In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the peasantry of Paris is transformed into a vicious ochlocracy by the Revolution they spark. Although this is clearly evident in passages that depict scenes of violence and fighting, this idea is exemplified in the passage that depicts Lucie Manette and her child coming into contact with radicals performing the Carmagnole (a song and dance celebrating revolutionary victories) in “The Wood-Sawyer. Literally, this passage shows the revolutionaries taking to the streets to perform the Carmagnole dance, increasing frenzied upport for the revolution’s cause. The figurative implications of this are greater, however, as a dance is a sort of act of communion between a group of people wherein a basic understanding is used to collaborate towards making the right moves and steps in order to make a well-ordered, beautiful dance.
This dance however, is one of chaos and demonic in nature, serving as a metaphor for the Revolution itself, and the chaotic order that the peasant class establishes through their violent communion. The irony resulting in the inversion of expectations of a community dance being so dehumanized in its magery causes the reader to question the morality of the peasants, as they are depicted more as a collective demon than dancers. Rather than being individuals making up a harmonious community, they are defined by the collective.
As a result, the passage supports the idea that Dickens presents that the peasants of the French Revolution have caused their own deindividuation and dehumanization rather than social progress. It may be argued that in the context of a society, deindividuation may be seen in a positive light-perceived as people losing self-interest in order to put the good of the community first. In the Carmagnole passage, this is not what Dickens portrays. Of the mob, he states that “they danced to the popular Revolution song, keeping a ferocious time that was like a gnashing of teeth in unison” (2-4).
The use of the word ‘popular’ indicates a kind of social norm, something well liked and agreed upon by many– this is coupled with the implications of a dance as a kind of communion and understanding between people. On the other hand, the “gnashing of teeth in unison” is imagery similar to that of a mass execution by guillotine, because of the barbaric dropping of sharp objects in unison to ip through something, and taking this into context with the French Revolution solidifies this connotation.
That this communion of people is presented as maintaining this “ferocious beat” presents a cause and effect between the collaboration of the peasantry and the atrocities of the Revolution, which supports the extended metaphor that the dance represents the Revolution itself, as well as presenting the peasants in an animalistic nature. This animalistic nature continues throughout the passage and is shown prominently through Dickens’s description of how the peasants fled the with their heads low down and their hands high up, swooped screaming off,” (14-15).
This imagery presents the revolutionaries as though they are birds, hunting and waiting to dive down onto their next prey. Additionally dehumanizing the peasants, are the use of phrases such as “raving mad,” (7) and “struck, clutched, and tore” (12), which connote desperation reminiscent of the Wine Passage. This shows a transformation from the peasants being a helpless and dejected people to a violent, vengeful mob, as thirst for wine progresses throughout the novel to literally turn into a thirst for blood. Another eoccurring element of this passage is the way by which Dickens establishes many individuals as a greater defining body.
Dickens’ techniques, which present both the dehumanization and deindividuation of the mob, makes the reader question the relationship between the two. The passage begins, “There could scene, not be fewer than five hundred people, and they were dancing like 5000 demons,” (1-2). Established in this is demonic imagery, in an otherwise joyful and light affair. The juxtaposition of dance, which has positive connotations, with demons, creates an unsettling inversion of social expectations and norms, ausing an uncomfortable and sinister mood.
Furthermore, the power of the mob is clearly established through this hyperbole of 500 people morphing into 5000 demons, in addition to the deindividuation occurring as 500 individuals become a demonic gure beyond themselves. A similar idea is embodied in the described that, as the dancers neared Lucie, “some ghastly apparition of a dance-figure gone raving mad arose among them” (6-7) This not only encompasses the group into one being, but a “ghostly” one, dehumanizing them even further.
From the start of the passage, word choice with connotations of water magery emphasizes the dehumanization of the revolutionaries as well as signal that they are a force of nature with which to be reckoned. The phrase when the revolutionaries first came, “a throng of people came pouring round the corner,” as well as “a mere storm of coarse red caps” (5), and “as they filled the place” (6) show that those involved are no longer individuals, since they have become as insignificant individually as droplets, but together form a wave of destruction.
This deindividuation is also shown in Dicken’s description of the dance’s organization, where he states that “men and women danced together, omen danced together, men danced together,” (4). The use of grouping by gender, while causing the deindividuation of the peasants, also reminds the reader that the peasants are human because of gender’s perceived importance in the social order of Western culture up until modern times (the human importance on gender).
The reminder of the human state of individuals in the mob is juxtaposed with the lack of humanity found in the repeating demonic and animalistic connotations in their description in this passage, as mentioned before. There is further irony in that, although this is a description of the dance’s rganization, it is in disarray, because genders are being disregarded and people are partnering with those of the same sex. If this is the case, then this shows not only the disposal of even more social norms, but the symbolic disposal of one of the few characteristics signifying their humanity.
