Madame Defarge is a fictional character in Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Her alternate names include Jeanne Defarge, Madame De Farge, and Madame Therese Defarge. Madame Defarge is the wife of Monsieur Ernest Defarge. She has suffered great personal tragedy and seeks vengeance on her oppressors. Madame Defarge is symbolic of the Fates (Greek Mythology) who used yarn to determine the length of a man’s life while the cutting of the yarn represented the end of life. Similarly Madame Defarge represented a feature of the Fates when she secretly knit the names of those she wanted killed which include Charles Darnay, Lucie Manette, and their child. Madame Defarge’s pursuit for vengeance eventually leads to her death.
Madame Defarge’s thirst for revenge reflects the anarchy and bloodlust of the French Revolution. Initially she is seen sittting passively in the wine shop going about her knitting.But in reality she sits knitting a string of names meant to be victims of the revolution. She secretly knits the names of those she wanted killed which include Charles Darnay, Lucie Manette, and their child. As the revolution unfurls, Madame Defarge turns her viciousness on Lucie whom she wants exterminated.
Madame Defarge works tirelessly for the French Revolution. She appears as the main villain of the novel as she goes about to seek revenge against Evremondes. Her hatred even envelopes the present generation of Charles Darnay , Lucie Manette, his wife and Little Lucie, their child for crimes committed by the previous generation of the family. The crimes perpetuated by the Evremonde family include the deaths of her father, brother, sister and brother-in-law.
Due to the personal tragedy she suffered at the hands of the aristocracy Madame Defarge wishes to exterminate their relations. The French revolution rose as a rebellion towards the crimes perpetuated by the aristocracy and they needed to be overthrown but that did not justify the need to persecute the entire nobility for the same crime. The French Revolution resulted in indiscriminate killings of both commoners and innocent nobles for being disloyal to the revolution. The reality was that people irrespective of their class had to be judged for their individual actions rather than for the crimes perpetuated by certain members of their class.
Madame Defarge’s hatred and vicious nature is not due to some inherent flaw in character but the result of the oppression she has undergone by the aristocracy. The personal tragedy she has suffered due to the Evremondes results in her hatred for Darnay who is a blood relation of the Evremondes and for Lucie who is related by marriage. However Charles Dickens doesn’t seem to justify Madame Defarge’s ideas of retributive justice as is seen in the end of the novel. By pursuing her vengeance against aristocracy’s oppression; Madame Defarge was involving herself in a similar oppression. The cycle of oppression and being an oppressor has no justification whatever the circumstances. Madame Defarge dies when she gets hit by a bullet form her own gun during a confrontation with Miss Pross.