Character Analysis in A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Darnay (Evrémonde): Charles Darnay is a French emigrant who renounces his aristocratic heritage (and inheritance) for an industrious life in England. He is married to Lucie Manette and nephew of the Marquis Evrémonde. Though he sympathizes with the oppressed peasants, they still try to execute him because of his family heritage.
Lucie Manette: Lucie is Dr. Manette’s daughter and Charles Darnay’s wife. She is remarkably loyal and dutiful and acts as the “golden thread” that keeps her family together during difficult times. She often serves as an impetus for healing, restoring her father to health after his return to England. She has faith in the goodness of others (notably, Sydney Carton) when they seem to be unredeemable.
Dr. Alexandre Manette: Manette is a Parisian physician who was imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years. If something reminds him too much of his imprisonment, it triggers memory loss and obsessive shoe-making, a skill he learned in prison. Manette’s transformation from fragile sufferer to man of action shows his resiliency and the healing effects of treating others with kindness.
Sydney Carton: At the beginning of the novel, Sydney Carton is a lazy drunk who works for Mr. Stryver. He is physically similar to Charles Darnay, of whom he is quite jealous. He is in love with Lucie Manette and becomes devoted to her and her daughter, “little Lucie,” later in the novel. His love for Lucie motivates him to be executed in Darnay’s place—this final act giving his life meaning.
Jarvis Lorry: Jarvis Lorry works for Tellson’s Bank. He is a pragmatic “man of business” who claims to never be influenced by his emotions, but he is very loyal to Dr. Manette, Lucie, and Charles Darnay. He rescues Dr. Manette from Saint Antoine and becomes the Manette family’s close friend and confidante.
Ernest Defarge: Ernest Defarge owns a prominent wine shop in Saint Antoine. He is Dr. Manette’s former servant. When Dr. Manette was released from prison, Defarge hid him in a garret above the wine shop until Mr. Lorry and Lucie arrived to take him to England. Defarge is loyal to the cause of the revolutionaries, but is uneasy about the brutality and paranoia that grips Saint Antoine during the French Revolution.
Madame Therese Defarge: Madame Defarge is married to Ernest Defarge. She is considered one of the leaders of the revolutionaries in Saint Antoine. In the years preceding the French Revolution, Madame Defarge knitted the names of aristocrats, government officials, and government spies into a coded “registry” so the revolutionaries would know who to execute when the Revolution began, showing her vengeful side beneath her passive exterior. As the surviving sibling of the Evrémondes’ victims, she seeks revenge at any cost on those who have wronged her family. She is ultimately killed in a scuffle by her own gun.
Character Analysis Examples in A Tale of Two Cities:
Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter III 2
" My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead..." See in text (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter III)
The narrator’s character continues to take shape in chapter 3. He/she reflects upon the secrets most people keep from one another, even closest confidantes, so we all remain strangers. People take their secrets to the grave, so there is no way to truly know a person (even, as the narrator laments, “the darling” of his soul) before they die.
"He was on his way to dig some one out of a grave...." See in text (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter III)
Jarvis Lorry likens Dr. Alexandre Manette's eighteen-year imprisonment in La Bastille to being in a grave. Dr. Manette's release into the world is like being brought back to life, and Jarvis worries about how he will handle his newfound freedom after so many years in a dungeon.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter I 1
"He don’t get no iron rust here!”..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter I)
The young Cruncher, though apparently like his father in many ways, has become suspicious of Jerry’s inexplicably rusty hands. Though we know little about Jerry’s other work (other than that he digs up bodies), the rust suggests that Jerry is not the honest tradesmen he professes to be.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IV 2
"except wine like this..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IV)
Dickens often uses red wine to symbolize blood and revolutionary sentiment—specifically the growing public outrage that would initiate the French Revolution in 1789. As we shall see, Sydney Carton becomes increasingly dissatisfied with his lot in life. His penchant for wine suggests that he may be capable of violence.
"You hate the fellow.”..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IV)
Sydney and Charles are initially foils for each other: Sydney's drunken laziness highlights Charles' honor and hard work. Because of this, however, Sydney hates Charles. Charles is always a reminder of what Sydney could have been (and accomplished) if he'd applied himself.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IX 3
"“Detestation of the high is the involuntary homage of the low.”..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IX)
The Marquis indicates that upper-class power relies on the oppression of the lower classes. Therefore, the Marquis is not concerned that—as his nephew, Charles Darnay, worries—his family name “‘is more detested than any name in France’”; the hatred of the peasants simply affirms his family’s status.
"fashion of the last Louis ..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IX)
The Marquis’s furniture dates back to the reign of King Louis XIV, somewhere between 1643 and 1715. The outdatedness of the Marquis’s furniture suggests not only his resistance to progress but also the prestige of his family name.
