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Tale of Two Cities: Character Descriptions, Symbol and Passage Explanation

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Table of contents

  1. Character Descriptions
  2. Symbol Explanation
  3. Passage Explanation
  4. Prompt Explanation
  5. Work Cited

Character Descriptions

Charles Darnay is a respectful and honorable man, but is unlucky. We see this respect and honor through his actions. He chooses to reject his famous family name and tries to make amends to a woman whose family was annihilated by his father and uncle. We see is unfortunate unluckiness play in when he is arrested for treason in England, and when he is arrested in France and tried twice. No matter how much he tries to right the wrongs of his family, he is doomed to pay the price of their sins.

Lucie is a compassionate, beautiful woman who has a gift of bringing out the best in the characters around her. She is courted by Darnay, Carton, and Stryver because of three of these traits that she possesses, and the three men can see a bright future with her where they are better because of her. Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross also have great love for Lucie and treat her as if she were their own daughter and Lucie loves them all the more. Lucie may be one of the underdeveloped characters of the book, but Charles Dickens uses her to show the great affect love and compassion can have on others, especially during times like the French Revolution.

Madame Defarge is an intelligent, fearless, cold-hearted woman who runs the pub that all the revolutionists go to and is known for her knitting. She is known mainly for the names the she knits that indicate who will be destroyed in the revolution. Where the reader sees her intelligence and fearlessness is that she is so involved in the revolution; running the pub, making plans, and knitting the names of who will be killed. Where the reader sees her cold-heartedness is when Lucie is begging Madame Defarge to spare her child’s life, but Defarge is so consumed with justice for her family that all she cares about is killing every single Evermonde, which includes Lucie, Charles, and even their baby.

Sydney Carton is a brilliant, attractive, lazy attorney who has a problem with alcohol finding interest in his life. The reader sees that he is brilliant because he has managanged to become an attorney by 25, and the reader can see that he is attractive because he is said to look like Charles Darnay who is described as relatively attractive. He is lazy because he has lost care for his life. He wanders the streets in a drunken daze and when asked about this he says things like “I am a disappointed drudge, sir. I care for no man on earth, and no man on earth cares for me” (Dickens pg 48). Though he is a lazy alcoholic, Carton manages to have an amazing character arc at the end of the novel. He gives up his life to save another man and becomes a martyr.

Miss Pross is a tough, motherly, loyal servant who raises Lucie when Dr. Manette is in prison. The reader can see how Pross is tough, mortherly, and loyal in everything she does for Lucie. The biggest thing that shows these things is how she defends Lucie at the end of the novel. When Madame Defarge is after Lucie, Miss Pross keeps her there and ends up fighting her. By the end of the fight Miss Pross is deaf and Madame Defarge is dead.

Dr. Manette is a strong, loving father though being left deeply troubled by his eighteen years in prison. The reader sees his strength when he uses cobbling as a way to not go completely insane in prison. The reader sees also his love for Lucie after she “recalls him to life” and brings him out of the terrible state he was in that shows the reader how prison left him deeply troubled.

Evremonde is a cruel, uncaring, self-obsessed French Aristocrat. He is the only example Dickens gives of the French aristocrats in the novel. Evremonde is known for putting Dr. Manette in prison, wanting to do the same to his nephew Charles Darnay, and running over children.

Monsieur Defarge is an intelligent, dedicated, hard-working revolutionary. The readers see his intelligence, dedication, and hard work through his leading of the Storming of the Bastille. The readers can also see his dedication through his actions of throwing a gold coin into Evremondes face, getting Charles Darnay arrested, and not killing Doctor Manette and his family because of his love for them.

Jerry Cruncher is a detestable, short-tempered, strange man who works at Tellson’s Bank and grave robs at night. The readers see his detestable strange acts when he grave robs and he allows Darnay to blackmail John Barsad because of his knowledge of Roger Clys fake burial. The readers can see his short temperedness through his abuse of his wife.

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The people who go by Jacques are intelligent, secretive, and clever. The readers can see this by the clever way that the twisted the nickname of Jacques given to the peasants to ultimately hide their identities in the revolution.

Symbol Explanation

The guillotine in A Tale of Two Cities represents the permanency of chaos in the revolution. The guillotine represents the emotionless killing within both sides of the revolution. Human life becomes unvalued and that expressed through the guillotine.

Madame Defarge’s Knitting symbolizes the danger of the revolutionists in A Tale of Two Cities. Madame Defarge sits calmly knitting as if she is a helpless old woman, but really she is a dangerous revolutionist knitting the names of all those who will be killed in the revolution. This is the same for all of the revolutionists. They are quiet, but like Madame Defarge they are waiting in the shadows for the time to attack and take the names on the pillow.

