Symbolism in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Symbolism in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Symbolism in A Tale of Two Cities


Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is packed with the frequent use of significant symbols. A large number of images and characters have a symbolic significance. In A Tale of Two Cities symbolism has an essential element in the structure of the novel and permeates the whole novel.

Symbolism implies the use of an object, an idea or a person in a larger, wider and deeper sense than is literally conveyed by mere that object, idea or person. It lends a beauty and significance to a literary piece of writing.

Symbol of the journey of the mail coach

The first symbol used by the author in the novel is the journey of the mail coach. It has its symbolic significance. It is an uphill journey and the mail is so heavy that the horses have a difficult time of it and therefore, they take the coach backwards. The horses with their drooping heads and shaking tails are laboriously making their way through the thick mud, floundering and stumbling as if they were going to fall to pieces. And there was a sort of suspicion in their gait as Dickens Says:

“The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard.”

The whole account of this journey is a fit prelude to a novel that deals with the violent scenes of the French Revolution

Symbol of the Woodman and Farmer

The two characters of woodman and the farmer symbolize fate and death. The woodman stands as a symbol of fate and farmer as of death. Because the group revolutionaries were holding wood spears in their hands and the farmers brought this deadly revolution. But both were busy in their work. As Dickens says;

“They work silently, no one hears them as they go about with muffled steps”

The symbolic idea is that these two forces are busy in France to bring about destruction and bloodshed to ruin human happiness in the form of French Revolution.

Symbol of the Spilling of the Wine

The spilling of the wine in the chapter called the “Wine Shop” has also its symbolic significance. A cask of wine is accidently broken in the street and the red wine is spilled on the ground. It stains the ground in the suburb of Saint Antoine Suddenly a large number of poor people rush towards the shop and try to drink the wine. The wine stains many hands, man feet and many faces. The spilling of wine symbolically means the shedding of blood. It’s symbolic significance becomes perfectly clear when one man dips his fingers in the wine scrawls upon a wall the word “blood.”

Here Dickens comments:

“The time was to come when that wine too would be spilled on the street stones.”

Symbol of the Grinding Mill

In the same chapter Dickens employed the symbol of the mill. Mill grinds wheat into flour which serves as food for human beings. But here in the novel, the mill performs a different function. The people at Saint Antoine undergo a terrible grinding in the mill. Here the Mill is grinding the young people into old. As Dickens says that here the people have ancient faces and grave voices and the sign of hunger is apparent on their faces. Symbolically mill is grinding back young and old people of Saint Antoine because they were living a very tough life.

As author says:

“The children in this suburb had ancient faces and grave voices and upon their faces and also upon the faces of the grown up people, the sign of hunger was apparent.”

Symbol of Grind Stone

Another symbol of grind stone which appears much later in the novel stands for destruction. In latter case the members of the revolutionary crowd are described as sharpening their bloody hatchels, knives, bayonets and swords at a grindstone

Symbol of The Carmagnole Dancing

The carmagnole dancing has also its symbolic role in the novel. Carmagnole is a dreadful sight for spectators like Lucie because it seems very violent and ferocious. The dancers in the Carmagnole gnash their teeth in unison. The writer says that even no battle could be half so terrible as this dance was. This symbolizes the fury of the revolutionaries.

Symbol of The Echoes of the Footsteps

The echoes of the footsteps that Lucie hears in her imagination symbolizes that a number of people would come into her life. In the chapter “Hundreds of People”, Lucie tells that whenever she sits alone in the evening, she listens the echoes of the footsteps. Thereupon, Sydney Carton remarks that it means that there will be a great crowd or a revolution coming in her life. All this indicates the coming of the great tempestuous revolution when multitudes of people in a state of turmoil come around Lucie and get her involved in them. Dickens is of the view:

“It was now, about little Lucie’s sixth birthday that they began to have an awful sound, as of a great storm in France with a dreadful sea rising.”

Symbol of the Chateau Building of Marquis Evermonde

The description of the chateau building of Marquis Evermonde has its own symbolic meanings.

“It is a heavy stone building with a large stone courtyard before it, and a stone staircase, with heavy stone, balustrades, and stone urns, and stone flowers and stone faces of men and stone heads of lions, in all directions; as if the Gorgon’s head”.

These stone faces outside the walls of the building symbolize the hard heartedness of Evremonde race. The face of Marquis himself is mask like, without any expression, because of his dehumanization.

Symbol of the Bastille

The Bastille is a symbol of cruelty and tyranny. It symbolizes the cruelty of aristocrats on the poor people Hundreds of prisoners have been languishing in it for years and years. The poor people of Saint Antoine assault upon the Bastille and capture it; there Madame Defarge seizes the governor of Bastille and cuts off his head with a sharp knife. This is how one despotic rule is changed by the other.

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Symbol of La Guillotine ‘the National Razor’

La Guillotine ‘the National Razor’ is a symbol of the brutalities and the barbarities which are committed by the poor and the down trodden against aristocrats when they come into power. All the people belonging to aristocracy and the nobility whether good or bad are mercilessly beheaded by the La Guillotine. Thus La Guillotine is an ugly and hateful symbol like the Bastille.

Dickens says:

“It was the national Razor which shaved close. It sheared off heads so many that it, and the ground it most polluted, were a rotten red.”

Symbolic Characters

Some of the characters in the novel also serve a symbolic purpose. For instance, Miss Pross is a personification of love and affection. Sydney Carton too serves a symbolic purpose. His sacrificial death symbolizes the means by which a profligate can attain moral regeneration. Madame Defarge is a personification of hatred, revenge and violence. Her knitting acquires a sinister significance and becomes al symbol of revolutionary ruthlessness. Dr. Manette symbolizes the exploitation of the poor but talented people that how the talent was killed and repressed and a doctor was forced to become a shoe-maker.

Marque’s Evremonde symbolizes the stone hearted aristocracy and the callousness of the privileged class.


To conclude the debate we can say clearly that Dickens has used the device of symbolism in order to give profound and vivid meaning to his work. In this way he has become able to arrest the attention of the readers and proved himself as a superb novelist with artistic genius and high potential and skill.


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