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A Tale of Two Cities - Critical Analysis
In 1859, Charles Dickens wrote the book A Tale of Two Cities. In A Tale, Dickens writes about the French Revolution, and relates the events in the lives of two families, one French and one English. In addition to writing about a very interesting fiction plot, Dickens also tied in a wide variety of important themes and sub plots that keep the reader interested as well as portraying very valuable lessons for us even today. He chose very archetypical characters for the book, all strengthening or portraying one of the themes. The main themes are revenge, courage and sacrifice, and resurrection.
One theme involves revenge; the evil effects of revenge bring out one's bad side. Although it occurs many times in A Tale, Madame Defarge is the main character representing this theme. Her sister and mother were assaulted by the brothers Evrémonde. After this, she vows to herself that all members of the Evrémonde family will die. She turns into a ruthless killer because she must get revenge. When her husband tells her to stop, she replies, "tell the wind and fire to stop, not me" (pg 338). We now see that she is a person teeming with hatred. Revenge is so powerful. When she found out Charles Darnay is an Evrémonde and is planning to marry Lucie Manette, she began to knit his name into the shroud she was making, symbolizing his impending death. Also, she tried to kill Lucie and her daughter, just because they were related to an Evrémonde, even though Darnay (Evrémonde) denounced his heritage and disconnected all relationships to them. Lucie was in a state of mourning so Defarge jumped on the situation.
"She will be at home, awaiting the moment of his death. She will be mourning and grieving. She will be in a state of mind to impeach the justice of the Republic. She will be full of sympathy with its enemies. I will go to her." (p. 349)
She had no mercy, her main goal was to kill all descendants of the Evrémonde family, women and children included and even non-blood relatives. At the end of the novel, she receives an end fitting her ways; she was killed by Ms. Pross, who is the epitome of love and kindness. It is evident from here that Dickens believed that good would always win over bad.
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Another key theme in the novel has to do with courage and sacrifice. There were many sacrifices in this novel by many different characters. Charles Darnay went back into the war-torn France from his safe house and family in England to save his former servant Gabelle from the hands of the rebels. He did this, for the simple reason that he gave his promise, many months ago. Also, Dr Manette 'sacrifices' his love for her for her love to Darnay. After the wedding, we see how much Lucie means to Dr Manette in his return to cobbling shoes.
Sydney Carton made the ultimate sacrifice. Because of his love for Lucie and his friendship with Darnay, Carton's actions portray one of the most important themes implied in this book. Carton helps others, and does not think so much of himself. As we first see Sydney Carton, he is a lazy man, who drinks his life away. However there is more to him as he said "I cause no harm to any man on earth, and no man on earth cares for me" (page 99). He does not like the other people's view of him, and he wants to change it. When Darnay was sent to the guillotine, Carton could have let him go, and possibly have Lucie for himself. However, he ended up being the true hero, and sacrificed his life for the life of another, in the name of love. Right before going to the guillotine, Carton visualizes a better life, a life where he gave to others, not thinking of himself. It shows the complete turn-a-round in his view of life for the better. Sydney Carton is really a courageous, loving man.
The final main theme in the book is the idea of resurrection. Book one of A Tale is entitled 'Recalled to Life'. This shows resurrection being a major theme. An example of this is Dr Manette's resurrection after being in prison for nearly eighteen years of mental torment, and when he got out, he was asked the question, "you know that you are recalled to life" (pg 96). We know that he has been, as he no longer refers to himself as "105 North Tower" (pg 68). He is spiritually resurrected with his daughter when they first meet. Lucie forms a relationship with him, which gives Dr. Manette a sense of pride.
"The Doctor was in his best condition, and looked especially young. The resemblance between him and Lucie was very strong at such times, and as they sat side by side, she leaning on his shoulder, and he resting his arm on the back of her chair, it was very agreeable to trace the likeness" (pg 73).
Throughout the novel, Dr. Manette has gone through several mentally tragic episodes. Every time he goes into a relapse, Lucie is the only one that can help him regain normalcy. Darnay also took a part in this theme of resurrection. Charles Darnay's soul had been spiritually resurrected and saved from being killed. Due to being an Evrémonde and for portraying his own family, he was tried and sentenced to death by the guillotine. Dr Manette tried to save Darnay many times, though Barsad would always seem to find a way to get him back to prison and succeeded in sentencing him to death. When the final day of Darnay's life came, it turned out a happy one for him, "The door was quickly opened and closed, and there stood before him face to face, quiet, intent, upon him, with the light of a smile on his features, and a cautionary finger on his lip, Sydney Carton" (p.379). Sydney Carton, who resembled Darnay very closely, exchanged places with him. Feigning illness, Darnay was thus snuck out of prison, and physically resurrected.
Often when reading a book, the individual tends to draw parallels in the literature. One parallel often used is the difference between the beginning and ending of the book. A Tale of Two Cities began and ended with a journey. In the second chapter of the novel, Jarvis Lorry travels to recall Dr Manette to life. In the end of the book, Sydney Carton is taken to his death, because of Defarge's revenge. He saved his friends life. Lorry began with the theme of resurrection, and Carton finished off with the theme of sacrifice, dying because of revenge.