Dickens’ Views on the French Revolution
The French Revolution Revolutions have occurred since the first oppressed people got fed up with a tyrannical leader. It has been the cry of the downtrodden since the beginning of time. Revolution is a word that symbolizes hope for a better future. It can be a dangerous thing because if not successful life for the common people might get worse than it originally was. Even if successful the new leaders can be as bad as those preceding. Dickens captures the essence of a revolution gone bad in his novel A Tale Of Two Cities.
The intent of this short essay is to discuss and analyze Dickens’ treatment of the theme of revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. It will attempt to show you how Dickens changes his mind midway through the novel about whether or not the revolutionaries in France are better than their aristocratic predecessors. When the novel first journeyed into France, it was to a poor district in Paris by the name of St. Antonie. A barrel of wine had fallen from the back of a cart in front of a small wine shop owned by a monsieur Defarge. People from all around rushed to see what had happened.
The people were so poor that the very chance to drink wine, even off the dirty street was too tempting to pass up. They drank out of cupped hands and even went as far as to squeeze wine from a rag into an infant’s mouth. Their hands were stained red by the wine. It is a pitiful and prophetic scene. It is prophetic in that later these same poor peasants whose hands are stained red with wine will have them stained red with the blood of the nobility, and the streets will run with the blood of a revolution as it does with the wine.
The revolution in France is necessary for the good of the people and Dickens seems to be right behind the peasants. His views are expressed most clearly when he shows how uncaring the aristocrats were to the plight of the common people. A specific point of this is when he had the Marque de Evremonde say, after running over a small child, “It is extraordinary that you people cannot take care of yourselves or your children… How do I know what injury you have done my horses. ” (A Tale of Two Cities 112) Judging from how the aristocrat is portrayed, Dickens continues to support he peasants right up to the beginning of the revolution. Dicken’s sympathies shifts rather quickly from the mob of French patriot revolutionaries to the plight of the aristocrats and their families. In the time before the revolution any noble could have any commoner thrown in jail without reason or a trial, just on a suspicion, as was done to Dr. Manette by the Evremonde brothers. This did change after the revolution, when any person at all could be thrown in jail with a good chance of execution by La Guillotine for any reason at all.
The aristocrats in particular had no chance at all, as is shown by this quote, “Let him be, he will be judged in Paris. ” The response being “Judged, ay! , and condemned as a traitor. ” (A Tale of Two Cities 259) Dickens has no love for the mob either. While describing their wild dancing and singing and murder in the streets, he does not speak as if he holds them in high regard. In one case in particular, he seems to really despise their actions and speaks out against them through the rational voice of the narrator, “There were no fewer than five hundred people, and they were dancing like five thousand demons. (A Tale of Two Cities 290) In closing, I reiterate the thesis statement, that things did not improve and in some cases got worse than before. In the long run it was best for the French people as a whole but Dickens is right when he implies that the French Revolutionary mob was composed mainly of animals like Madame Defarge whose interests lay with revenge rather than the improvement as a whole of their society. While it lasted, the French Revolution was one of the most barbaric periods in the history of the world.