The French Revolution was an influential period of social and political upheaval in France that lasted from 1789 until 1799. During this period French citizens razed and redesigned their country’s political landscape uprooting centuries old institutions such as absolute monarchy and the feudal system. The famous slogan of the French Revolution was ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’.
Dickens uses the French revolution as the background to his novel ‘A tale of Two Cities’. The novel is set in England and France in 1775. The age is marked by competing and contradictory attitudes. In England the public worries over religious prophecies popular paranormal phenomena in the form of ‘the Cock-lane ghost’ and the messages that a colony of British subjects in America has se3nt to king George III. France on the other hand witnesses excessive spending and extreme violence a trend that anticipates the erection of the guillotine. In both countries the poor were exploited by the rich.
In the novel, Dickens points out the causes of the revolution through the character of the Marquis who is very cruel. He imposes heavy taxes on the poor villagers who don’t have the money to buy food or care for their children because they are sending all of their money to the Marquis. He has no pity for the poor. While returning from Monseigneur’s party his carriage runs over a small child at Saint Antoine. When the father of the child Gaspard charges at the carriage he looks at him with disgust and gives him a gold coin to pay for his dead child. Dickens sets up the Marquis as a representative of the French aristocracy and a direct cause of the imminent revolution.
Dickens does not support revolution. In the novel he has pointed out the violence of the revolution through the fall of the Bastile and the killing of the governor. The ghastly aspect of the bloody revolution is hinted at by the hanging of the old Foulon and his son-in-law by the angry mob. Another aspect is found in the burning of the chateau the home of the Marquis. The violent aspect of the Revolution is further stressed in the frightening description of the sharpening of the weapons by the revolutionaries on the grindstone the terrible account of the dancing of the Carmagnole the working of La Guillotine and the sentencing to death of such harmless person as the poor seamstress.
At the end of the novel after the execution of Carton, Dickens comments on the horror and meaninglessness of the revolution. He states that revolution is bound to happen whenever man is crushed oppressed and exploited by the rich. The aristocrats sow the seeds of the poor return evil for evil. Being tortured and exploited by the rich the poor are compelled to persecute the aristocracy and other enemies of the revolution with equal brutality. Through the picture of French revolution Dickens seems to be warning England that poverty and suffering in England can also to a revolution like the one in France.