- "Tell Wind and Fire where to stop...but don't tell me."
- —Madame Defarge
- "…imbued in her childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, and an inveterate hatred of a class, opportunity had developed her into a tigress. She was absolutely without pity."
- —Charles Dickens
Madame Thérèse Defarge is the villainess in Charles Dicken's novel A Tale of Two Cities. She becomes one of the most bloodthirsty revolutionaries in the French Revolution.
At first, Madame Defarge has a very subtle role in the book, sitting in her corner of the wine- shop, knitting. However, she is one of those dynamic characters who possess more significance than we see at first. We discover her true character gradually. First, we learn that her knitting is a hit-list made of wool, with the names and crimes of the aristocrats that should eventually fall into the fatal embrace of La Guillotine. Then, we see her rallying the women to storm the Bastille, crying:
They capture the governor of the Bastille, then Madame Defarge steps on him and cut off his head. Later, we find her applauding the torture of an aristocrat named Foulon, and tries to strangle him with ropes. By the time she plots to do away with the protagonist Charles Darnay, his wife Lucie, and their daughter Lucie, she has descended in the mind of the reader as a violent force of nature, or a savage animal. She even says:
Even when we hear her backstory at Charles third trial in the story and learn her connection to it, we cannot pity her at all.
Dickens uses Madame Defarge and her backstory as a symbol and a way to describe the fervor that drives the revolution. She becomes something of an embodiment of the homicidal bloodbath that swept across France. Her backstory is what represents the injustices of the aristocracy (and her hatred of the Evremondes- Charles' aristocrat name befroe he gave up the title). First, when she was a mere child, her sister was kidnapped and presumably raped by the Uncle of Charles Darnay (Who is also an Evremonde). Her father died of grief, and her brother died at swordpoint while trying to avenge his sister, who died about a week later. These injustices committed by the Evremondes cause her to see all aristocrats, all Evremondes, as evil, who deserve to be exterminated. To Madame Defarge, who represents all the revolutionaries, the aristocrats must die; even those innocents whose only “crime” was being related to them. She couldn’t care less if Charles was not responsible for the deaths of her family. To her, she didn’t care if an innocent person would die for the crimes of his family.