Throughout one of the most infamous novels written by Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, one of the most major and a significant theme is poverty. Poverty can be defined as, “a condition in which a person or community is deprived of, or lacks the essentials for a minimum standard of well-being and life” (wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn). Although the locations of France and England are two polar opposites in that they have very different political, governmental and social statuses, they both experience poverty in each their own ways. Out of anger and frustration that the people of the towns in France are in such despair, causes mob mentality among the streets, people, and work places. This then creates mob riots about the towns and turns the streets of France into total chaos.
At the time when the story takes place, many people are living in decrepit and run down parts of the towns while worrying about problems they have to face. In England, the public commoners are constantly worrying about religious prophecies, popular telepathic phenomena, and the messages that a colony of British subjects in America has sent to King George III. France, on the other hand, witnesses unwarranted expenses and tremendous violence, a trend that anticipates the assembly of the guillotine. Poverty is very prevalent throughout the entire novel, which is half of the causes of the problems throughout the cities. In chapter 5 entitled “The Wine-Shop” a wine cask falls and breaks open, pouring wine all over the streets of France. Men kneel and scoop up the wine that has
collected in the paving stones, while women sop up the liquid with handkerchiefs and wring them into the mouths of their malnourished children.
A large cask had been dropped and broken, in the street. The accident had happened in getting it out of a cart; the cask had tumbled out with a run, the hoops had bursts, and it lay on the stones just outside the door of the wine-shop, shattered like a walnut-shell. All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine. The rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing every way, and designed, one might have thought, expressly to lame all living creatures that approached them, had dammed it into little pools; these were surrounded, each by its own jostling group or crowd, according to its size. Some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped, or tried to help women, who bent over their shoulders, to sip, before the wine had all run out between their fingers. Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths; others made small mud embankments, to stem the wine as it ran; others, directed by lookers on up at high windows, darted here and there, to cut off little streams of wine that started away in new directions; others, devoted themselves to the sodden and lee-dyed pieces of the cask, licking, and even champing the moister wine-rotted fragments with eager relish (30-31).
Here, this quote is describing the scene when the wine cask falls and pours into the run down streets of France. The broken wine cask conveys the suffering and rage that will lead the French peasantry to revolt years later.
When the scene describes almost all of the men and women doing anything they can to get miniscule amounts of liquid into their children’s and their own mouths it just shows how poor and impoverished the city truly is. The families act as if they had not seen any form of liquid in months, which is most likely the situation, as they scrambled about the stone ground on their hands and knees like dogs and
rats, which they are referred to many a time by the people with more wealth than they. “Mr. Lorry, the passenger, shaking himself out of it, in chains of straw, a tangle of shaggy wrapper, flapping hat, and muddy legs, was rather like a larger sort of dog” (19). At one point a man dips his finger in the red wine sprawled all over the stone ground and scrawls upon a wall the word “blood.” This shows the barbaric like qualities that many of the people living in France at the time possessed. Along with having barbaric mannerisms and performing barbaric and grotesque acts such as when Mr. Cruncher digs up the body of Roger Cly, several of the men and women had a barbaric mind set which in turn caused them to revolt and travel in mobs throughout the novel.
One of the most memorable mob scenes in the novel is during the funeral procession of Roger Cly. One morning outside Tellson’s Bank, Jerry Cruncher sees a funeral pass by. Jerry asks a few questions and learns that the crowd is preparing to bury Roger Cly, a convicted spy and one of the men who testified against Darnay in his court case. Jerry Cruncher joins the motley procession, which includes a chimney-sweep, a bear-leader and his scruffy bear which is chained from his neck to the bear-leader, and a pieman. After much drinking and riotous behavior, the mob buries Cly and, for sport, decides to accuse passers-by of spying in order to wreak “vengeance on them.” Again, people are referenced to animals when a man yells out from the crowd to the rest of the mob about
Roger Cly, “Dead as mutton, and can’t be too dead. Have ‘em out, there! Spies! Pull ‘em out, there! Spies!” (161).
Here, Roger Cly is being referred to as dead mutton and was be killed for being tried and convicted of spying. “The idea was so acceptable in the prevalent absence of any idea, that the crowd caught it up with eagerness, and loudly repeating the suggestion to have ‘em out, and to pull ‘em out, mobbed the two vehicles so closely that they came to a stop. On the crowd’s opening the coach doors, the one mourner scuffled out of himself and was in their hands for a moment; but he was so alert, and made such good use of his time, that in another moment he was scouring away up by-street, after shedding his cloak, hat, long hatband, white pocket handkerchief, and other symbolical tears. These, the people tore to pieces and scattered far and wide with great enjoyment, while the tradesmen hurriedly shut up their shops; for a crowd in those times stopped at night, and was a monster much dreaded” (161-162). Here, this quote is explaining the mob scene during Roger Cly’s funeral procession. The crowd is chanting phrases such as, “have ‘em out, pull ‘em out!” regarding a couple of different things. The first is that the crowd wants Roger Cly to be revealed as the spy he was presumed to be, and the second meaning that the crowd wants to tear Roger Cly from limb to limb by having at them and pulling at them.
In the novel on page 163 (which is also attached) there is a picture of the spy, Roger Cly’s funeral procession. The mobs of people are gathered around in a herd with animals such as dogs, cats, horses, and a bear. Men, women, and children were rioting with whips, chains, drums, and any and all other types of weapons to beat and torture Roger Cly with. The mob was chanting grotesque statements with the intention to intimidate, scare, and torment Cly.
In conclusion, throughout A Tale of Two Cities the most important and noteworthy theme and subject matter is poverty which then creates a mob mentality among those who are inflicted with poverty. It is the most important theme because it plays one of the largest roles not just in the towns of France, but also in creating a stable government which would eventually lead to the Revolutionary War and the assembly of the guillotine, so, the theme not only impacts the novel, but also had a large impact on the worlds political and social issues. Out of fury and dissatisfaction that the natives of the towns in France are in, it causes despair and mob mentality among the streets, community, and work places. This then creates mob riots about the towns and turns the streets of France into total anarchy.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. London, England: Penguin Group, 1859. 5-390.
“Poverty.” Princeton. 20 Feb. 2008