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“A Tale of Two Cities” Charles Dickens: Foreshadowing the Revolution

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In Charles Dickens’, “A Tale of Two Cities”, the author continually foreshadows the future revolution. Dickens depicts a Paris crowd, united by their poverty, in a frenzy to gather wine from a wine cask that was shattered. Also, we find a macabre scene in which Madame Defarge sits quietly knitting but we later discover she is knitting a list of victims slated die. Later, the theme of revenge against the nobility becomes apparent after Marquis is murdered for killing a small child with his horses. Dickens’ deftly uses foreshadowing to illustrate how conflict and turmoil among the impoverished common people eventually leads to the terrible French Revolution.

In the beginning of Chapter Five of Book One, Dickens paints a vivid, yet bleak, picture of life as a commoner in France. A large wine cask is dropped in the streets and the people rush to drink it:

“…Jostling group or crowd…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 handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infant’s mouths.” (Dickens 36)This excerpt from “A Tale of Two Cities” demonstrates how the people were in such great poverty that they needed every bit of the spilled wine. Later, a man uses his fingers drenched in wine to right the word “BLOOD” on a wall near where the wine cask was dropped. This scene foreshadows the violence to come from furious mobs and how wild and uncontrollable a crowd can become when they are amassed for a common purpose.

Later in the novel we find Madame Defarge knitting what we later discover is a death list. Madame Defarge and her husband hate the upper-class and become leaders of the Jaquerie, a group that is planning the revolution. In Chapter fifteen of Book Two, we find that Madame Defarge has been knitting a register of names of people that are to be killed. Defarge says, “It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge.” (Dickens 174) After learning what Madame Defarge is really knitting we then come to find out that she includes Charles Darnay on her register. This foreshadows the later unfair imprisonment and death verdict of Charles Darnay as well as foreshadowing how cruel, brutal and indiscriminate killing of the revolution; people will die according to their relation to other people and also for whom they work. Madame Defarge is doing much more than normal knitting; she is planning deaths and foreshadowing the violence to come throughout Dickens’ novel; she is a “Grim heaper” of sorts holding the fabric of life, and death, in her hands.

Dickens also uses the theme of revenge as a foreshadowing of historical events. He introduces the character Marquis St. Evremonde, an arrogant, mean-hearted person, who kills a common village boy by running him over with his horses. The Marquis considers himself to be of much higher social standing than the commoners and therefore considers their lives to be of no value, “You dogs!…I would ride over any of you very willingly, and exterminate you from the earth…” (Dickens 116-117). This passage displays how the Marquis looks down on these people. Later, Gaspard, the Marquis’s commoner father, takes revenge on the Marquis for his evil acts. Gaspard murders the Marquis but is subsequently hung for the murder; however, he dies a noble man. This foreshadows the future revolution with the lower-class rising up to defend themselves against the brutality, inequality, and mistreatment by the nobility.

Throughout the novel, Charles Dickens foreshadows the coming revolution: The spilled wine cask illustrates how strong and violent a crowd can become when united in bleak desperation; an oppressed people will let hatred fester leading them to cruelty, violence, and the imprisonment and death of innocent people; and a lower class rises up to fight against the oppression from the socially-superior nobility. The French Revolution was a dark, ugly, hate-filled period in that country’s history. Charles Dickens uses literary foreshadowing to give us glimpses into the desperation, death, and destruction to come in that “Reign of terror.”

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