Read the following essay and comment on the author's technique. This is a fine paper and a fine bit of scholarship from one of your classmates. Do not be afraid to point out areas in which the writer could improve. Responses should be eight to ten sentences in length.
Feet: On the Path of Past, Present, and Future
Feet. They are smelly and easily forgotten, but they are a vital part of the body. They provide a foundation. They bring a person to a place. One can wear shoes (or go shoeless). They often make sounds (or are silent). They do ordinary things, easily forgotten things; they are second nature to breathing. In A Tale of Two Cities, the forgotten feet, too, provide a foundation. Charles Dickens uses the motif of feet, a reoccurring image, to symbolize a path that is taken in which connects the past, present, and future of the French Revolution and the people the revolution affects.
To truly grasp the true meaning of why Dickens uses feet as a motif, we must first examine it everyday function and the meaning that Dickens creates behind it.
A sound is made when a person takes a step. Dickens uses sounds as a metaphor to contrast the difference between the footsteps that echoes in Lucie Manette’s life and the footsteps that echoes in France to show the difference between France and England. In Lucie’s life, the echoes are “sometimes pensive, sometimes amused and laughing” (196). “[T]he echoes of her child’s tread…, and those of her own father’s,…and those of her dear husband” (196) are “near to her heart” (196). The footsteps bring happiness and joy to Lucie’s life; they are “music to her” (196) and they are “sweet in her ears” (196). “But, there [a]re other echoes, from a distance [in France], that rumble menacingly in the corner all through this space of time” (197). These footsteps are not “pensive…amused…or laughing” (196) but they “have an awful sound” (197). Footsteps are footsteps. However, Dickens uses the simple everyday action and creates a meaning behind it. Dickens uses footsteps to juxtapose the peacefulness of England and the chaotic of France. In England, the footsteps are “music” (196). In France, the footsteps are “a great storm” (197) that give “an awful sound” (197). The metaphoric contrast of footsteps and a great storm shows that these footsteps are powerful and they come with a great force. The use of sounds that appeals to the ears affectively highlights Dickens’s point. Sure, footsteps can be seen. However, one person can effectively identify the person’s identity or mood by the sound they make with their feet. Even though both countries share the same “space of time” (197), they are in two different worlds. In one country, England, the people are living a peaceful and quiet life, at ease. In another country, France, the people are living in a chaotic and chaotic life, oppressed. The footsteps tie these two countries together and show their differences.
Dickens uses the feet in more than one way. The stained feet illustrates the oppression of lower class in France and foreshadows the French Revolution. When “a large casket of wine ha[s] been dropped and broken” (24), “all the people within reach ha[ve] suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine” (24). The people are hungry, literally and figuratively. The drinking of wine from the ground is a metaphor for their desperation to overthrow their government. The “red wine” (25) that “stained many naked feet, and many wooden shoes” (25) foreshadows the blood that will stain the revolutionaries’ feet. From the fact that the feet are naked or wear wooden shoes shows how poor these people are in contrast to the “softly-slippered feet” (118) of Monsieur the Marquis. However, with or without shoes, they do make sounds. These are the sounds of cries from the oppressed people. In Monsieur the Marquis case, “his softly-slippered feet mak[es] no noise on the floor” (118). Noises are made due to frustration. Monsieur the Marquis is happily content with this luxurious life, no need to stomp and pout like a child. The oppressed people stomps their feet in frustration to show their anger and their need for attention. Are they heard? Lucie hears the “echoes of all the footsteps that are coming by-and-bye into [her] lives” (97). She hears the footsteps from the angry revolutionaries that will later come into her life. The sound of the footsteps also foreshadow the inevitable revolution in France.
Footsteps make sounds and foreshadow the future. Darnay, Lucie, and Carton hear the echoing footsteps in the corner. But why do only Lucie and Carton really understand what it truly means? Lucie and Carton hear the footsteps as “black and solemn” (97) and as a “great crowd bearing down upon [them]…by the Lightning”, “com[ing], fast, fierce, and furious” (97). Yet, Darnay thinks that the echoes of footsteps are “not impressive” and “foolish” (97). Dickens portrays Lucie Manette as the perfect human being. She is beautiful, gentle, loving, and caring; the epitome of a pure figure. Because she is so pure, she can pick out the flaws and darkness of the world even when it is unnoticeable. Dickens portrays Sydney Carton as a pessimistic. He is a drunkard, “moody and morose” (139); the epitome of a failure. Because he sees the world in darkness, he can see the darkness of the echoing footsteps. And then there is Darnay. Why does Dickens leave Darnay in the cold, oblivious to the truth? Darnay is a person with pride; he neither sees nor hear “hardly any danger” (224) when he makes the decision to go the France, a grave in-waiting, in order to save his name, his pride.
