Allegory

A Tale of Two Cities

by

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities: Allegory 1 key example

Definition of Allegory
An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and events. The story of "The Tortoise and The Hare" is... read full definition
An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and events. The story of "The... read full definition
An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and... read full definition
Book 1, Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis—Woodman and Farmer:

Dickens opens the novel with the allegory of the Woodman and the Farmer:

[…] rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees […] already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and knife in it, terrible in history […] there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire […] which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But, that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently.

The silent work of the Woodman and Farmer suggests that the Revolution has been many years in the making. Even before the Jacquerie starts burning aristocratic mansions and Madame Defarge takes up knitting, certain trees are destined to become part of the guillotine. This allegory establishes the deterministic worldview of A Tale of Two Cities, in which cosmic forces like Fate and Death go about their silent business beyond the influence of human action. Significantly, the Woodman begins his work on the guillotine immediately after a French youth is brutally tortured for failing to bow before a procession of monks. Though this event occurs many years before the Revolution begins, Dickens suggests that the aristocracy lays the foundations of its own overthrow long before the Jacquerie takes to the streets.