In the novel “A Tale of Two Cities” women play a pivotal role. A Tale of Two Cities is a story of how a woman can change the lives of men through love and compassion. The action of the novel revolves around the characters like Lucie Manette, Madame Defarge, and Miss Pross. The women in the novel are shown to be strong some have a strong heart and some are physically strong, to be price the author Charles Dickens in this novel primarily aims to defy the monolithic roles ascribed to women in the society, he presents women as strong and influential and without whom men cannot survive. Dickens has shown that women play a crucial part in bringing out the best in men for instance Lucie motivates and brings out the best in Doctor Manette, Darnay and Corton by tending to them with compassion and love in their darkest and toughest days. The two main female leads: Lucie Manette and Madame Defarge are exactly opposite to each other one embodies generosity, strength of character and tenderness while the other is vicious, physically strong and ruthless, some perceive Lucie Manette as the protagonist and Madame Defarge as the antagonist but the truth is through these two characters the author presents two sides of women one is the kind and motherly side and the other is the face of ruthlessness and vengeance.
The female characters act as a driving force in developing the characters and the plot of the novel. The women in the novel are employed as foundations to construct supremacy and manipulative power of women over men, the character of Lucie Manette embodies all the qualities that are necessary for emanating power and influence over the men moreover, through her interactions with other male characters the author reveals characteristics of other characters, for instance, Stryver always carried himself with an air of arrogance but after he proposes to Lucie Manette and his proposal is rejected by the Manette family he is seen displaying a fragile ego, Dickens has therefore used the character of Lucie to reveal this aspect of Stryver’s personality. Another main character on whom Lucie has a profound effect is her father Doctor Manette, when her father is introduced in the novel at Defarge’s wine shop he is portrayed as a battered man whose physical and mental health is in shambles and he is seen fixated on a delusion that he is a shoemaker but with love, compassion and extreme care Lucie brings back his father to life. Lucie Manette symbolizes compassion, loyalty, and love, it is her love for her father that saves him and keeps his father from returning to his old miserable state, she cradles her father’s head on her chest and when her father returned to the shoemaker phase, she stayed up with her father many nights. Lucie Manette in the novel is described as the golden thread which connected her dad from his past beyond suffering and misery, Charles Dickens describing Lucie Manette as a daughter writes:-
“Only his daughter had the power of charming this black brooding from his mind. She was the golden thread that united him to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery: and the sound of her voice, the light of her face, the touch of her hand, had a strong beneficial influence with him almost always”.
Charles Dickens portrays Lucie as a fragile, gentle, and delicate woman, who smoothly transitions from the role of a daughter to a wife and mother. Lucie is the epitome of compassion and care, she with her tender heart heals her dilapidated father, drunkard Charles Darnay, and subversive Sydney Carton. Lucie takes up the role of a fine housekeeper and nurtures her father to health and life. Another instance that depicts Lucie’s compassionate nature is when Sydney Carton confesses his love for Lucie and also complains and laments about his life to her, she lends him an ear and listens to him and tries to ease his pain away moreover, she shows extreme sympathy to desolate Carton and gradually makes him a part of her family. Lucie similarly is extremely tender and loyal towards her husband Charles Darnay for instance when her husband is sent to prison she visits him daily for over a year and sits outside his window to reduce his loneliness. Lucie’s actions and opinions form the essence of the novel. Through the character of Lucie, the author has represented the caring and loving side of women that how women act as support systems for the men in their lives and how the love of a woman can heal and change men.
The extreme opposite of Lucie Manette is Madame Defarge who is a ruthless and vengeful woman and is fervently involved in the French Revolution. The author through the character of Madame Defarge represents the hatred and mercilessness of the French Revolution. Madame Defarge grabs the role of leadership in the merciless events of the French Revolution like murders and evil plots. The notion of a woman being involved in the ruthless assassinations and being a leader is contrary to the notions regarding women prevalent at that time. She defies all the traditional roles deemed fit for the females and instead takes up the role of a vengeful leader in the French Revolution. In the novel, we see that Madame Defarge is always shown knitting, later it is revealed that in reality, she was knitting the names of the aristocrats who should die for this revolution. She faces the loss of the lives of her loved ones which pushes her to the road of revenge and hatred. Additionally, the author represents Madame Defarge as a lady who acts equal and sometimes superior to her husband, unlike the women of that age Madame Defarge does not confine herself in her house rather she is always seen in the wine shop alongside her husband defying the roles assigned by the society to women. The character of Madame Defarge is portrayed to be cold and ruthless, her husband acts as her puppet and dances on her fingertips for instance when her husband begs her to spare Mr. Manette and Lucie Manette from death as he has worked for Mr. Manette, his wife does not pay heed to the pleas of her husband and says “Then tell wind and fire where to stop, but don’t tell me”. Madame Defarge’s entire existence is drenched in revenge, for instance, it can be seen that when Madame Defarge learns that Charles Darnay is the nephew of the person who caused the death of her loved ones, she becomes blind in vengeance and plots against him and his family with the aim to send them all to the guillotine. Madame Defarge is relentless and ruthless in her revenge, she portrays the dark and rarely seen face of femininity. Usually, the women are deemed fragile, gentle and loving and the roles assigned to the women by the society are of a caring mother, loyal wife, and loving daughter just as represented in Lucie Manette but the character of Madame Defarge with her cruel, cold and malicious nature and the role of leading from the front are exactly opposite to the traditional role of women. The author Charles Dickens through his character of Madame Defarge raises the question of why do women who become politically active turns ruthless and relentless and forgo every ounce of love and compassion.
A minor Character of Miss Pross seems to embody the qualities of an ideal mother. Even though she was not the real mother of Lucie, she is still portrayed as an ideal mother and through her character author represents the mothers of that age that a mother’s love is unconditional and she is relentless in her love. Miss Pross played a great role in the context of motherhood. She not only proved to be the real mother of Lucie but more than that. She devoted her life to her “ladybird” Lucie. She unconditionally and devotedly looked after Lucie Manette when her father was in prison. The only person who is dear to Miss Pross in her life is Lucie and her love for Lucie is undefined and infinite. She is a loyal, honest, lovable and virtuous woman who stood against every trial faced by the Manette family and fought till her last breath to protect Lucie
Through these characters of women, the author Charles dickens represents different sides of femininity and establishes that women play an important role in the lives of men. Dickens conveys that women can fit into any role, be it of a mother, a nurse, a soldier, or a leader, hence, it is useless to confine them to stereotypical roles and to think that women can only be fragile and gentle is sheer ignorance. women are at par with men in every field and sometimes they even outshine men.