A Favorable Portrayal of Women in Dickens’ Novels
Uploaded by crapples on Jun 12, 2006 | |
A Favorable Portrayal of Women in Dickens’ Novels
In many books and movies, women take a backseat when it comes to being characters of strength or impact. They are most always presented as the weaker of sexes, and can usually be found in a vulnerable position waiting to be rescued by the stronger, more appealing male hero. To find a woman of strength in a book written before the women’s rights movements of the 20th century, it would take a bit of scouring and detective work. Yet Charles Dickens provides multiple unnatural female characters in A Tale of Two Cities that prove this gender stereotype incorrect. He portrays strong, loving, even power-hungry women in order to present his thoughts on his idea of the “perfect woman”. Through the use of Ms. Pross, Madame Defarge, and Lucie Manette, Dickens defies conventional trends, presenting his women as pillars of strength and steadiness to promote his views throughout A Tale of Two Cities.
Ms. Pross is a focused woman who lets nothing get in the way of her desired objectives. Being the lifelong servant to Lucie Manette in the absence of her father, Ms. Pross is Lucie’s sole confidant before her father returns from prison. It comes as no surprise that Ms. Pross considers it her life duty to protect Lucie and always look out for her. She presents her strength to the reader in her initial scene after her “ladybird” (100) Lucie has fainted, as “laying a brawny hand upon his chest, [sends] him flying back against the nearest wall” (35).
... appropriate punishment for him. I think that Charles Dickens calling Fagin ‘The Jew’ frequently was not ... entertainment, and this is apparent by the way Dickens talks about it. ‘Smoking and playing cards…’ ... maybe this is where the Jew belongs in Charles Dickens’ eyes. ‘Those dreadful walls of Newgate…’ ... town, this famous book was written by Charles Dickens, a renowned author. It was published in 1838 ...
Despite her strong physical and emotional traits, Ms. Pross also holds the most natural female role in the novel. She functions as a servant to the Manette’s; always taking a backseat to less appealing male characters, and always promotes her despicable brother Solomon (a.k.a. John Barsad).
Rarely does Ms. Pross call attention to herself, and never does she put her needs above those of the greater good, fitting her perfectly into the role most women played in novels of the time. However, at the end of the story, Ms. Pross becomes a larger contributor to the plot when she takes on the role of defending good versus the evil of Madame Defarge. In their skirmish that may have well determined the fate of the Manette family, Ms. Pross “seized her round the waist…with the vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate” (360).
This undying, sacrificial love is a trait that Dickens obviously admires, as she shares it with Lucie Manette, another character of strength. Dickens refuses to embellish Ms. Pross the way he does with Lucie however, describing her as rather ordinary looking, and stubborn to no end. She does not seem to be an admirable woman on the whole so much as one that presents singular admirable traits. In spite of her flaws, Ms. Pross presents one example of Dickens views on the strength and determination of women.
A second character that shares the common trait of force and determination is the wickedly evil Madame Defarge. Dickens never tries to downplay the appalling immorality of Defarge, but still seems to elevate her among her peers for her unwavering consistency and calmness, for instance when the Vengeance speaks of her “as an angel!” (333).
As the central figure of the peasantry leading their revolt against the tyrannical nobility, Madame Defarge commands respect and authority like few women in history have ever done. She completely overpowers her husband on her vengeful path of terror, yet he and many others share the view that she “is a great woman, strong woman, a grand woman, a frightfully grand woman!” (187).
... Dickens, the shadow is the fierceness and the inescapable momentum that the revolution has. Hence, Madame Defarge, in the same chapter, mocks Lucie ... noted, is one of the only main characters to not have a connection with the ... to die, and Madame Defarge herself is killed by Mrs. Pross, bringing an end to ... of aristocracy. Dickens tells the reader that the “fingers of the knitting women were vicious ...
Madame Defarge in clearly represents an unnatural character, male or female, due in part to her bloodlust and unrelenting search to destroy the Evrèmonde family. Not surprisingly, she also not portrayed as an admirable character in any way, as she carries her strength too far and transforms it into the form of evil on many occasions, such as her skirmish with Ms. Pross. However, it is impossible to discount the importance of Defarge’s role as a woman for future literature, as she represents the most vicious and formidable enemy of the novel; uncommon in novels of hers or any time period.
The third female character whom Dickens portrays contrary to standard beliefs of the time is Lucie Manette. Lucie signifies “the golden thread” (86), possessing the capability to weave people, events, and places seamlessly together in order to improve the situation for those around her. Lucie’s father is her source of strength, despite the fact she does not meet him until his return from prison after eighteen years. She thrives off being able to comfort and console him, as if she absorbs and transforms his weaknesses into her strengths. She amazes in so many different ways that it would be impossible to describe her as a natural character. She not only maintains a level of strength rival to that of Ms. Pross or Madame Defarge, she also preserves a goodness about her that defies convention. While Lucie’s importance to her father is stressed in the early portions of the novel, she fails to fully realize her true potential for greatness until her husband has been taken prisoner upon his return from France. Realizing that she remains the key to stabilizing the situation and maintaining any chance at reuniting herself with him, she manages to “[utter] no sound…representing that it was she of all the world who must uphold him in his misery and not augment it” (327).
... character that encapsulates all the qualities that make a woman influential in this story, it must be Lucie Manette. Intentionally so on Dickens ... not the case, as the beauty of Dickens’s female characters, especially one Lucie Manette, lies in their actions and ... ’s part Lucie is characterized ...
So noble and impressive are the traits and mannerisms of Lucie, that she embodies perfectly Dickens’ idea of the perfect woman. Her youth and beauty, in addition to her acceptance of the traits that Dickens favors, clearly elevate her above any female characters around her. Overall, Lucie Manette characterizes the best example of Dickens’ views on the role of women in his literature, taking into account the traits he idealizes and what he expects out of his characters.
Not even the men of A Tale of Two Cities, with the exception of Sydney Carton, bring more strength or influence as individuals than the three women characters whom Dickens creates. All three take advantage of their specific skills and strong points, helping to separate themselves from each other and enhancing their appeal in the process. Through foiling and paralleling the women of the novel, Dickens gives the reader an opportunity to recognize the greatness of the characters as well as express his ideas about the traits and characteristics of women as a group. Few authors have tried and succeeded the way Charles Dickens has in creating a novel where women act as impact characters on an equal if not greater level than men, yet ensuring the female characters do not detract focus from the other points of the novel. |