The Jacques represent one body. By going by one name, the revolutionists have made it clear that they are together. When one man falls the whole body is hurt. The readers can see this when the three Jacques peer into the room where Dr. Manette is. Defarge explains to them that only a select few get to see him. Those who get to see him are chosen by Defarge and have his same name and that it is good for them to see them. What he means when he says this is that only men who are truly dedicated to the revolution get to see him making them a part of the body. Then when they see Dr. Manette they become more fired up for the revolution because they see the true aftermath of what comes of the French Aristocrats actions.

The wine that spills out on the streets from the broken wine cast represents the desperate poverty that the people are in. They rush to the wine that is spilled out in the street and begin to slurp it up. Dickens uses the wine to show the reader how desperate the people actually are, and he uses it to show how separated the poor are to rich aristocrats who don’t even bat an eye to the wine.

Shoes in A Tale of Two Cities represent the past. Dr. Manette makes shoes in order to stay sane in prison, but continues to cobble shoes for a long time after it. He makes shoes again after he finds out that Charles Darnay is actually an Evremonde. When Dr. Manette is reminded of the past and what happened, he makes shoes.

Passage Explanation

The well known passage that opens Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities is significant to the overall story because it sets the readers up to know what is happening as the story starts and provides a foreshadowing of what’s to come in the story. Dickens makes use of a literary device called anaphora which is the repetition of words or phrases in the beginning of simultaneous clauses. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (Dickens pg 1). Through doing this, Dickens is not only able to show what is happening in the story as it begins, but the direness of the situation. That good and evil, wisdom and foolishness, belief and unbelief, light and darkness, and hope and despair were all equal to one another. The passage also describes what is happening in Paris and in London as the story opens. That the best and the worst was taking place within these two places and ultimately the passage shows what is happening between the rich and the poor in the story.

The passage is also important because it foreshadows what’s to come in the story. The main idea that the passage foreshadows is suffering. The suffering doesn’t just relate to the evil parts in the passage, but the struggle for good and for hope too. It is the same in the story. The reader sees much suffering in Dr. Manettes story being imprisoned and then struggling to regain his sanity. The reader also sees suffering Sydney Carton’s story too. He was a drunk who couldn’t find meaning in his life and ultimately died for his struggle to prove his devotion. The reader can also see the suffering that is inflicted on the people of France by the aristocrats. Through Evremonde much suffering is shown. He kills a child, imprisons Dr. Manette, and destroys a whole family line. Each character suffers in this story. The revolutionists all suffer through the struggle of bringing justice and good back to their country. That is why the opening passage is significant to the story. It prepares the readers for the suffering they will see the characters go through.

Prompt Explanation

The two characters in A Tale of Two Cities that embody the theme of being born again are Doctor Manette and Sydney Carton. In 1757, Doctor Manette is a thriving doctor with a loving family, but becomes falsely imprisoned in La Bastille by the Evremondes. He spends eighteen years as “Prisoner 105, North Tower” and forgets who he was and everything he knew. In his last attempt to hold on to his sanity in the solitude of the prison, he begins to cobble shoes. Dickens uses this hobby that Manette began to show how debilitating prison truly was on him. He does this when Mr. Lorry and Lucie find Doctor Manette in a corner in the Defarges house, cobbling shoes as if his life depended on it. It is when Lucie sees this that she feels compassion for him and through her devotion to him, he is “recalled to life”. Doctor Manette is written as a strong minded man who could have easily been the hero of this story. Dickens decides to instead show the readers through this character that the strongest of men can break, but even though they break they can be restored.

Sydney Carton is first introduced in the story as a lazy, drunk attorney who has lost care for his own life. He is full of self loathing and hatred because of what he thinks is his own wasted life and this is only further increased with Charles Darnay around. He believes Darnay to be the better version of himself because they look so alike. He says that he cares for no one and that no one cares for him. Though he has lost care for his life, he still feels strong emotions for Lucie, but when Lucie marries Darnay he falls further into his self loathing. He eventually tells Lucie of his love for her and how she has inspired him to live a better life, and he asks her to keep his confession a secret. Carton and Darnay become close friends, and Carton becomes a frequent visitor of their household. A few years later Darnay decides to visit France to help a servant who had been imprisoned, but is then arrested and sentenced to death for being an aristocrat. Carton switches places with Darnay secretly and takes on his sentence. In his last hours of life he tries to comfort a young girl with him and quotes scripture. He is executed, but is born again in the hearts of the people he saved and those who saw him executed.

Work Cited

  1. Dickens, Charles. Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. Magic Wagon, 2010.

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Tale of Two Cities: Character Descriptions, Symbol and Passage Explanation. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
“Tale of Two Cities: Character Descriptions, Symbol and Passage Explanation.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
Tale of Two Cities: Character Descriptions, Symbol and Passage Explanation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Sept. 2023].
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