Wine Symbolism in A Tale of Two Cities

February 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

Tumbling out of the cart, clashing into the dark grey stone, the cask explodes over the pavement, its contents seeping into the jagged cracks of the street. Perplexed by the event, the people watch intently before hastily running towards the broken barrel and sipping up the red liquid, where they resort to using mutilated earthenware and handkerchiefs to soak up every last drop. The liquid finally gone, the people calmly trudge onward towards their daily tasks, indifferent to the recent demonstration.

In the events above, the spillage of the wine brings out the carnal nature of the people, causing them to abandon their daily tasks to drink the wine, treating it like a giver of life. Thus, the liquid embodies the dangerous nature of hope to those entrapped by desperation. In Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, the wine serves as a symbolic image of blood and violence, foreshadowing the brutal acts of the revolutionaries. Throughout the novel, Dickens establishes a parallel between wine and blood, the imagery of both illustrating the revolutionaries’ violent nature. Dickens accomplishes this through the people’s savage response to the wine that spills in the streets.

For instance, the author describes the wine in comparison to the carnal nature of the people; he delineates it as “red wine, [that] had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine” (33; bk. 1, ch. 5), and he depicts the people’s futile attempts to drink the flowing wine. In this description, Dickens highlights the people’s savage reaction to the sight of the running wine, much like how a ferocious predator reacts to the sight of dripping blood. The wine displays the scarlet color and the contaminating property often paired with blood, the physical analogy denoting its ability to corrupt. The wine stains anything it touches, associating it with blood, blood that easily tarnishes anything it comes in contact with. To advance the physical similarities between wine and blood, Dickens then uses another image. He describes a graphic scene where unsightly people drink spilled wine outside the wine-shop, one person, in particular, “had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth” (33; bk. 1, ch. 5). The word “tigerish” in this image creates a connection between the wine and blood by linking it to a violent beast, a possible source of death.]

Additionally, the relation between wine and blood is further depicted at the grindstone, where “men were stripped to the waist, with the [wine] stains all over their limbs and bodies,” a clear allusion to a byproduct of violence, blood stains. Directly after the wine corrupts the men, Dickens says, “Hatchets, knives, bayonets, swords, all brought to be sharpened, were all red with [the wine]” (271; bk. 3, ch. 2). His depiction of the wine-stained weapons, connotes images of violence through the wine’s similarity to blood. The wine represents the inherently violent nature of the revolutionaries, which foreshadows their threatening acts of sedition. Throughout the novel, the citizens demonstrate their brutality in several scenes, all of which coincide with the presence of wine. First, the people display their violent behavior before they storm the Bastille, where a ferocious “whirlpool of boiling waters” surrounded “Defarge’s wine-shop” in a “raging circle” (221; bk. 2, ch. 21). As a vicious crowd, the revolutionaries surround the building before they sweep “Defarge of the wine-shop over the lowered drawbridge” (223; bk. 2, ch. 21) and commit various violent acts. therefore, the wine, as a symbol of brutality, foreshadows their future murderous deeds to resist the aristocracy. The people’s violent storming of the Bastille demonstrates that the wine exists as a harbinger of violence, and, consequently, the wine foreshadows the savagery the citizens commit.

This brutal behavior appears later, at the grindstone, when the revolutionaries hone their weapons, the people “held wine to their mouths that they might drink; and what with dropping blood, and what with dropping wine…all their wicked atmosphere seemed gore and fire” (271, bk 3, ch. 2). Their brutality evident, the people use the wine as an accessory to their carnal actions, creating a parallel between the wine and future violence. Moreover, the wine foreshadows violence at the guillotine: “Six tumbrils carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine” (381; bk. 3, ch. 15). In this instance, “the day’s wine” serves as an allusion to the blood prisoners spill upon their execution, which connects the wine to the impending death that will occur.

By the end of the novel, Dickens concisely connects wine to blood, each association further defining their similarities. Likewise, the depiction of wine as a symbol of blood occurs throughout modern day religion. While religions today do not associate the wine with violence, it still serves as a figurative image of blood, specifically during the Catholic performance of the Eucharist. The wine within the chalice symbolically serves as the blood of Christ, whose statement “This is my body. This is my blood” directly connects divine presence to the wine. Thus, the wine functions as a symbol of love rather than violence, directly contradicting its purpose within the novel.

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