A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens captures a scenario in which two categories of people living in one city. The residential areas of the rich are classy, by some coincidence usually on hilltops, so they could look down and low on the shanty habitations of the poor and down-trodden. A Tale of Two Cities is about the Revolution that took place in France as a result of social injustice. Like today political and social injustice prevailed, so the masses revolted in other to overthrow the monarchy and established a Republic.

Introduction

A Tale of Two Cities occupies a central place in the works of Charles Dickens and also in French, English, and World literature. Modern scholars have placed a tale of two cities among one of the best works of fiction, and the novel remains a timeless classic. The major characters in the novel include Sydney Carton, Jerry Cruncher, Charles Darnay, Lucie Darnay, Ernest Defarge, Madame Therese, Charles St. Evremonde, Marquis, and Doctor Alexandre Manette.

When injustice prevails, resistance follows, and this has been diagnosed to be the main cause of upheavals in most countries. Injustice, poverty, social resurrection, violence, struggle, sacrifice, family, and faith are the major areas under discussion in A Tale of Two cities. The novel was written in one of the worst times in French history and was originally published in 1859 in London by Chapman and Hall.

Although the book centered on political events that took place in France, the author adopts an anti-political tone by lambasting both revolutionary excesses and aristocratic tyranny.

Overview

The year is 1775, and social ills plague both France and England. Jerry Cruncher, an odd-job man who works for Tellson’s Bank, stops the Dover mail-coach with an urgent message for Jarvis Lorry. The message instructs Lorry to wait at Dover for a young woman, and Lorry responds with the cryptic words, “Recalled to Life.” At Dover, Lorry is met by Lucie Manette, a young orphan whose father, a once-eminent doctor whom she supposed dead, has been discovered in France. Lorry escorts Lucie to Paris, where they meet Defarge, a former servant of Doctor Manette, who has kept Manette safe in a garret. Driven mad by eighteen years in the Bastille, Manette spends all of his time making shoes, a hobby he learned while in prison. Lorry assures Lucie that her love and devotion can recall her father to life, and indeed they do.

The year is now 1780. Charles Darnay stands accused of treason against the English crown. A bombastic lawyer named Stryver pleads Darnay’s case, but it is not until his drunk, good-for-nothing colleague, Sydney Carton, assists him that the court acquits Darnay. Carton clinches his argument by pointing out that he himself bears an uncanny resemblance to the defendant, which undermines the prosecution’s case for unmistakably identifying Darnay as the spy the authorities spotted. Lucie and Doctor Manette watched the court proceedings, and that night, Carton escorts Darnay to a tavern and asks how it feels to receive the sympathy of a woman like Lucie. Carton despises and resents Darnay because he reminds him of all that he himself has given up and might have been.

In France, the cruel Marquis Evrémonde runs down a plebian child with his carriage. Manifesting an attitude typical of the aristocracy regarding the poor at that time, the Marquis shows no regret, but instead curses the peasantry and hurries home to his chateau, where he awaits the arrival of his nephew, Darnay, from England. Arriving later that night, Darnay curses his uncle and the French aristocracy for its abominable treatment of the people. He renounces his identity as an Evrémonde and announces his intention to return to England. That night, the Marquis is murdered; the murderer has left a note signed with the nickname adopted by French revolutionaries: “Jacques.”

A year passes, and Darnay asks Manette for permission to marry Lucie. He says that, if Lucie accepts, he will reveal his true identity to Manette. Carton, meanwhile, also pledges his love to Lucie, admitting that, though his life is worthless, she has helped him dream of a better, more valuable existence. On the streets of London, Jerry Cruncher gets swept up in the funeral procession for a spy named Roger Cly. Later that night, he demonstrates his talents as a “Resurrection-Man,” sneaking into the cemetery to steal and sell Cly’s body. In Paris, meanwhile, another English spy known as John Barsad drops into Defarge’s wine shop. Barsad hopes to turn up evidence concerning the mounting revolution, which is still in its covert stages. Madame Defarge sits in the shop knitting a secret registry of those whom the revolution seeks to execute. Back in London, Darnay, on the morning of his wedding, keeps his promise to Manette; he reveals his true identity and, that night, Manette relapses into his old prison habit of making shoes. After nine days, Manette regains his presence of mind and soon joins the newlyweds on their honeymoon. Upon Darnay’s return, Carton pays him a visit and asks for his friendship. Darnay assures Carton that he is always welcome in their home.