"flambeau..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IX)
A “flambeau” is a flaming torch. Dickens repeatedly mentions flambeaux (the plural form) in his description of the Marquis’s chateau. The image of a flaming torch, along with the formidable stone architecture of the building, suggests historical regression and cruelty—two key characteristics of the Marquis himself.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter X 2
"do not recall that..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter X)
Recollection (especially recalling “to life”) is an important theme in A Tale of Two Cities. In this case, Dr. Manette begs Charles Darnay to not disclose his true identity because it will “recall” memories that might trigger the resurrection of Dr. Manette’s trauma-induced amnesia.
"disinterestedly,..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter X)
Charles Darnay’s love for Lucie Manette is “disinterested” because it is genuine and disconnected from self-serving motivations. As we shall see, Charles’s authentic affection for Lucie is meant to be contrasted with the attentions of a potentially less-suitable man.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI 3
"bumpers..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)
A “bumper” is a glass or cup filled to the brim—in this case, with alcoholic punch. Sydney Carton, who is inclined to use alcohol to cope with depression and disappointment, is clearly distressed by Mr. Stryver’s intentions to propose to Lucie Manette.
"ostentatious friendliness..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)
Ostentatious behavior is pretentious or ingenuine, with the purpose of pleasing or manipulating another person. Mr. Stryver is frequently ostentatious; in this case, he is being friendly towards Sydney Carton in order to prepare him for a potentially unpleasant “disclosure.”
"incorrigible..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XI)
The adjective “incorrigible” means incapable of change or improvement. Sydney Carton believes that his character—and therefore his lot in life—is unable to be reformed.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIII 4
"“Then why not change it?”..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIII)
Identity transformation is an important theme in A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, who closely resemble one another, are dissatisfied with their lots in life. Charles rejects his identity as an aristocrat by changing his name from Evremonde to Darnay, whereas Sydney wants (though without action) to be successful instead of lazy and immoral.
"profligates..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIII)
A “profligate” is a corrupt and promiscuous person. Sydney Carton believes that his immorality transcends redemption—he is incapable of change and therefore unworthy of Lucie’s affection.
"“he had thought better of that marrying matter”..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIII)
Mr. Stryver’s ego is particularly fragile. He is offended that Lucie does not want to marry him. However, rather than acknowledge her rejection, he claims that he decided not to marry after all.
"“My last supplication of all is this;..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIII)
Though Sydney has been in love with Lucie since they met at Charles's trial (and though he came to hate Charles), he has finally come to accept the inevitable—that Lucie would never choose an alcoholic lout like Sydney. However, Sydney doesn't want to cut the couple out of his life; he wishes to continue a genuine friendship, though he has no intention of changing otherwise. He offers himself as a sort of sacrifice to Lucie, telling her that he will do anything for her or anyone she loves—as long as she remembers him as selfless and loyal.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIV 1
"heathen rustic..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIV)
Dickens compares Jerry Cruncher to Charon, the ferryman of Hades who newly-deceased souls across the rivers Styx and Acheron to Hades in the Underworld. Charon required payment for passage, so some bodies were buried with a coin in their eyes or on their mouths. Jerry Cruncher, who digs up corpses to sell, also makes a profit from the dead.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVI 1
"“It is necessary to register him. ..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVI)
Madame Defarge wants to add Mr. Barsad’s name to her knitted “register,” or the coded list of people to be executed once the revolution begins. Madame Defarge’s “cool business air” can be likened to Jarvis Lorry’s staunch pragmatism. However, as we shall see, Madame Defarge seems to lack Mr. Lorry’s kindheartedness and empathy.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVIII 2
"revulsion..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVIII)
The noun “revulsion” here likely means to either abruptly change one’s response to a situation or to withdraw. Dr. Manette is both responding erratically and withdrawing in response to learning Charles Darnay’s true identity.
"formal folks of business,..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVIII)
Dickens repeatedly distinguishes between “‘folks of business,’” clear-headed and pragmatic but unemotional, and people who are carried away by excess emotion. However, neither extreme yields positive results: Madame Defarge lacks feeling entirely, and the blood-thirsty revolutionaries commit violence on a whim (no clear-headedness).
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIX 2
"a strong and extraordinary revival..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIX)
Dr. Manette’s dramatic “‘revival,’” which today might be classified as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, is another indication of Dickens’s opposition to solitary confinement. Furthermore, it is significant that the otherwise-brilliant physician transforms into a confused shoemaker when his traumatic past is recalled. Dr. Manette’s shoemaking implies that imprisonment (as it existed in 18th-century Western Europe) undermines the Enlightenment ideals of rational thought, innovation, and social progress.
