Symbolism in A Tale of Two Cities – Symbol Overview and Meaning

A Tale of Two Cities Symbols – Introduction

This novel’s action takes place in either England or Paris. Since the story’s major conflict revolves around the French Revolution, the major strife comes when the characters are in Paris, navigating the social and political upheaval.

While Paris represents threats to personal security and a turbulent existence, when the characters are in England, they are able live life more as normal, without the horrors of their past or their regretful family connections posing any sort of threat. However, since they’re so intertwined with the events in Paris on personal levels, they have to walk the line between these two existences. They can’t fully exist in either world until the conflicts are resolved.

A Tale of Two Cities may not have an overly abundant number of motifs to match its length, but those that are present are incredibly important to the overall symbolism and themes.

The motifs are rather dark, pointing to the violent and often hypocritical nature of revolutions. The motifs include doubles/contradictions, shadows and darkness, and imprisonment.

Symbolism in A Tale of Two Cities

symbols is a tale of two citiesHere’s a list of the major symbols in A Tale of Two Cities.

  1. The Broken Wine Casket.
  2. Madam Defarge’s Knitting.
  3. The Marquis.




The Broken Wine Casket

tale of two cities discussion symbolsThe broken wine casket – Relatively early on in the story’s action, when we are first introduced to the Defarges, a wine casket breaks outside of their shop. The description of all the peasants scrambling to collect some of the spilled wine shows the desperate conditions in which they live and how hard it is for them to acquire normal things.

This also highlights how desperate and hungry these people are, that they’re willing to collect wine off the streets in the hopes that it will help them just to get through another day. Furthermore, Dickens likens the wine to blood, showing the lengths that these people are willing to go to in their desperation.

A drunken person uses wine to write the word “blood” on the wall, showing the violence that is simmering beneath the system before the revolution really ramps up. This exact mob mentality is exactly the aspect of the revolution about which Dickens is most critical in this novel.

Madame Defarge’s Knitting

Madame Defarge’s knitting – This is one of the strongest symbols in the novel. She stitches the name of those who will need to die in the name of the revolution. The stitching itself represents how cold-blooded and vengeful the revolutionaries could be.

As she sits and knits, Madame Defarge appears to be the perfect symbol of a docile and proper lady. However, in this moment she represents the simmering frustrations of the lower class. Like here, they are all at this point going about their normal lives, waiting for the time to be right to take the revolution full force.

The Marquis

symbols in two citiesThe Marquis – The Marquis Evrémonde is a symbol for pure evil and corruption. He represents the ruling class of aristocrats. Completely indifferent to the struggles of the French peasants, he will do anything he sees fit, no matter who is harmed

For example, as he travels through town in his buggy, he doesn’t care if he runs over a peasant child. He and his brother were also responsible for the rape of a young woman and the murder of her brother. Although they called a doctor, Manette, to perform medical services on these two, they then have the doctor imprisoned for eighteen years to keep him from revealing what happened to authorities.

The Marquis is the quintessential symbol for the French ruling class and their indifference to those below them in social/economic status.