A Tale of Two Cities: Reversal of Characters
When writing a book, most authors are writing about an issue they have.
However, other themes become apparent through the course of the piece, either
consciously or subconsciously. One such theme is a reversal of characters in A
Tale of Two Cities. Individuals and groups of people change dramatically from
the outset of the book all the way up to its conclusion. Three of the most
obvious changes in character are Sydney Carton, Madame DeFarge, and the French
people as a whole.
Sydney Carton is first described at Darnay's trial as not paying attention
to what's going on, sort of an oaf. He is portrayed as a drunk, and even admits
this to Darnay on their "date." However, love, they say, is strong; Carton's
love for Lucy changed him greatly though the course of the novel. He stopped
drinking when he visited, and even pledged his life to her, and everyone she
loved. Carton changed even more dramatically when death on the guillotine was
approaching. He waxed philosophical about the future, and even quoted a few
scriptures. This is most certainly not the man first seen at the Old Bailey
with the sideways wig.
Another interesting change took place in the character of Madame Defarge.
She is first portrayed as a woman of principle who is helping her husband with
the revolution. However, Madame Defarge makes a startling metamorphosis from
supporting character to antagonist when she is revealed to be the shadow. She
is shown to be cruel and petty, not the compassionate woman one would assume of
a leader of a revolution against tyranny. This part of the novel casts a
shadow of doubt over the rest of the characters, and one begins to question the
validity of all the characters.
Finally, the French people themselves start out as downtrodden and
miserable victims of a corrupt system. But it is illustrated that they could be
just as heartless as their rich counterparts, the aristocrats, when it came down
to it. For example, anyone who was an aristocrat, or even associated with
aristocrats, was sentenced to death. As the novel went on, the French people
grew more heartless, for the executions continued without end. This last
reversal in character is the most disturbing, because it holds true in the real
These examples are but a few of the many in A Tale of Two Cities, and
this theme of character reversal one of a myriad of possible interpretations.
However, the fact remains that these integral characters all changed
drastically: Carton for love, Madame Defarge for revenge, and the French people
for power. The cause of these reversals was honor; Carton had pledged his life
to Lucy, and Madame Defarge and the French people wanted to honor France.
Without these reversals in character, Dickens would have had a much more
convoluted novel, and perhaps would have even had to introduce even more
characters into the plot. As it is, the changes wrap up the book with one
decisive stroke, leaving the reader with a sense of closure rather than