“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens and French Revolution

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A Tale of Two Cities is a novel by Charles Dickens that takes place during the French Revolution. It shows some of the events that led up to the Revolution and a few of the people leading it. The French Revolution changed the country and influenced other countries all over the world. A Tale of Two Cities shows how easy it is for people with a good cause to turn into the very thing they want to change.

Dickens shows the beginning of the French Revolution with the aristocracy’s oppression of the poor and their inhumane treatment. It was a bloody war. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens portrays the French Revolution as an ocean that’s quickly getting out of hand “the firm earth shaken by rushes of an angry ocean which had now no ebb, but was always on the flow, higher and higher, to he terror and wonder of the beholders on the shore” (Dickens, 287). It gets so out of hand that its main leaders are killed: Maximilien Robespierre, George Danton, and Jean-Paul Marat (“The French Revolution” History Channel).

There are many events that led up to the French Revolution. When Louis the XIV was king he lost the Seventeen Years War, the country faced bankruptcy (“The French Revolution” History Channel). Latter, after Louis the XVI is king, he spends money to help the American Revolution against England. Besides money spend on wars, Queen Marie Antoinette had a taste for expensive and extravagant outfits and parties.The shortage of money, along with a lack of food due to bad crops, droughts, and disease that killed a lot of the cattle led the poor to retaliate against the rich people (“French Revolution”).

Another thing that fueled the Revolution was the new Age of Enlightenment. People started thinking more for themselves and started turning away from the church. They didn’t like how society was set up. The political system was a house of three estates. The first and second estate going to the nobles and merchants, and they third estate to everyone else (Carlyle, xxxiv). The third estate—the poor— didn’t think it was fair that the majority of the country’s population had less votes in the government than the two estates that made up one third of the population (“The French Revolution” History Channel). They wondered why the king, queen, and aristocrats had plenty of food, while everyone else went hungry (“The French Revolution” History Channel).

In A Tale of Two Cities the third estate’s condition is the same; they are mistreated and starving. The aristocrats, like Monsieur the Marquis, are cruel and don’t do anything to even try to help them. They are disconnected from the poor and don’t really know what all they face. The aristocrats don’t view the common person as anything more than an animal (Dickens, 398). The revolutionaries in A tale of Two Cities only want to have equal rights.

The French Revolution began in 1789. Maximilien Robespierre is a lawyer, politician, and an elegant speaker. He writes against the king and the nobles’ rich lives. He is present at the States General, a meeting of the Estates. During the meeting the Third Estate gets locked out. They shut themselves into a court and make the Tennis Court Oath. The oath says that no one will leave the court France’s Constitution is redone (“The French Revolution” History Channel”). The people of the new constitution named in the National Assembly. Fearing the people may uprise, King Louis the XVI sends troops to Paris. The people of the Third Estate are scared and fight back. During this fight the people decide to attack the bastille. They murder several guards and the Governor of the Bastille is brutally killed and his head is stuck on a pike. The Revolutionaries tear down the bastille and create their own flag/colors (blue, red, white) a a symbol of their separation from the old constitution (“The French Revolution” History Channel). Their violence at the Bastille and the lack of punishment for it will lead them to more violence.

In A Tale of Two Cities the revolutionaries storm the Bastille. The book doesn’t mention Maximilien Robespierre, though. Instead, Monsieur Defarge and his wife lead the attack (Dickens, 264). The governor is beheaded by Madame Defarge. The Bastille is a symbol of the aristocrat’s cruelty and the unjust law system. By attacking it and tearing it down they are farther proclaiming their separation from the aristocratic ways. It’s like a warning to all the nobles of what’s going to come if something doesn’t change soon.

“‘Is it a revolt?’ asked the king. ‘No, Sire,he is answered. ‘It is a revolution.’” (“The French Revolution” History Channel, 30:00). The king was told about the raiding of the Bastille. After the Bastille, on August 4, the people write the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” which marks the beginning of the Republic Government (“French Revolution”). The Declaration calls for a constitutional monarchy, equal rights, justice, and freedom of press.

Jean-Paul Marat takes full advantage of the freedom of press and starts a paper called “The People’s Friend.” In it he voices his opinions about the aristocrats and nobility (“The French Revolution” History Channel). His paper is strongly against the king and queen. When the royals at the palace Versaille hear about it, King Louis the XVI sends more troops to Paris. This angers the people of the Republic. On October 5, 1789, sixty thousand people, mostly women, march to Versaille. The kill multiple guards, make Louis the XVI sign the Declaration, and they move the king and queen to the palace in Paris.

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"A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens and French Revolution. (2019, Jun 26). Retrieved June 20, 2024 , from

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