Madame Defarge in Tale of Two Cities: Character Analysis, Knitting Code & Revenge

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  • 0:00 Identity And Motivation
  • 1:00 Evil Plans
  • 1:40 Significance Of Knitting
  • 2:20 Role As A Victim
  • 2:40 Downfall
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
Every good story needs an antagonist, and Madame Defarge fits this category well in Dickens' classic novel about the French Revolution, 'A Tale of Two Cities.' In this lesson, we will examine the character and motivations of this vengeful woman.

Identity and Motivation

Madame Defarge, a wine shop owner in Saint Antoine, Paris is the antagonist, or adversary in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. In his novel about the French Revolution, a period of political and social upheaval that began in 1789 and ended in 1799, Dickens describes her as a 'stout woman . . . with a watchful eye that seldom seemed to look at anything, a large hand heavily ringed, a steady face, strong features (and) great composure of manner.'

Madame Defarge's family has suffered greatly at the hands of the aristocratic Evremonde brothers. Many years earlier the Evremonde brothers raped her sister, which led to the death of not only the sister and her unborn child, but also Madame Defarge's brother, brother-in-law and father. As a result of these tragedies, Madame Defarge is bent on revenge, not only toward the Evremonde brothers, but also toward all French aristocracy.

Evil Plans

Madame Defarge is not content to see the death of just the two Evremonde brothers who mistreated and caused the death of her family. When she learns that Charles Darnay, the nephew of the Marquis Evremonde, is alive and that he has a wife and child, Madame Defarge wants them all to go to the guillotine, a machine used to behead people.

Even though Darnay has denounced his uncle for his evil ways and even changed his name, both matter little to Madame Defarge. In the wine shop she owns with her husband, Madame Defarge meets with other nefarious characters, scheming to wipe the Evremonde family off of the map.

Significance of Knitting

Throughout A Tale of Two Cities, Madame Defarge spends a great deal of time knitting, which includes stitching the names of intended victims into her patterns. As Madame Defarge knits, she reminds herself of every aristocrat she wishes would die. Her knitting also reminds us of the Greek Fates in ancient Greek mythology, three old women who spin, measure and then cut thread, which symbolized the creating and ending of a person's lifespan.

In relation to Madame Defarge, the fate of many aristocrats, and even those related to them, were literally and symbolically thread in Madame Defarge's hands, much like fates of the ancient Greeks in the old women's hands.

Role as a Victim

Even though she is the antagonist in the novel, Madame Defarge is also a victim in that she's lost her entire family to the Evremonde brothers. As such, she is an example of many French peasants who were exploited by the aristocracy before the French Revolution.

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