The year is now 1789. The peasants in Paris storm the Bastille and the French Revolution begins. The revolutionaries murder aristocrats in the streets, and Gabelle, a man charged with the maintenance of the Evrémonde estate, is imprisoned. Three years later, he writes to Darnay, asking to be rescued. Despite the threat of great danger to his person, Darnay departs immediately for France.

As soon as Darnay arrives in Paris, the French revolutionaries arrest him as an immigrant. Lucie and Manette make their way to Paris in hopes of saving him. Darnay remains in prison for a year and three months before receiving a trial. In order to help free him, Manette uses his considerable influence with the revolutionaries, who sympathize with him for having served time in the Bastille. Darnay receives an acquittal, but that same night he is arrested again. The charges, this time, come from Defarge and his vengeful wife. Carton arrives in Paris with a plan to rescue Darnay and obtains the help of John Barsad, who turns out to be Solomon Pross, the long-lost brother of Miss Pross, Lucie’s loyal servant.

At Darnay’s trial, Defarge produces a letter that he discovered in Manette’s old jail cell in the Bastille. The letter explains the cause of Manette’s imprisonment. Years ago, the brothers Evrémonde (Darnay’s father and uncle) enlisted Manette’s medical assistance. They asked him to tend to a woman, whom one of the brothers had raped, and her brother, whom the same brother had stabbed fatally. Fearing that Manette might report their misdeeds, the Evrémondes had him arrested. Upon hearing this story, the jury condemns Darnay for the crimes of his ancestors and sentences him to die within twenty-four hours. That night, at the Defarge’s wine shop, Carton overhears Madame Defarge plotting to have Lucie and her daughter (also Darnay’s daughter) executed as well; Madame Defarge, it turns out, is the surviving sibling of the man and woman killed by the Evrémondes. Carton arranges for the Manettes’ immediate departure from France. He then visits Darnay in prison, tricks him into changing clothes with him, and, after dictating a letter of explanation, drugs his friend unconscious. Barsad carries Darnay, now disguised as Carton, to an awaiting coach, while Carton, disguised as Darnay, awaits execution. As Darnay, Lucie, their child, and Dr. Manette speed away from Paris, Madame Defarge arrives at Lucie’s apartment, hoping to arrest her. There she finds the supremely protective Miss Pross. A scuffle ensues, and Madame Defarge dies by the bullet of her own gun. Sydney Carton meets his death at the guillotine, and the narrator confidently asserts that Carton dies with the knowledge that he has finally imbued his life with meaning.

Social injustice

The theme of social injustice in A Tale of Two Cities has a lot of useful lessons to teach around the subject matter. Social injustice is a term that describes a situation whereby a dominant population or group of people uses their powers to create inequity and injustice in society, especially on a minority group.

The most common form of social injustice in today’s society is ageism, discrimination, and homophobia. Discrimination is found in employment, voting, education, land use, health care services lending, housing, and credit, transportation, government benefits and services, public accommodations, and lots more. Discrimination could be described as the unequal treatment of people for reasons that have nothing to do with their legal rights or ability. This act is very bad because it promotes prejudice, partiality, and unfair treatment of people. Social injustice can lead to anger and frustration, which could negatively impact the life of persons under such influence.

Social injustice prevents equal treatment of people, thereby hurting society as well. The theme of social injustice evidently leads to class struggle as those who feel ill-treated began to struggle for freedom. Charles Dickens wrote the theme of social injustice based on the events that unfolded before and during the French Revolution. A character that portrays social injustice was Monseigneur. After running his car over someone, he briefly stops and arrogantly tosses a coin on the wounded man.

Sacrifice

One of the overriding themes in A Tale of Two Cities is sacrifice. It is defined in the book as the act of giving up something valuable for the benefit of another person or society. The theme teaches readers the importance of sacrifice in marriage, sacrifice in relation, or workplace. In the novel, those who were oppressed revolted to sacrifice their lives in a revolution and save their children from oppression. When Darnay is arrested the guard tells him that the interest of the nation overrides personal interest. Other characters like Madame Defarge also tell her husband that he should always put the interest of the nation as top priority over his interest.

