Symbolism is an important literary tool used by novelists and poets. A symbol is a sign or a representation standing for something else by association. It embodies an idea or object and it signifies something deeper While some symbols are peculiar to a particular novelist, others are universal as they mean the same everywhere. Whatever the type of symbol used, a symbol signifies a deeper meaning and it conveys what an entire poem or novel cannot do. As an expression of an artist's vision, philosophy and ideas, it becomes an embodiment of his passions and foreboding, his feelings and desires.
A Tale of Two Cities, is a symbolic novel with great depth and significance. The symbols are used abundantly and they are not at all superflous as they add depth and meaning to the novel. Dickens' symbols are a part of his plot and they do not stand out. They dominate the whole novel and suggest a deeper significance to ordinary things. They are suggestive of much more than what is apparent. The title itself is as meaningful and symbolic as the two cities which are juxtaposed by means of symbols and images.
Since A Tale of Two Cities is a narration of private lives against the background of the Revolution, Dickens makes use of various symbols -personal and conventional - to heighten the horror of the Revolution and to express his vision of Life through symbols. Inanimate objects, characters and ideas are used as symbols and images to expound his ideas in an imaginative way.
The Woodman and the Farmer
From the first chapter onwards, we come across symbols which signify a deeper meaning. The woodman and farmer working side by side, silently and quietly, symbolise Fate and Death respectively. They are not mere workers but embody the idea that Fate and Death, symbolised by the Farmer and the Woodman, are quietly working together in
to bring about death and bloodshed. Together the chopper and tiller are going to change the destinies of those around them. They are going to sow the seeds of bloodshed and death (Revolution) and finally bring about death (chop heads) France
Chapter two plunges us into a symbolic journey on the mail coach for
. The uphill and labourious journey is symbolic of difficult times in Dover and France . The mutinous horses signify that a change is impending — rebellion is around the corner. The mail, its horses and occupants are suspicious - apprehensive, thus creating an aura of darkness and death we get a feel of things to come-the Revolution with its bloodshed and butchery. England
Images of Ghosts
The ominous and mysterious note continues in the following chapter as Jarvis Lorry visualizes meeting a ghost, he has dug out of the grave. This image of ghost creates an atmosphere of mystery about this ghost, who has been "Recalled to Life." It also prepares us for the theme of Resurrection which dominates the novel. This symbolic expression of ghosts occurs again and again. This is what oppression does to people - years of stay in the Bastille makes Dr. Manette appear ghost-like; it is as if he has been dug from the grave. Later, when Charles is imprisoned in
, he feels that the other prisoners have been humbled so much that they appear to be ghosts of their former self. The revolutionaries have degraded the aristocrats to such an extent that they too appear ghostly. It is as if there is death all around. Images of ghosts symbolise death. France
The novel is replete with vareity of images and symbols in practically every chapter. Another recurrent symbol is that of wine and the wine shop. In the chapter, "The Wine Shop," a cask of wine spills on the street and this red coloured wine stains the streets. When the hungry and thirsty people on the streets rush to drink the wine, their feel, hands and mouth get stained. The image of wine symbolises bloodshed on the streets of
. There is a foreboding that the people will be party to this bloodshed and massacre. Thus, the spilling of wine stands for blood and bloodshed i.e. the French Revolution. The wineshop too is mentioned again and again as its owner is the leader of the Revolutionaries. The wineshop, thus, becomes symbolic of the Revolution. Paris
Thus, wine and blood are abundant!}' used as symbols of the Revolution. The colour red, loo is used freely in this context. Gaspard writes the word "Blood" on the wall. The Marquis watches the blood-red sun setting in the horizon. His burning chateau looks red as blood - Gaspard's child is over run by the Marquis and there is blood all around. The revolutionaries sharpen their weapons to shed blood. The recurrent use of blood as a symbol of the Revolutions heightens the nightmarish quality of the Revolution and makes us realise that though Revolutions are born out of oppression and suffering, the result is bloodshed. The aristocrats suck the blood of the poor and the poor lust for the blood of the aristocrats once they revolt. The result is a blood-bath.
Another symbol of the Revolution is the grindstone. Though it is originally used to crush wheat, it symbolises the crushing of humanity. Poor labourers and children are made dull and lifeless by this crushing machine. Though it grinds wheat, multitudes are left hungry. However, during the Revolution, it is used to sharpen weapons which are used to kill the aristocrats and other enemies. Thus, it becomes a symbol of torture, cruelty, destruction and bloodshed.
Equally symbolic of cruelty and bloodshed is La Guillotine or the National Razor which is used for beheading the condemned. The graphic description of La Guillotine heightens the horror of the Revolution and becomes symbolic of cruel fate and violent death. It symbolises the degeneration of the human race as it replaces the cross. It signifies a new brutal world full of excessive violence and bloodshed. The guillotine mercilessly and brutally exterminates the aristocrats whose tyranny was symbolised by the Bastille.
The Bastille too is used as a symbol of tyranny during the Reign of Terror. It is linked to the images of blood and the Revolution and it houses those who have annoyed the aristocrats. Dr. Manette was imprisoned in the Bastille for eighteen years for being a champion of the poor peasant girl. Therefore, it is a symbol of tyranny in the eyes of the revolutionaries. The cruel and callous Governor, who watched the prisoners shut in solitary cells for years, is slaughtered to death by Madame Defarge after the Fall of the Bastille.
