In his acclaimed text, A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens juxtaposes his main characters, using distinct terms, i.e., if one is righteous, then the other will be evil. Dickens then makes it evident that the righteous and cruel characters do not in fact share many differences. In the same way, the cities of London and Paris demonstrate to be surprisingly alike, in Dickens’s tale. By establishing a pattern of false polarities, or contrasting pairs, Dickens warns that London will also have to sustain the severe conditions that plagued revolutionary France.
The characteristics of Dickens’s protagonist, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton well represent the salient theme of paired opposites. Initially, it appears as though poised and virtuous Darnay, crude and unmotivated Carton are divergent characters, despite their underlying similarities in appearance. In carton’s paradoxical statement about his desire to forget his relationship with the world, he suggests that “it has no good in it for [him] – except wine like this”. The paradox between his idea of “wine” in relation to his wellbeing, illustrates that Carton is a heavy drinker, invests in creature comforts and resents his motiveless life on earth. On the other hand, Darnay is full of good virtue as the “peril of an old servant … stared him so reproachfully in the face”. Dickens’s use of words such as “peril” and “old servant”, establishes pathos, to depict Darnay’s discomfort at leaving his old servant in a state of danger. This further shows that Darnay is a man who has unconditional love and respect towards others, specifically as he lacks prejudice towards the lower class. Therefore, though carton and Darnay are inverse characters despite their similar “image”, Dickens later demonstrates how these falsely dichotomous characters share surreal spiritual similarities.
The two most prominent women in Dickens’s novel, Lucie and Madame Defarge, live by contradictory principles. Golden haired and righteous Lucie helps return her father to a “present beyond his misery”, whereas the nefarious Madame, utilizes her time by hatching plans to have people that she passionately hates, “exterminated”. In Madame Defarge’s metaphorical statement, she exclaims that she will “let loose a tiger and a devil … not shown – yet always ready”. The metaphor of the concealed “tiger” and “devil” foreshadows her pitiless treatment of individuals and in particular, the Manettes, later in the novel. On the other hand, Lucie is full of good will and sympathetic towards her father, as she tells him that she will be “true to [him] with all [her] duty and with all [her] faithful service”. The use of anaphora emphasizes her hospitable personality and unfailing devotion to her long-lost father. Her statement further exemplifies that she is the archetype family member, as opposed to the Defarge’s, who struggle to come to mutual terms with each other. Lucie and Madame Defarge, like Carton and Darnay, are dichotomous characters with respect to their motives and the morals they abide by.
Dickens also contrasts the nefarious Madame with the saintly Miss Pross, who would never cast away her family loyalties, to initiate destruction. Madame Defarge states that her husband is a “bold man” but has his “weaknesses … so weak as to relent towards this doctor”. As the Madame describes it, the juxtaposition between Monsieur Defarge’s “bold” and relenting nature, illustrates that she has some respect towards her husband, but her loyalty towards him is divided by her sinister intentions of beginning a reign of terror. Miss Pross, on the contrary, demonstrates unconditional loyalty to her family. Miss Pross tells her brother Solomon, that she has “always loved [him] and always will”, despite the fact that he, “spent all of her money and abandoned her”. The negative imagery of Miss Pross being “abandoned”, creates pathos and further conveys that her good-natured affection sees no evil and doesn’t seek revenge. These pairs of polar characters are prominent throughout the novel.
Regardless of their prominent differences, Dickens’s paradoxical characters, demonstrate to have beliefs and personal qualities in common. For instance, Carton and Darnay both make open their love for Lucie. Carton tells Lucie that he would “die to keep someone [she] loves beside her”. Carton’s use of hyperbole depicts his deep affection for Lucie. Darnay also makes his love for Lucie evident, as informs Dr. Manette, that he loves his daughter “dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly”. The alliteration in Darnay’s statement illustrates that he loves Lucie and thinks only of her wellbeing. Carton and Darnay also share feelings of distress with regard to their troubled past. Carton regrets his drinking problem, and this is exemplified as he announces that he is a “disappointed drudge”. The alliteration in his statement emphasizes his resent in allowing his drinking problem to ruin his life’s stability. Darnay’s regret on the other hand, lies within his family links. When Darnay comments on his family’s harsh treatment of the lower-class individuals, he states that he is “responsible for it, but powerless in it”. The paradox in his statement reveals that he is ashamed by the way his “frightful” family functions. Dickens also makes it clear that Madame Defarge’s history of personal tragedy motivates her sinister personality. Madame Defarge exclaims to Jacques Three that her husband “has not [her] reason for pursuing this family to annihilation”. The imperative tone in her statement illustrates that she seeks her revenge on the same feelings of love and loyalty that Lucie demonstrates, throughout Dickens’s tale. Dickens also reveals the profound Similarities between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge. Whereas Miss Pross is selfless and “desperate” to protect Lucie at all costs, Madame Defarge has a deep commitment to her goal of having the Evrémonde’s exterminated. Dickens exemplifies their similarities, as he depicts a moment of great tension where the two stand their ground, in a climactic gunfight over Lucie. Miss Pross tells Madame Defarge that she will not “leave a handful of that dark hair upon [her] head”, if she attacks her, though she has never hit anyone. The hyperbole in Miss Pross’s statement, shows the extent to which Miss Pross is ready to fight, for the “greater hope” of Lucie. Dickens constantly elaborates the similarities between his righteous and evil characters.
In the same way Dickens’s characters are falsely polar, the cities of Paris and London share many unforeseen complications and cultures. Initially, Dickens establishes the stark differences between the two cities, commenting that in London, “it was the best of times” and in Paris, “it was the worst of times”. Dickens’s use of anaphora within the two statements, clearly depicts that “hope” and “despair” stand shoulder to shoulder, in their struggle. Paris is witness to severe class conflict whereas there is not a whisper about revolution, in London. Paris’s class conflict is most exemplified in the scene where the wine of the broken cask stains the “many hands … many faces and many naked feet” of the oppressed peasants of Saint Antoine. Dickens’s use of anaphora in the statement, emphasizes the fact that the peasants are so deprived of food to the extent that they are ready to slurp wine from the streets of the city. As well as this, the peasants demonstrate a great ‘thirst’ for justice and freedom from misery. At first, Dickens encourages his audience to see London as Paris’s superior neighbour: Lucie, the virtuous Londoner, unites her father to a “Past beyond his misery”. Dickens links London with the Darnays — a principled and happily married couple, whereas Paris is constantly linked with the Defarges — a nefarious couple who struggle to agree with each other. As the story progresses, the differences between the two cities crumble. Dickens reminds his audience that Paris has just had a wave of capital punishment.