A Tale of Two Cities also teaches sacrifice on a personal level as well. Achieving success in life is mostly down to the sacrifice we make. The novel teaches that we have to avoid certain pleasures in other to achieve our long term goals. It is a matter of the scale of preference and opportunity cost. Would you have to watch the television rather than completing your school project? Would you rather go on expensive vacations rather than saving up and investing in the future? Or would you rather sleep at home and eat instead of going to the gym? We should all ask ourselves important questions like these and carry out those things that would guarantee our long term success in life.

Struggle

The theme of struggle plays a vital role in A Tale of Two Cities. The author could not have avoided this as the book centers on the revolution of the oppressed masses before and during the French Revolution. The theme of struggle is depicted in a lot of characters and instances. For example, a peasant had to protest after the Marquis raped her. A Tale of Two Cities teaches that even though people would face all kinds of adversities in their professional and family life, victory is sure if they fight till the end.

Growing up in society is never easy; going through the educational system is not easy, and in professional, business, and family life, people would face a lot of difficulties. But the novel teaches great lessons about struggle. It teaches that a positive struggle can build your character. Struggling requires courage, intensity, dedication, perseverance, and determination. In the novel, the oppressed displayed this attribute in other to win their battle. They never gave up, and some were willing to sacrifice their lives in other to end the injustice. On some occasions, it might seem that the end of your struggle is no-where in sight, and discouragement might set in. But to be prosperous and happy in the end, you have to keep the fire burning and put up the best fight of your life. If you don’t quit and don’t get discouraged, you would do amazing things.

Family

The theme of family is one of the main themes in A Tale of Two Cities that teaches about the essence of a good family relationship. The characters that are portrayed in this theme were always ensuring that they take care of their families. They were always interacting lovingly with one another. Children learn most of their values from the family. If they grow up seeing violence, then they tend to be violent towards others. The book teaches that good parenting is necessary for the upbringing of decent children. Preservation of family groups and heritage is also well portrayed in A Tale of Two Cities.

In the novel, Lucie took a trip to meet her father in Paris. Even though the journey was far and inconvenient, the possibility of reuniting with her father was enough for her to embark on the journey. It is also well documented in the novel how Charles Darney struggled to unite his family against all the odds. At some point, he even had to sacrifice his life in other to save his family.

Loving and kind communication between family members can affect every member. Children begin to develop their senses of self when they see themselves through the eyes of their family members. The tone of voice from older members of the family, the body language, and every other expression is absorbed by kids. The book teaches us that the words and actions of parents and other family members influence children’s self-esteem and make them who they are eventually. We shouldn’t bring up our children in a hostile environment, which many families create today. If the family is loving and accommodating, it will reflect in the society. Also, many of the social ills we experience today stem from faulty family upbringing.

Violence

A Tale of Two Cities teaches that oppression can result in violence. Throughout the novel, Charles Dickens supports revolutionary movements but always points out the violence that comes with it. One of his famous quotes in the novel “Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms will always reflect man’s reaction to violence.” A character like Marquis Evrémonde is the vicious aristocrat that was exploiting the poor, and handicaps. The author Charles Dickens was condemning the act and those that we’re embarking on violence in other to fight their cause.

Growing up some decades ago used to be less problematic as compared to this modern era. The worries of children then were that their teachers should not give them much homework, their parents should come back home and be with them, or their worries over getting new clothes.  But in a recent survey, children mostly worry about violence and crime from family members, friends, or some form of a drone or terrorist attacks. Times are fast-changing, and living has indeed become more violent and dangerous for everyone. From the survey, the observation was that one out of 6 adolescents or children between 9 and 17 years know of a person that has been shot. More than 40% of children have been abused in one way or the other. Also, violent crime has drastically increased by more than 250% from 1985 to date.

Different forms of the threat of violence in society have replaced the innocence of children. Charles Dickens envisaged all this in his book, and this is why the novel “A tale of two cities” has stood the test of time.

Conclusion

A Tale of Two Cities is regarded as one of the greatest works of Charles Dickens along-side The Great Expectation. It covers most areas of life, ranging from oppression, social class, struggle, family, dream, resurrection, and determination. The author’s poetic style is enthralling. An example of a memorable quote is when Dickens, “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy” Another quote is “Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind”. It makes a reader understand and even feel the pains of the oppressed people depicted in the novel.

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