I finally finished reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. There are a lot of things happening in the story with various themes and metaphors; it is a heavy read. I will try my best to explain the story and the literary aspects of it properly as much as I can. The story is set in the two cities of London and Paris during the times of the French Revolution.
The story starts with the release of Dr. Manette from prison after 18 years and is reunited with his daughter Lucie. Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton are two men who are mesmerized by Lucie. Charles and Lucie end up getting married and eventually also have a daughter. Lucie is an innocent and devoted person. She maintains the good in her throughout the story even if the historical and political scenarios of the times were ruthless. Dr. Manette has descended into madness during his prison sentence and he finds himself again with his daughter’s devotion towards him. There is an intriguing history to his character but towards the end, he is shown to have lost himself again. His character has faced tragic times, he gets better but then you can never completely escape your past.
Charles Darnay is Charles Evremonde has abandoned his position in the nobility of the French and fled to London. He doesn’t agree morally with the way his family operates and treats people. He does have a strong sense of responsibility and is liberal in his outlook especially considering the time period. Sydney Carton has wasted in youth and is a drunk lawyer who no one has much faith in except Lucie. In the end, he does sacrifice himself to save Lucie and Charles which completes his transformation as a character.
The French Revolution is the main setting of the novel. After years of repression and ill-treatment by the French aristocracy, the common people rebelled. There is never a complete separation of chaos and tyranny from the revolution and that theme plays an important role throughout the story. Through characters like Madame Defarge, Dickens shows that even revolutionists use oppression and violence to meet their goals and that ends up creating a tyrannical situation that they wanted to escape in the first place. The principles of the French Revolution were liberty, equality, and fraternity which were forgotten by the people as the revolution progressed.
The element of sacrifice is also woven throughout the plot. The sacrifice in some cases is personal and in some cases is for the good of the nation. Dr. Manette sacrifices his freedom, and Charles sacrifices his wealth and titles but I feel that the ultimate sacrifice comes from Sydney Carton. He sacrifices his life for his love for Lucie which helps Lucie and her family escape from Paris. A Tale of Two Cities doesn’t shy away from the violent and horror elements of this revolution. Dickens has written the novel beautifully and his descriptions vary from beauty to violence effortlessly.
After reading this novel, I realized I had somewhat of a rosy picture of the French Revolution. I was unaware of the extent and gravity of the situation until I read this story. This novel has so many themes and symbols that I haven’t covered here; it is heavy in terms of depth, themes, and even language. The first line of the novel itself is apt about the story “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Even the themes of resurrection and redemption are prevalent throughout the story and different characters represent different elements that add up together in the end.
I liked reading this novel. The historical setting was one of the things that intrigued me about this book and I got a completely new perspective on that particular time in history. It kept me interested but the language at times was a bit heavy because of its diction so it took me a while to finish it. This is a book that had been on my reading list for years and it is a must-read.
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