Dickens's Exploration of Duality
Through the title of the book and the opening paragraph, Dickens declares his intention to delve into the realm of dualities and investigate this theme from the evolution of simple thoughts within the personal, to the destiny of entire nations. To do so, he compares and contrasts characters like Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, Lucie Manette and Therese Defarge, and prisoner 105 North Tower and Doctor Alexander Manette. On a larger scale, Dickens juxtaposes the insurrection and revolution of France against the “relative” peace in England.
Dickens’s obsession with duality seems more exploration and analysis than the execution of a plot. He follows dualities in the form of themes, places, and characters, to learn of their final outcome. His investigation of extremes through writing asks: what happens to the same seed under different circumstances?
One of the most interesting questions is: what is the role of knitting in the hands of different characters? Knitting dates back to the Odyssey; where it symbolizes Penelope’s way to ward off unwanted suiters, which she could not deny through simple words or fight off using physical strength. Knitting is a symbol of cunning, power, and control in the hands of women. Penelope knits by day and secretly unravels by night, deceiving her young suitors.
Similarly, Madame Defarge’s knitting empowers her. As part of the working class, she has no privileges or power under French law. Throughout the novel, she writes the names of all the people, mostly aristocrats, that must die during the revolution. By knitting into the “shrouds” the names of her enemies, she seals their fate. Madame Defarge puts down the knitting only to take on the axe, a pistol and a knife, and lead the women during the revolution.
In contrast, Lucie’s knitting is a result of her purity and good intentions. She knits together, into a community of love and support, people that surround her. In the case of her father, Lucie was “the golden thread that united him to a Past and Present beyond his misery.” She became the “golden thread” that bound her father, husband, her maid, her friends and herself together, “weaving the service of her happy influence through the tissue of their lives.”
The act of knitting is a manual effort that follows a mathematic algorithm and requires concentration and consistency. When it becomes second nature, knitting can become an act of self-introspection and exploration. The physical result of knitting creates objects that cover in death as well as keep warm in life. And finally, echoing Penelope’s own act of knitting and taking apart, sometimes things must be unwound and destroyed in order to change and be improved.