Analyze Dickens’s methods of characterization. How do those methods shape the novel’s message?
Readers often remember
Despite their unforgettable differences, Dickens’s dichotomous characters have many beliefs and attributes in common. For example, Carton and Darnay share a deep love for Lucie and a sense of discomfort in regard to the past. (Carton regrets his drinking, and Darnay regrets his family ties.) Madame Defarge’s history—revealed long after we meet her—includes a great deal of personal tragedy, and Dickens makes clear that the Madame acts on the same feelings of love and loyalty that motivate Lucie throughout the novel. Miss Pross and Madame Defarge share a superhuman commitment to their goals, to the extent that neither surrenders in a climactic gunfight over Lucie. Again and again, Dickens emphasizes the similarities between his saintly and villainous characters.
Like these falsely dichotomous characters, the cities of Paris and London share several unexpected problems, traditions, and open wounds. At first, the cities seem wildly different. Paris is witness to brutal class conflicts, whereas British citizens are not whispering about bloody revolution. The novel’s opening scenes encourage us to see London as Paris’s superior neighbor: Lucie, the beautiful Londoner, rescues her father from a dingy Parisian prison and declares that the best possible medicine is to “bring him home.” Dickens associates London with the Darnays—a law-abiding, happily married couple with children—whereas he repeatedly links Paris to the Defarges—a nefarious husband and wife who distrust each other. But as the story unfolds, the differences between the cities begin to break down. London, Dickens reminds us, has recently had a wave of crime and capital punishment, and the anarchic British chimney-sweep—accusing passersby of treason for “the pleasure of wreaking vengeance”—closely resembles the deranged Parisian peasants who trample one another to drink from a broken cask of wine. London is not the tranquil and emphatically un-Parisian capital that it once seemed to be.
By establishing a pattern of odd, unpredictable doubles, Dickens reinforces his idea
that London may fall victim to the crises of the French Revolution. Dickens, the son of a
poor man, resented the harsh treatment of Britain’s impoverished citizens, and he used his
novels to plead for economic justice. In