Jerry Cruncher is a Victorian jokester in a tragic story. Transitioning from Jerry Cruncher’s comic life to Lucie Manette’s tragic life creates a satisfying balance leaving the reader wanting more from each scene. His lower class dark humor contrasts the light and airy tone of the aristocrats established by Charles Dickens, the author of “A Tale of Two Cities”. With such a sad story, Dickens uses Jerry Cruncher sparsely and effectively to provide comic relief, dark comedy, and social satire to break the melodrama and make the reader laugh just enough before plunging back into the love, death, and sadness.
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The character Jerry Cruncher refers to himself as an honest tradesmen, an ironic statement made by a man whose trade is grave robbing. He describes this job as, “Goin’ fishing”, which is a parody of the main theme, resurrection (Dickens chapter 20). Many characters go through a resurrection throughout the novel and it’s only fitting for Jerry Cruncher’s “resurrection” to be digging up bodies. This comic relief shows how Dickens is a master of balance. Sydney Carton, whose resurrection is the most important, is balanced by the comic resurrection of Jerry Cruncher.
Ironically, it is because of this job that Sydney Carton can blackmail Solomon. Since Jerry dug up Roger Cly’s grave and didn’t find anything but rocks, Sydney uses this as leverage (the chapter with the title named about cards or whatever). This comic situation, and Jerry Cruncher surprisingly helping not hurting the situation, not only continues the theme of resurrection, in a unique Jerry Cruncher-esque way, but also provides comic relief to an otherwise serious plot twist.
His dialect also provides comic relief. The main characters speak in a matter-of-fact, deliberate tone while Jerry speaks in a haphazard, random tone. The words he uses to describe serious things puts the reader at ease. He describes grave robbing as fishing, he describes praying as flopping, and he uses a “w” for the letter “v”. These little things, Dickens is a great master of details, help balance out the heavy dramatic sections.
Not only is Jerry’s dialect funny, but the fact that Jerry talks to himself throughout the novel is as well. The reason he talks to himself isn’t explained in the novel but it is still a genius characterization and continues Jerry’s trademark comic relief in serious situations. Many of the funniest moments of the novel are the conversations Jerry has with himself.
Dickens uses Jerry Cruncher for dark comedy too. Jerry beats his wife against the wall because she is praying, or “flopping” as Jerry calls it, for him (Dickens chapter 14). This sort of comedy can be misunderstood but Dickens’s use, just enough, makes for more comedy in the situation rather than the dark. He complains that she is praying for him and admonishes her for her help, but the Crunchers are a lower class family and do need help to better provide for themselves. It’s a paradox; Jerry wants to be well off but doesn’t take the help that he needs.
In the very end of the novel, Jerry repents about his wrong doings. He pledges to be a grave digger not a robber, and pledges to allow his wife to pray for him (dickens end of book find it). This change is the final comic relief. The realization was expected but never envisioned, for, Jerry, seemed to be the character that wouldn’t change in the book. Dickens, however, used this change to be the final comedy to supplement the end of Sydney Carton. Jerry Cruncher is a better and funnier character by changing into a sympathetic and normal person.
Wife beating normally isn’t funny, but in the context of the situation, Dickens manages it well. Jerry’s wife is trying to help her husband and her child by turning to religion. He tells her to stop praying for him and that he doesn’t need religion. After he fails at finding a body to dig up, he beats her. Jerry Cruncher beating his desperate wife, only trying to help, could be extremely offensive, but in the hands of Dickens, is dark comedy at its best.
With books like “Oliver Twist” and “Great Expectations”, Dickens masterfully satirizes the lower class and “A Tale of Two Cities” is no exception. Social satire is a strength of Charles Dickens and by using Jerry Cruncher’s character, he satirizes the lower class of London. The stories go back and forth between the Manettes, a rich, aristocratic family and the Crunchers, a lower class family. The stark contrast keeps the story alive and refreshing not allowing the reader’s attention to wander. The Manettes daily life, house conditions, and interaction are warm and inviting. Lucie and Dr. Manette never argue and always speak to each other in a loving way. And when Charles Darnay is added, Lucie’s and Charles’ conversations are equally as loving. But with the Crunchers, their home is nothing like the Manettes and every word uttered from Jerry is condescending towards his wife. He beats her with a shoe, with his fist; with virtually anything and despite all of this, his son still wants to be just like him; an irony that Dickens uses frequently. The attitude Jerry has, never accepting help, in constant denial of his illegal job, and mistreating his wife, will be cyclical. Until someone steps in and rights all of Jerry’s wrongs, something his wife would do if she could get a word in, little Cruncher will be an exact copy of Jerry. Dickens even explicates this in his usual witty satire in Chapter whatever look it up (Dickens etc).
This ironic cycle was directed towards the poor. His social commentary was to persuade the poor to help themselves and use their surroundings, the people they knew, and even religion to motivate and inspire them to attain a better life or at least create a better life for their children. Jerry’s complex, a genius weakness Dickens gives him, allows Jerry to make his own resurrection at the end of a book giving a sweet satisfaction to the reader.
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The many uses Jerry is used for is astounding. Jerry acts as a satirist, being a typical poor male never accepting anyone’s help, a comedian providing comic relief, and a counter weight to adjust to the heavy melodramatic storyline of love, death, and resurrection. By using Jerry as break point, the reader is able to regain their emotions lost in the previous chapter. One would think that Jerry Cruncher, with his many uses, would resemble more of a main character than a minor character. Only the brilliance of a great writer, like Dickens, can blur the boundaries of the main and minor characters creating stimulating and equally competent minor characters able to carry their weight, and sometimes even more so, than major characters. The way Dickens is able to satirize so many situations with using only one character is remarkable and shows why Dickens is considered to some as the greatest novelist in the English language.
With Jerry Cruncher becoming a dynamic character in the end, his character transcends minor character and becomes an in between, a middle character. His comic relief breaks the reader from the heaviness of drama and allows the reader to be entertained and laugh just long enough before Dickens goes right back into the action. The upper class, the Manettes, provide the tragedy, while the lower class, the Crunchers, provide the comedy. Jerry Cruncher was not only a funny character, but helped Dickens change the world by being Dickens’s scapegoat to the poor.
Social satire comic relief dark comedy,
Comic relief, digging graves etc,
Dark comedy- wife beating, flopping,
Social satire- the lower class, the difference the contrast of the upper class, lower class are treated less but their attitudes don’t allow them to be helped, his son wants to copy him etc,
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