The Apathetic Aristocracy Essay Example
In any society, there have and will always be a select group of people with more power than the rest of the population, whether that power is a result of wealth, influence, or authority. Charles Dickens explores the idea that the motives behind using — and abusing — power play a significant role in determining the severity of a crime in A Tale of Two Cities. Both the affluent aristocrats and the impoverished revolutionaries commit horrific, gruesome crimes, but the aristocrats wield their power as a way to entertain themselves, completely blind to the sufferings of the third estate. In contrast, the revolutionaries use their newfound power to avenge their loved ones that have died as a result of the aristocrats’ actions. The first and second estates not only abused the peasants for their own enjoyment, but they had no reason for doing so — thinking of the third estate as a collective group of an inferior species.
The punishments doled out by the aristocrats were cruel and barbaric, the result of assuming that the peasants were animals existing solely to make the aristocrats’ lives better. After hitting and killing a child with his carriage, Monsieur the Marquis, a human representation of the aristocracy, tosses the child’s father a coin: “Without deigning to look at the assemblage a second time, Monsieur the Marquis leaned back in his seat, and was just being driven away with the air of a gentleman who had accidentally broken some common thing, and had paid for it, and could afford to pay for it… ‘You dogs!’ said the Marquis… ‘I would ride over any of you very willingly, and exterminate you from the earth’ ” (Dickens 77). Dickens draw attention to the irony in referring to Monsieur the Marquis as “a gentleman”, and his supposed politeness in considering the child’s life worth one coin. Additionally, by using the word “exterminate”, the Marquis is making it clear that he views the peasants as insects, incapable of human thought or abilities, and, therefore, undeserving of humane treatment.
This idea that peasants exist simply for the entertainment of the upper castes is mirrored in Dickens’s description of a hall in Monsieur the Marquis’s home: “grim with certain old boar-spears, swords, and knives of the chase; grimmer with certain heavy riding-rods and riding-ships, of which many a peasant, gone to his benefactor Death, had felt the weight when his lord was angry” (82). Dickens emphasizes the fact that the aristocrats were using “heavy riding-rods and riding-ships”, both types of horse whips, on peasants. This further proves that the aristocrats looked down on the peasantry, believing them to be the same as animals. Furthermore, Dickens points out that the peasants had died from whippings when “his lord was angry”, not when the peasant in question had committed a crime. This reinforces the idea that the aristocracy considered the peasants’ existence solely for their own convenience, entertainment, or, in this case, an outlet for their anger. All in all, the aristocrats’ apathy to the plight of the peasants is magnified by their belief that the third estate is composed of unhuman brutes, and consequently unworthy of being treated with humanity.