prison, Lucie braves the troubled streets of Paris to stand outside for him day after day. She acted out of love and duty to her husband, just as a wife should. Yet another example of Lucies perfection is the title of Book II: The Golden Thread. This title is ideal for Lucie because Lucie truly is a golden thread. In the bible and even in art, the color gold is sometimes used to describe angels and their grace, beauty, and perfection. In Lucies case, however, it represents her innocence and righteousness, rightfully comparing her to that of an angel. Ever busily winding the golden thread that bound them all together, weaving the service of her happy influence through the tissue of all their lives. (Dickens, 247) This quote effectively conveys just how perfect Lucie is. She achieves a calm and happiness that she then uses to influence her family and friends. She handles every situation with the utmost courage and grace and acts just as the perfect Victorian woman should. (Transition needed)

Not all of the women in A Tale of Two Cities were a picture of perfection though; Lucies courage, love, and poise are contrasted strongly against Madame Defarge who is set up to be Lucies complete opposite. Madame Defarge, in the beginning of the novel, is quiet and reserved. She looks as if she is sitting, quietly knitting away like any good woman of the time would do. Ironically, she is really sentencing men and women to their deaths. Once Madame Defarges inner secrets are revealed, her motives and thoughts surface through her once innocent demeanor and the readers whole perception of her changes instantly. It is said that opportunity had developed her into a tigress. She was absolutely without pity. If she had ever had the virtue in her, it had quite gone out of her. (Dickens p427) Madame Defarge is almost always seen with her needles and fabric. Knitting, during this time, was seen as one of the most womanly and domestic of deeds. Dickens uses the differences in Lucie and Madame Defarge to symbolize the juxtaposition of useful, creative domestic work. and The perversion of womanhood caused by ill-treatment and suffering (Glancy p123). Most of the women in The Tale of Two Cities are portrayed as doing this task. Though, how they go about it and use it is strikingly different. Lucies golden thread and the work of the little seamstress who goes to the guillotine with Cartonand the knitting of Madame Defarges deadly knitting register and the other revolutionary women are examples of Dickens excellent use of contrasting. (Glancy p123) This idea of knitting, is one of the main elements that contrasts Madame Defarge and Lucie so vividly. Lucie is described as being a golden thread, which stands for perfection and strength, and Madame Defarge is described with her needles which knit the names of those who are to die. It is as if Madame Defarges and the other revolutionary womens needles become weapons that they use in the revolution.

It is not just the characteristics of the women themselves that contrast Lucie and Madame Defarge so dramatically. The two cities are a major influence to the women in the novel as well. Madame Defarge worked at a wine shop that her husband owned, in the slums of Paris. The symbolism in this is that during one scene in A Tale of Two Cities wine is used as a metaphor for blood. So it is fitting that Madame Defarge should be affiliated the wine and blood. Lucie, on the other hand, is from England, which in the novel, is strong, moral, and even fair and good to its people. She is seen as a bloodless heroine, whereas Madame Defarge is vengeful and blood thirsty, always knitting more people to kill. Another interesting influence from England is that Lucie holds the golden thread that, in English law, refers to the tenet that we are innocent until proven guilty. (Glancy p124) This is such a contrasting idea to the practices that they use in France at the same time. In France, during the revolution, hundreds of people are hung by the guillotine and imprisoned whether they are guilty or innocent. It is an interesting fact that the English believe people are innocent until proven guilty and the French are guilty until proven innocent; and even then they may still be seen as guilty, just like Charles Darnay.

Although Lucie and Madame Defarge were the main feminist charcters in A Tale of Two Cities, their characteristics were found in other women in the novel as well. Take Miss Pross for example; (low diction to casual). She raised Lucie and was fiercely loyal to her throughout the novel. Once again these are major characteristics that are exemplified in the perfect Victorian woman. Not only is she loyal to the Manettes but to her country as well. In the end, when Miss Pross meets Madame Defarge for the final conflict she says, You might, from your appearance, be the wife of LuciferNevertheless, you shall not get the better of me. I am an Englishwoman. (Dickens p432) This statement clearly shows the main contrast throughout the whole novel; the contrast between the evil of the French women and the virtuousness of the English women. It is the age old clich, good always wins over evil, that is seen when Miss Pross kills Madame Defarge. In the end it was Miss Prosss love for Lucie that triumphed over Madame Defarge and The vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate. (Dickens p455) There is one other woman who can be found with these characteristics, however, they are characteristics most associated with Madame Defarge. Vengeance, ironically, is her name. This is ironic because vengeance is what caused Madame Defarge to become the bloodthirsty woman that she was. She had sought vengeance her whole life against Charles Darnay and anyone associated with him. Vengeance was one of Madame Defarges closest friends. They would knit together and watch the people being murdered at the guillotine together. True to her name, Vengeance was just as bloodthirsty and cruel as Madame Defarge was. However, this was an unfortunate characteristic that a lot of other women in France were seen with. There were many women at that time upon who the time laid a dreadfully disfiguring hand. (Dickens p427)

Dickens brilliantly exposed many of the feminist ideals of the Victorian era and the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. He used Lucy Manette and Madame Defarge, as well as numerous other women, to affectively contrast the two cities. Doubles and opposites was a major theme in the novel, and it was one that Dickens used with Lucie and Madame Defarge. He set them as opposites and contrasted everything they did against each other. By taking the opposite ends of the spectrum, Dickens was able to demonstrate Lucie as the perfect woman and Madame Defarge as the worst.

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