The Fall of the Bastille symbolises the fall of the aristocracy and an end to the oppression of the masses by the tyrannical aristocrats who uphold cruelty, unfairness and exploitation. The Bastille is symbolically meaningful as major events connected with Doctor Manette take place here.
Another symbols related to the Revolution is the Carmagnole, the song-dance of the revolutionaries. The dance gnash their teeth in unison and this symbolises common ideals of violence and death. This gruesome dance has a nightmarish quality about it as the revolutionaries express their ubilation in this dance. This frenzied dance highlights the horror of the bloodthirsty mood of the revolutionaries. It is worse than a battle as it symbolises violence.
The violent, vengeful and bloody mood of the revolutionaries is further depicted through the symbol of knitting. Madame Defarge is forever knitting the names of the enemies of the Revolution. Knitting acquires a sinister and ominous note as it embodies the ruthlessness, revenge and cruelty of the revolutionaries. There seems to be no end to her stony-faced and incessant knitting. It gives a presentiment of disaster - as if nothing can stop the revolutionaries. Knitting thus, symbolises cruel fate, death and violence.
Thus, the Revolution is symbolized by images of blood, knitting, La Guillotine etc. It is so widespread that the echoing footsteps of the Revolution are heard in
by Lucie. She hears echoing footsteps and feels scared about the future. Sydney Carton also comments that a great crowd will come into their lives. The footsteps of the revolution finally enter. Lucie's life like a tempest and the stampede makes them all suffer. Thus, the echoing footsteps are symbolic of the frenzied and violent Revolution. England
Images of Stone
Dickens portrays the meaninglessness of the monstrous and nightmarish Revolution. Not only through the symbols of blood and violence, but also by means of images of stone. Marquis Evremonde's chateau is made of stone "as if the Gorgon's head had surveyed it, when it was finished two centuries ago." The Gorgon, a monster of Greek mythology was such that all who looked at it turned into stone. The stone chateau is like the Gorgon's head as it made Evremonde stone-hearted and indifferent. He has no compunctions about exploiting his tenants and he resembles the stone faces on the chateau. After his death, it is as if another stone face has been added to the chateau. Later, the revolutionaries too become stone-hearted and callous.
Water and Fire
Besides using images of stone, Dickens also uses water and fire as symbols. Water symbolises time and life. Dickens writes : "The water of the fountain ran, the swift river ran, the day ran into evening, so much life in the city only ran into death according to rule", the water ran in the city and village, both. Later, again the sea is used metaphorically. After the Fall of the Bastille, "The Sea Still Rises." The sea is symbolic of the Revolution which rises higher as it looks for fresh victims. The rising of the sea is followed by "The Fire Rises". This symbolises the fire and passions of the revolutionaries as they ignite the chateau.
Characters as Symbols
Dickens also uses characters as symbols. His characterisation ranges from the road mender to the Marquis, from figures who symbolise a class to private individuals like the Manettes who are compelled to be a part of history and public events.
Names of Characters
First and foremost, the names of characters have been used symbolically While Lucie means luminous, Evremonde means every man and Manette may be construed phonetically originated from the word 'man'. Ironicalli he has beer, reduced to a number. Stryver is called a lion because of his ego and greed. He takes credit for his success which is due to
. Sydne; is called a jackal as he is clever and intelligent. He is like a jackal that has the leftovers of the lion. Sydney
Besides names, the characters are symbolic of specific characteristics and abstract qualities. Lucie gives light and love to everyone around her and she symbolises compassion and sweetness; Charles embodies patience and fortitude; while Jarvis Lorry symbolises selfless service and humanity Stryver stands for selfishness and ego; Monseigneur symbolises decayed aristocracy and Marquis d' Evremonde is a symbol of inhumanity and cruelty; while Miss Pross embodies love and affection, Madame Defarge is a symbol of hatred, evil and vengeance. Her encounter with Miss Pross is symbolic of the triumph of love over hatred, good over evil.
Resurrection as a Symbol
Thus, Resurrection becomes a major theme and symbol.
says, "I am the Resurrection. I am the Life". He resurrects Charles twice; Dr. Manette, too is resurrected mentally by Luice's love; Sydney , is resurrected spiritually by Lucie's compassion. Jerry Cruncher, too, is resurrected at the end. The novel is replete with images of Resurrection. Sydney
But what stands out at the end is
's sacrifice. He becomes a symbol of love. Through him it becomes a story of rebirth. His death inspires man to be morally regenerated. He embodies rebirth through love and expiation. Sydney
Characters are Parables of the Revolution
Thus, A Tale of Two Cities is a symbolic novel with symbolism integrated into the structure of the novel. It has a variety of symbols and images, all of which highlight Dickens' message. By focussing on the meaningless horrors of the Revolution and the private lives of his characters, he expresses view that public and private distances are so deeply interlinked that man is a part of history and there is no escape.
In fact, the lives of Dr. Manette and Sydney mirror the social order and they are mirrored by it. Their lives are parables of the Revolution, social regeneration, suffering and sacrifice. The Doctor's release symbolises the start of a new order, released from its suffering and finding its identity in a new and just world.
To sum Up, Dickens has used symbols artistically and significantly in A Tale of Two Cities. The symbols are a part of the plot and they are so well integrated with the theme of Revolution, resurrection and love that they make the novel rich in meaning, significant and dramatic.