Further irony is presents with the situation that all this is occurring around Lucie, a symbol for innocence, if there ever was one. She highlights the Manettes’ involvement in the Revolution by her silent abhorrence of the dancers, as “stopped to dance about Lucie” (6). The dancers surround Lucie and her daughter, but the Manettes do their best to remain uninvolved in their demonic affairs. However, because the mob is so corruptible, no one is free from the stain of Revolution.
In the passage, Dickons calls the dance a “sport” and “healthy pastime,” (16-17) which makes the dance seem like a positive, necessary aspect of life, while the words in the same sentence including “fallen,” “innocent delivered over to all devilry,” “angering,” “bewildering,” and “steeling” (16-17) have the opposite effect. This juxtaposition also presents the corrupting nature of the mob by suggesting that things once innocent and joyful become “fallen” with the nvolvement of the mob, causing the dancers have become symbols of ruthlessness and violence, taking over the roles of those they initially sought out to combat.
Solidifying the lack of progress made by the peasants, is the imagery after the dancers have passed, that “the feathery snow fell as quietly and lay as white and soft, as if it had never been,” (18). The disjointedness presented here in the peaceful imagery of newly fallen and untouched, soft snow combined with the violent and immoral nature of the previous scene makes the reader think that some time must have passed for this to be achieved, although it is ctually right after they leave, suggesting that the motion of mob is one of speed and passion, but not one of progress.
This lack of progress is illustrated in the nature of their dance. Dickens describes how the peasants danced “until many of them dropped. ” This description continues, “While those were down, the rest linked hand in hand, and all spun round together: then the ring broke, and in separate rings of two and four they turned and turned until they all stopped at once, began again, struck, clutched, and tore, and then reversed the spin, and all spun round another way,” (9-12).
This run-on description of the dance is much like the nature of the revolution: The peasants fight until many die, while the living continue on, fighting and moving on thoughtlessly in circles, making no real progress. Circles is a motif throughout the novel, and ironically presents itself in description of the aristocracy, who could not foresee the coming revolution as they were blinded by their spinning in circles, or cyclical lifestyle.
This further aligns the peasants with the force that they were trying to destroy, showing again that no progress has been made (as is the nature of a circle). This lack of progress is certainly not for lack of action, and the responsibility of the immoral, violent, and unprogressive revolution that the dance has come to represent, falls on the peasants in the sentence, “There was no other music than their own singing,” (2).
If a song is what maintains the rhythm of the dance, and the peasants are maintaining this song, it becomes clear that they are the ones responsible for perpetuating their own violent nature. Additionally, the frenzied movements making up the dance have a clear correlation to fighting, and it is described that “they dvanced, retreated, struck at one another’s hands, clutched at one another’s heads, spun round alone, caught one another and spun round in pairs, until many of them dropped” (7-9).
The revolutionaries attack whomever they can, wherever they can, without consideration of the effect of their actions- the responsibility falls on the mob that has been so clearly established, rather than any individual. The idea of them “dropping” invokes images both of collapsing from exhaustion and from death. Later, the narrator remarks that “no fight could have been half so terrible as this dance” (15). The dance is horrific to watch mainly because it contains so many elements of fighting and war.
The point is made that no individual fight could have the same bewildering response as this declaration of the revolutionaries’ indefinite support for the cause. The deindividuation that Dickens has used in this passage causes all responsibility of actions to fall on the mob, permitting them to act violently. The lack of individual responsibility and individual identity in this case has had drastically chaotic effects, tainting the progressive ideology of a community. This makes the reader question then, what a community should be.
Through the removal of complexity within the peasant class by the imagery that constructs the peasant class into one being, Dickens illustrates how deindividuation causes the removal of complexity within a group of people, and how their views may then become singular as well. The views of this mob, that violence is the only method with which to bring a tyrannical rule to an end, causes the oppressed begin to take on characteristics of the oppressors until they are dehumanized completely.
The Carmagnole passage serves to accompany the violence in the remainder of the novel, showing the foundation of corruption and fanaticism upon which the Revolution has come to be based. It is not difficult to draw connections between this passage and scenes such as the storming of the Bastille, the Grindstone, and the Wine Shop. It exemplifies how the foreshadowing from earlier chapters has finally come to fruition, showing that violence has taken over even the most celebratory aspects of everyday life.
It presents a heavy correlation between deindividuation and dehumanization and therefore makes the reader question whether or not this is a cause and effect relationship. This idea is consolidated at the end of the novel, with the sacrifice of Sydney Carton. Carton becomes the ultimate individual, taking control of his life by allowing it to end with great purpose. This leaves the reader with the idea that a community made of individuals, rather than individuals defined by a group, is what will lead to progression.