Rethinking Individuality: Family in A Tale of Two Cities

Art & Literature — By on November 4, 2013 at 2:00 pm

When my grandmother was growing up in a foster home she did not live the life that she imagined. She did not have nice clothes, nor did she have many friends because her speech impediment set her apart. She went through so much hardship that I could never understand. As a child reflecting on this, I did not understand how my grandmother could deal with her past, but it later dawned upon me that my grandmother was able to put aside the past by seeing her grandchildren live her dream life.

There is something strange about the attachment we have to our family; we hope for the best for those we currently reside with and for our future posterity to have better things. We hope for this even if it is at our own expense. Why did my grandmother unselfishly give me the last cookie from the cookie jar when she never even had that option as a child? Why did she care so much for my happiness as a child when she had none?

Charles Dickens portrays this family dynamic in A Tale of Two Cities in the character of Miss Pross, the caretaker of orphaned Lucie. Pross is described as “one of those unselfish creatures…who will, for pure love and admiration, bind themselves willing slaves, to youth when they have lost it.” This may at first glance seem like Miss Pross is living vicariously through Lucie, but I do not think that this is what Dickens means to say.

Pross desperately wants Lucie to marry a man who is fit for her and Pross claims that none of the suitors are “in the least degree worthy.” Mr. Lorry even goes to the length of calling Pross one of the lower Angles because of the “faithful service of the heart” that she exhibits toward Lucie.

There is this delicately crafted family relationship that Pross and Lucie share that can almost be likened to the relationship between a daughter and a mother; Pross wants the best for Lucie not for her own sake, but for Lucie’s sake. Pross wants the best for Lucie because she herself never had what was best.

Dickens furthers this value of family by contrasting the two cities of the novel: London and Paris. London, the home of Pross herself, is a stable city that maintains its value of family. Paris on the other hand is striving toward revolution and a new idea of the individual. There is no room for the family unit in Paris because the revolution and the making of this new society means an individual commitment to the goals of the revolution and nothing else. London has family values, while the revolution in Paris creates the values under which all individuals must adhere.

France’s destruction of family even goes as far as preventing the act of mourning. A family member of one who is killed by the guillotine may not mourn their death, but rather rejoice in it because it is following the values of the rebellion.

The Revolution takes away the power of what should be the strongest unit in a society.

When I worked as a staff member at a family camp this past summer, we were taught that we ought to value each individual in the family but also to remember that the family had one extra member: the family as a whole was a type of individual in itself because it was a unified body bonded together by its powerful relationship.

The family unit is bonded so tightly together by relationship that it is itself one unique and cohesive unit. When we look at Dickens’ portrayal of the French Revolution and its destruction of family we see that the rebellion is made up of a bunch of individuals, but not the strong unit of a family. The strong individual lies in the essence of a family.

It is for this unit that Pross travels to France to be with Lucie and her family. It is for these relationships that Mr. Lorry cares so many years. It is for this unified body that Sydney Carton dies.

And the funny thing is that all of the above mentioned characters are a part of that family. They do not stand for themselves alone when they make their sacrifices, but rather stand to protect the others who are a part of their individuality.

It is because of this that Carton will live even though he is dead. His individuality extends beyond just himself; it lies within the family unit that he has sought to preserve.

This powerful relationship that the family has also extends to the church member. As adopted sons and daughters of God, we are in the same family unit. The Apostle Paul even goes are far to say that we are members of the same body; we make up one individual. Somehow our membership in Christ has not only made us a united and cohesive family unit, but has made us into one person.

Dickens tries to explain this mystery of family as a singular unit and he does this by showing the love that the members have for each other. It is love that builds up and unifies, it is a love that sacrifices.

My Grandmother knows that her individuality does not lie within herself, but within her family. So too do Christians find their individuality when they look to the body that they are a part of, the unit that they have a family in.


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