A Tale of Two Cities and Things Fall Apart are both novels of social protest. Both novels are focused largely on class struggle. The broad theme of class struggle is important, but it is also important to note how Madame and Monsieur Defarge react to the unjust monarchy in revolutionary France compared with Okonkwo s reactions to the class struggles in the Ibo tribe. This comparison is important because these characters actions set the tone of the respective novels. Class struggle motivates Okonkwo s aspirations and the Defarge s retaliations. The privileges that come with being a higher classed member of society roused Okonkwo to strive for higher social standing. These same privileges inflamed Madame Defarge to plot the downfall of the wealthy. Class struggle was the cause for Okonkwo s inner turmoil as well as the French Revolution.
“For the time was to come, when the gaunt scarecrows of that region should have watched the lamplighter, in their idleness and hunger, so long, as to conceive the idea of improving on his method, and hauling up men by those ropes and pulleys, to flare upon the darkness of their condition. But, the time was not come yet; and every wind that blew over France shook the rags of the scarecrows in vain, for the birds, fine of song and feather, took no warning” (Dickens, 27).
Because of the suffering and hunger that faced them, the peasant harbored great hatred and resentment towards nobility. This struggle between social classes was a prominent theme in not only Dickens’s work, but in Chinua Achebe’s as well.
In Things Fall Apart, Achebe shows the Ibo as having definite boundaries between social classes. Men were judged based on how many titles they had taken. With each title, a man gained in land, yam crops, wives, and importance within the clan. Men with no titles, and their wives, were given little respect. Both Dickens and Achebe create characters from this bottom tier of society, however these characters respond very differently to their misfortune.
The Dickensian characters Madame Defarge and her husband Monsieur Defarge, are both peasant wine-makers. In response to the poverty and injustice characteristic of that class, they conspire to overthrow and take revenge upon the upper classes.
” ‘One must stop somewhere. After all, the question is still where?’
‘At extermination,’ said Madame” (Dickens, 317). Chinua Achebe’s character, Okonkwo, also starts out as a lower classed member of society. However, instead of revolting, Okonkwo works to become a respected member of society. “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements” (Achebe, 3).
Despite the differences between Okonkwo and the Defarges, both start from similar backgrounds. Both Dickens and Achebe have characters from the low end of society because it helps to show class struggle. Class struggle not only sums up the French revolution, which was the backdrop of A Tale of Two Cities, but was the motivating factor for nearly all of Okonkwo’s actions. Struggle between classes in society was a crucial part of the theme of both novels.