Satire

A Tale of Two Cities

by

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities: Satire 2 key examples

Definition of Satire
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of satire, but satirists can take... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians... read full definition
Book 2, Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis—Resistance to Reform:

Dickens satirizes the tendency of powerful men—both those in France and those in London—to uphold the status quo. Describing the partners of Tellson’s Bank, he writes:

[…] the partners in the House were proud of its smallness, proud of its darkness, proud of its ugliness, proud of its incommodiousness […] and were fired by an express conviction that, if it were less objectionable, it would be less respectable […] Any one of these partners would have disinherited his son on the question of rebuilding Tellson’s. In this respect, the house was much on a par with the Country; which did very often disinherit its sons for suggesting improvements in laws and customs that had long been highly objectionable, but were only the more respectable.

For the aged partners of Tellson’s Bank, the worst, most inconvenient parts of their institution are the ones that they are the most committed to maintaining. Dickens extrapolates the partners’ tendency to prioritize tradition over function to the nation of England at large. While the next generation is trying to make positive change in the country—overturn unjust laws, reform regressive customs—the old men who hold entrenched, institutional power insist on keeping everything the same. Though Dickens does not draw an explicit parallel between England and France in this passage, the similarities between the two nations are implied. France is in the grip of an aristocratic class that is willing to let peasants starve in the streets as long as they can retain their ancient noble privileges.

Book 2, Chapter 2
Explanation and Analysis—Jingle and Jangle:

Dickens uses satire to criticize the British justice system. At the beginning of the novel, Charles Darnay is tried for treason on scanty evidence. Dickens makes light of the judge’s lofty language:

Silence in the court! Charles Darnay had yesterday pleaded Not Guilty to an indictment denouncing him (with infinite jingle and jangle) for that he was a false traitor to our serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth, prince, our Lord the King, by reason of his having, on divers occasions, and by divers means and ways, assisted Lewis, the French King, in his wars against our said serene, illustrious, excellent, and so forth [...]

Dickens contrasts the judge’s wealth of official-sounding language—his “infinite jingle and jangle”—with the intellectual poverty of the actual evidence presented against Darnay in court. Darnay is accused of possessing lists that are not in his handwriting, and the prosecution makes much of a passing comment Darnay once made about George Washington. While the novel spends more time on the injustices committed by the French revolutionaries, Dickens has plenty of criticism to level at the false accusations made by his own government. This court scene contributes to the parallel between England and France that Dickens draws throughout the novel, suggesting that the English are not immune to the chaos and suspicion that gripped France during the Terror.

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