Sunday, February 5, 2012

French Peasants > Decaying Vegetables

Lately, I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about revolutions. The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, all that material for AP World History....I am truly surrounded by them. That's partly why, when everyone in my class was crying about A Tale of Two Cities, I found myself famished for more. Bewildered, but famished.
A Tale of Two Cities
See Goodreads page here.
See Shelfari page here.
       If you don't remember from your own high school years: We begin with Lucie Manette as an innocent, English girl. Enter Mr. Jarvis Lorry, a man whose number-crunching world has been disturbed by some fascinating news-his old client, Dr. Manette, was released from the Bastille, a French prison. Lorry knows it is his duty to tell Lucie of the father she always thought was dead, and from an eventual reunion between the Manettes, Father and daughter hit it off like no tomorrow. Even when she is married to the ever-charming Charles Darnay (who is actually the son of a terrible, French aristocrat), the Doctor lives just upstairs. Meanwhile, the Defarges run a wine shop in St. Antoine, a section of Paris that wants to overthrow their oppressive, French monarchy like the Dickens (haha, get what I did there?) Meanwhile, Sydney Carton is a failed man, working as the metaphorical "jackal" of a manipulative lawyer named Mr. Styver. The Defarges' long-desired revolution breaks out, Darnay travels to France only to be imprisoned, the Lucie/Lorry/Manette super trio comes to help, Carton remains miserable, and we've got ourselves one helluva story. 
        A helluva story it is, but Dickens always has some philosophical tricks up his sleeve; he's quite the sly dog. Therefore, let's take a gander into what he says about revolution itself.
        The French revolutionaries think that everyone should enjoy "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity", not the kind of oppression dished out by French aristocrats. A perfect example of said oppression is when Darnay's uncle runs over a peasant child with his carriage. After the deed is done, the aristocrat conveys a face equal to that with which one greets a decaying vegetable. He complains about how poor people can't properly care of their kids, tosses some coins to the crowd as repayment, then drives on into the sunset with his high-and-mighty self. No one should have to endure such an atrocity....except when the good of a new, French Republic is at stake, of course. Once the revolutionaries attain power, you see, they pass a law that requires all individuals suspected of rebellion be slit open by the Guillotine. Sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, mommies, one is safe. Forget Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity-at this point, most Frenchmen consider themselves lucky to be alive. 
         What went wrong, so many ask? Simply, the revolutionaries begin to value ideas that may help the people more than the people themselves. When Darnay is put on trial and Doctor Manette looks upset, the aging man is told that he should in fact be happy to sacrifice his son-in-law to the Republic. 
         Nowadays, everyone is buzzing about November's election. Every candidate is advertising his own brand of political, economic, and social change.  In a time where such emphasis is placed on new ideas, precisely who we change for must be ironed into our minds. 


  1. I like this blog post better than what my English class did with the book. I am now trying to read as much of 1984 in advance as i can so schoolwork dosen't ruin that book.

  2. This is a great post. And you know, they didn't have us read this when I was in HS? And I went to a really snobbishly intellectual high school haha. I also didn't take it upon myself to read it either sooo yeah there's that.

    I'm an opera singer and I did an opera in undergrad called Dialogues des Carmélites by Poulenc...took place during the French Revolution but we were nuns, so our character study had to take a stance against the People. We didn't get to look at them as doing something rational for the sake of themselves (since they sent all of us nuns to our deaths at the should youtube the last scene of the opera, it's chilling) but rather this senseless sort of revolution. Totally forgot what was REALLY going on in those days.

    And that was my latest immersion in the French Revolution thanks lol.

    1. Nuns during the French Rev? HOW AWESOME! I'm in the middle of Les Miserables right now, and Hugo somewhat discusses what the Catholic Church was like during that period. Oh, and my friend is actually playing a clarinet solo by Poulenc for his All-State Wind Ensemble audition...ha!

    2. OOOO that is awesome! Poulenc is tough, your friend knows!!


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