France, indeed, is a massive grave. The footsteps that Lucie and Darnay heard are coming closer and closer until they knock at Lucie’s door. In the beginning, Lucie only hears the footsteps “echoed and re-echoed with the tread of feet; some, as it seemed, under the windows; some, as it seemed, in the room; some coming, some going, some breaking off, some stopping altogether; all in the distant streets, and not one within sight” (97). They are “afar off, and scarcely audible yet” (195). As time goes by, these “echoing footsteps of years” (195) gain momentum and they are coming closer to Lucie’s life. They are “[h]eadlong, mad, and dangerous footsteps” (195) and “in the years so long after the breaking of the cask at Defarge's wine-shop door, they are not easily purified when once stained red” (204). The wheel of the bloody French Revolution has turn and blood is spilled. The one that once has been oppressed is now the oppressor. The foot that once has been stained with red wine is now stained with red blood. Blood, unlike wine, cannot be washed off the mind so easily. Lucie comes face to face with the footsteps when “[a] rude clattering of feet over the floor” of “four rough men in red caps, armed with sabres and pistols” (271) enter her life and take Charles Darnay away. Again, only Lucie hears the footsteps of these men. Dr. Manette does not hear the forbidding footsteps and tells Lucie that that “staircase is as still as Death” (271). Like Darnay, Dr. Manette is oblivious to these footsteps but for a different reason. In Dr. Manette’s mind, he “ha[s] saved [Darnay]” (271). There is no reason for the raging footsteps to be coming and take Darnay away; therefore, he does not hear it because he does not expect it coming. Even after Darnay is released, still, Lucie’s “mind pursue[s]” “the dreadful carts rolling through the streets”, looking for [Darnay] among the Condemned” (268). Lucie is still afraid that Darnay will be taken away from her; wherein, Dr. Manette is positive that Darnay is safe. The footsteps coming up the stairs to take Darnay away are expected by Lucie, not Dr. Manette; therefore, he is oblivious to it.
So, the footsteps that Lucie hears echoing in her life belong to the revolutionaries that are madly raging through France. But that is not all. Feet step on the ground. Dickens uses the stains of feet as a measurement of how sinful a person is. In the 1700s, religion was a vital part of everyday life. Yet, Jerry’s occupation is a “Resurrection-Man” (152). The sinister of his occupation is shown through his “clay-soiled” (151) and “very muddy boot[s]” (55). The mud on Jerry’s boots shows the person of Jerry is tainted. Dickens has the Defarges “picking their way on foot through the black mud and offal” (164). Wherein, Lucie Manette, the perfect figure, Dickens lets her walks in a “lightly-snowing afternoon” (258) as “the feathery snow f[alls] as quietly and lay as white and soft” (260). Dickens paints a beautiful picture of perfect whiteness of the snow around Lucie. The pure whiteness of the snow matches the pureness of that Lucie. Needless to say, when the revolutionaries dance the Carmagnole across Lucie, the ground turns into a “slough of blood and dirt” (260). When Madame Defarge appears, she puts “[a] footstep in the snow” (260), says her greeting and she is “gone, like a shadow over the white road” (260). The act of stepping on and crushing the pure white snow and the shadow of Madame Defarge gives an ominous feeling and foreshadows the danger that will come to Lucie. “Barsad, and Cly, Defarge, The Vengeance, the Juryman, the Judge…the new oppressors…have risen on the destruction of the old” (347). The feet from the revolutionaries “are not easily purified when once stained red” (201). Are there any ways to prevent the feet from getting stained?
Yes. Carton and Dr. Manette. In one scene, “there was a little girl with a mother, looking for a way across the street through the mud. [Carton] carried the child over” (292). He prevents her feet from touching the muddy ground. Okay, he carries the child over, big deal. But we have discussed how mud is a symbol for corruption. The fact that he carries the child over the mud symbolizes his wants to protect the little girl from the corruption and madness that are happening all around France. Carton has made the decision to sacrifice his life for Lucie, his love. In the silence night he chanted “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die” (292). In the quiet street, “the words were in the echoes of his feet” (292). These words mixing with his feet show that he has chosen his path. In more than one way, his sacrificing his life is a way to protect Lucie from corruption. The death of Darnay would have drove Lucie overboard which would lead to her looking for revenge. He protects Lucie in breaking the cycle of revenge.
On the other hand, there is Dr. Manette making shoes. During his time in prison, Dr. Manette took up the occupation of making “[a] young lady's walking shoe” (181). In making ladies’ shoes, he’s trying to protect a woman’s feet from getting “stained red” (204). The shoes are protecting the innocent people from corruption and hunger that have taken over many of the revolutionaries. Additionally, these are walking shoes; Dr. Manette makes the walking shoes in a hope that the people will flea from the evil of France, especially the women and not to be swept by the revolution. Locked in his prison, making shoes gives a sense of freedom since the shoes are for walking to places and in his small prison of “five paces by four and a half” (240), he has nowhere to go. He is making the shoes for the people being oppressed, but in a sense, he is also making it for himself. The shoes are a way to run from the revolutionary and from danger. After Dr. Manette saw the incident with Madame Defarge’s siblings, he saw the true meaning “of being oppressed, bursting forth like a fire” (301). He makes comfortable walking shoes in a sense that it will protect the oppressed people and to help them run away from the evil of France and its contagious corruption.
Do the footsteps ever stop making awful sound and step on mud? Dickens names the last chapter “The Footsteps Die Out for Ever” for a reason. In the literal meaning, the only two persons that hear the footsteps, Lucie and Darnay, do not hear it anymore. Lucie has fled France, leaving the awful footsteps of the French revolutionaries behind. Carton is the victim of the Guillotine, leaving the awful footsteps and the world behind. Figuratively, there is more to the footsteps dying out. In his last moments, Carton sees that in the “long years to come”, “a beautiful city and a brilliant people” will “ris[e] from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats…the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth” will “gradually mak[e] expiation for itself and wear out” (347). Dickens has compare footsteps and the action of the revolutionary as a “great storm” (197). A storm can be awful, it floods and kills people. However, in the end, it gives water and the flood leaves the land with rich topsoil. Like a storm, the revolution will not be pretty, and it will kill many people. However, in the end, when the storm passes and when the revolution passes, the government will be a better one. The raging footsteps will eventually subside just like a storm will subside.
In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens uses the motif of feet to link the past, present, and future of the French Revolution. The use of feet contributes to the sad fact that change will only come after a great storm of bloodshed. The novel ends in a sad note of Carton loosing his life. However, it also ends in hope of a better future. When the storm of the revolution dies out, the sun will come out, and with it, a new and improved government along with a true sense of freedom.