Evaluation of the Topic of Sex Roles as Demonstrated in Charles Dickens’ Book, A Tale of Two Cities


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Gender Roles

In A Tale of Two Cities, written by Charles Dickens, gender roles are one of the main motifs due to their large presence in two of the main characters, Lucie Manette Madame Defarge. Gender roles back in the French Revolution were used to set examples for men and women, with the men being the protectors and the women being nurturers. However, Dickens challenges these traditional Victorian era rules by breaking them in his characters and their personalities, making gender roles vital to the story.

Lucie Manette is the daughter of Doctor Manette in A Tale of Two Cities. Lucie is a stellar example of a perfect, ideal woman in the Victorian era. Calm, collected, charming, sweet, beautiful, Lucie was “the golden thread” (Dickens 72) that saved her father from his rotting life in prison, and ties the lives of Doctor Manette, Mr. Lorry, Sydney Carton, and Charles Darnay together. In the Victorian era, “domesticity was trumpeted as a female domain” (Abrams), demonstrated by Lucie as she creates an environment in her home where all the men feel comfortable, and her compassion for other people inspire them to be better men. Lucie influences the men because she is Lucie, and not because of her actions. She is also treated as feeble, and like a child such as when Mrs. Pross “softly laid the patient [Lucie] on a sofa, and tended her with great skill and gentleness: calling her ‘my precious!’ and ‘my bird!’” (Dickens 25). Lucie is the representation of “unconditional love and compassion” (Nowbari), and because of this, she represents the ideal woman in the Victorian era.

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Although Lucie might be an angel of a woman in the Victorian era, this was most definitely not the case for Madame Defarge. “The wife of Lucifer” (Dickens 350), she is the embodiment of hatred, she is the embodiment of violence, she is the embodiment of bloodthirstiness, she is the embodiment of revenge. Dickens uses Madame Defarge to show readers what would happen when a woman is removed “from a typical, domestic feminine realm [and placed] in[to] the midst of the turbulent Revolution”(Nowbari). She is the main female leader in the storming of the Bastille, and symbolizes the women’s want for freedom by screaming, “We can kill as well as the men when the place is taken!”(Dickens 205). Madame Defarge and Lucie are like polar opposites because while “Lucie creates and nurtures life, Madame Defarge destroys it” (Nowbari). Lucie doesn’t seek revenge, while Madame Defarge’s sole purpose in life is to get revenge on the upper class of France, due to her entire family passing away. Another difference between Lucie and Madame Defarge is that while Lucie is seen at her home many times, Madame Defarge is never home because she’s always knitting away her death list in the wine shop. Finally, while Lucie has a daughter named Little Lucie, Madame Defarge never has any children, meaning that she lacks any maternal affection, which ironically connects her to the aristocrats. Madame Defarge doesn’t have any concern for Lucie or any of the other mothers in France, glaring “coldly as ever” (Dickens 256) at Lucie as she begs for mercy. Madame Defarge, in the context of this time period, is unfeminine and is proof that gender roles aren’t present.

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens tells the readers what he thinks of gender roles through Lucie and Madame Defarge. Charles Dickens breaks this traditional rule of the Victorian era of women being relegated to kitchen duty and housecleaning while the men do all the work, by making Madame Defarge the true, vicious leader of the violent French Revolution. Gender roles are important in this book due to the amount of focus on Lucie and Madame Defarge, and their impact on the other characters in A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens incorporated gender roles into this book because he wanted the readers to know that stereotypes are unrealistic, and gender roles don’t matter in the real world.

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