La Civilisation, ma mère !...


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Driss Chraïbi

Once again, the novel changes locations.  This time, the location is in Paris.  Monseigneur, a French aristocrat, is hosting an event.  The Marquis St. Evrémonde leaves the party after being treated poorly by the other guests.  On his way home, he urges his coach driver to hurry.  Their haste leads to the driver running over and killing a child.  Though the death is accidental, the Marquis’s response is chilling.  The child’s father, Gaspard, who is clearly devastated, approaches the carriage.  The Marquis ignores his grief, and instead tosses him a coin.  Monsieur Defarge steps out of the crowd and offers comfort to Gaspard; the Marquis throws him a coin, too.  Madame Defarge is also present, and she looks at the carriage and the Marquis in silent reproach.  This scene clearly demonstrates the aristocracy’s attitude regarding the value of human life among the poor.  It also underscores the growing discontent among the lower class.  As the Marquis’s carriage leaves, one of the peasants throws a coin at the carriage.  Rather than considering that his behavior has been callous, this leads the Marquis to threaten the crowd. 

The chapter serves to help introduce the aristocracy to the novel.  The party scene demonstrates several factors about the aristocracy.  First, the aristocracy is not a cohesive unit, as the treatment of the Marquis by other members of the aristocracy reveals.  While this scene does not feature any morally upstanding members of the aristocracy, it does foreshadow the idea that not all members of the aristocracy will behave like or support the behavior of someone like the Marquis.  In addition, it reveals how unrealistic the aristocracy has become.  The party is extremely extravagant, and the Monseigneur appears to view himself as a godlike figure.  In fact, Dickens’s overall portrait of the aristocracy reveals a group of people that are completely out of touch with what it means to be human.

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