Essay: A Tale of Two Cities and the Conditions Before the French Revolution

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens uses diction to adopt a tone of pity toward the social conditions of France during the period before the French Revolution. At the beginning of the novel a barrel of wine spills, and the people are depicted as having “devoted themselves to the sodden and lee-dyed pieces of the cask, licking, and even champing, the moister wine-rotted fragments with eager relish.” The use of the word “devoted” implies that the poor do not have the freedom to eat when they want, as once the wine cask breaks, everyone quickly drops what they are doing so that they can get a few drops of spilled wine off of the street, and they are so desperate for food that they are not letting go of the fragments of wood. Using the words “champing” and “eager relish,” Dickens demonstrates how, although it was just wood, people still excitedly bit and chewed it with enjoyment and delight, attesting to the fact that the peasants of France are so poor and starved that they have to resort to chewing on rotten wood to get a few drops of wine for nourishment, something that someone who might be even marginally better off would not have even thought of doing.

Later on, Dickens describes how “Hunger was the inscription on the baker’s shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread”. The word “scanty” to describe the baker’s stock of “bad” bread emphasizes how there is not enough food for the peasants (which eventually led to the peasant women marching to the palace and taking Louis XVI back to Paris), because although it is the baker’s job to supply the people with food, even he does not have a full larder. The fact that the baker has bad bread demonstrates that bread, which was the staple food of the French diet, is running out or is not being consumed, because the baker does not have enough supplies or resources to make fresh bread as a result of no one being able to buy the bread in the first place. These examples serve to highlight the tone of pity Dickens adopts toward the condition of the peasants in France, as they are reduced to scavenging for food and are not able to sustain themselves, and implies that they had a good reason to rebel. The author’s words serve to highlight the reality of the peasants before the French Revolution, which helped me understand to a greater degree how bad the situation had been, as opposed to just reading the facts in a textbook or article.

-Aliya A.

2 thoughts on “Essay: A Tale of Two Cities and the Conditions Before the French Revolution

  1. This is a very good essay on what it was before the Revolution. And it wasn’t just that, as the situation with both Marquises prove when they handle peasants… But a great job just on food!

  2. I remember reading Tale of Two Cities and having figured out all the hidden meanings. It is really interesting how someone else had interpreted it. Good Job!

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