"I am a mere man of business..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIX)
Mr. Lorry repeatedly presents himself as a pragmatic, business-minded individual incapable of being distracted by feelings or relationships. In reality, however, he clearly cares a great deal for the Manettes and appears to be significantly distressed by Dr. Manette’s latest “‘relapse.’”
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XX 3
"magnanimous..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XX)
In this context, “magnanimous” refers to courageousness, nobility, and loftiness of character. Lucie Manette is not convinced that Sydney Carton is an inherently bad person; she believes he must be reformed, or figuratively “resurrected.”
"dissolute..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XX)
A “dissolute” person is disreputable, immoral, and lacks integrity. Sydney Carton is committed to his identity as a “‘dissolute dog’” and seems unconvinced that he might be capable of change.
"as was natural..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XX)
The narrator’s classification of Charles Darnay’s contrived obliviousness as “natural” is sarcastic. However, Charles’s politeness—which derives from “good-humour” and “good-fellowship”—is entirely genuine. He does not wish to embarrass Sydney Carton (or himself) by admitting any recollection of Sydney’s drunken behavior.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXI 2
"predominate..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXI)
The verb “to predominate” means to exercise remarkable influence or control over a situation or person. Lucie’s nurturing influence, however, is “predominate nowhere”; she weaves her symbolic “golden thread” without apparent exertion.
"golden thread..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXI)
Dickens suggests that Lucie (the “Golden Thread”) figuratively knits her family into a close, nurturing community. Lucie’s figurative knitting can be contrasted with Madame Defarge’s literal knitting of people’s names into her register. Both women “knit” in secret: Lucie passively exerts her quiet influence, and Madame Defarge knits in a code that only she can understand.
Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXII 1
"rather plump wife of a starved grocer,..." See in text (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXII)
It is highly unlikely that the wife of a “starved grocer” would be fat. Dickens suggests that The Vengeance, though appearing to fight on behalf of the impoverished peasants, is as selfish and corrupt as the French aristocrats.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter III 2
"she may identify them..." See in text (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter III)
Mr. Lorry assumes that Madame Defarge intends to identify Lucie and her daughter in order to protect them from the violent revolutionaries. However, it is possible that she wishes to evaluate Lucie’s loyalty to the French Republic. It is illegal to mourn the punishment of a prisoner, so Lucie would be judged an enemy of the republic if she appears concerned about her husband.
"the great trust he held..." See in text (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter III)
Dickens is likely engaging in wordplay by using the noun “trust” here. Mr. Lorry, a strict man of business, often acts as a trustee for his clients. (He manages assets on behalf of a third party beneficiary.) His relationship with Tellson’s Bank resembles that between a trustee and a beneficiary; therefore, it is crucial that he avoid endangering the Bank by allowing Lucie and her daughter to stay under its roof.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter VII 1
"To avoid attracting notice..." See in text (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter VII)
If Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher purchase all of their goods in one shop, they will give the impression that the Manettes/Darnays are privileged—therefore associating them with the greed and corruption that provoked the peasants in the first place. They avoid this association by spreading out their shopping among multiple shops.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter VIII 1
"in the employ of the aristocratic English government..." See in text (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter VIII)
Mr. Barsad is an enemy to the republic in two ways: he spies on behalf of the French government and was formerly an English spy (and therefore “the enemy of France and freedom”). He will certainly be executed if Sydney Carton reveals his identity.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter IX 1
"“I am the resurrection and the life.”..." See in text (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter IX)
Sydney views his sacrifice as a sort of double resurrection: he will resurrect Charles from certain death while redeeming himself of his flaws. Sacrificing his life for Lucie's happiness is the only form of love Sydney can offer: he doesn't think he can be resurrected during his lifetime through reformation, so he opts for dying in the name of honor and loyalty.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XI 1
"such great things as this..." See in text (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XI)
Sydney Carton expects a degree of redemption (and figurative resurrection) from the great sacrifice he plans to make for Lucie and her daughter. His impending sacrifice will involve a dual resurrection: his soul and Charles Darnay’s life.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XII 1
"sound precaution..." See in text (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XII)
Sydney Carton wants to ensure that the Defarges (and, by extension, the revolutionaries in charge of allowing people to enter and exit through Paris’s checkpoints) know that he and Charles Darnay are identical. Otherwise, Charles Darnay will not be able to escape even after Sydney Carton changes places with him.
Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XV 1
"“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.”..." See in text (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter XV)
Sydney imagines Lucie having another child and naming it (if it's a boy) after Sydney because of his heroic sacrifice. Sydney has finally found a purpose for himself: trading places with Charles at the guillotine not only saves Charles's life, but also Sydney's life. Sacrificial death is his redemption from the sins of intemperance and laziness.