While analyzing the themes of Charles Dickens’s 1859 historical fiction, A Tale of Two Cities it is apparent that the author has incorporated variety of themes in the novel. Through the beginning lines “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .” the chaotic society of eighteenth society is well depicted by Dickens. Even though the characters in the novel do not engage in many conversations, their actions strengthens the themes of this work.
Resurrection or rebirth is the major theme of the novel, which is presented from the beginning to the end of the novel. The first important resurrection is that of Sydney Carton’s. Sydney Carton’s resurrection and sacrifice gives new life to Lucie and her family. Carton is portrayed as a Christ like figure who dies to save the lives of the people he loves and reborn in their minds. The theme of resurrection comes again with respect to Dr Alexandre Manette, who is reborn into his previous life, from imprisonment and mental illness, with the love of his daughter Lucie. In Jerry Cruncher’s life also we can see the resurrection, who leaves the job of grave digging for his loved ones. These are the resurrection in
personal level. In the societal level, we can see the old status of France appears to give way to New France with the sacrifice of many revolutionaries. The revival of peace and a better society echoes throughout the novel. Sacrifice is the next dominant theme in A Tale of Two Cities . On a personal level sacrifice of Sydney Carton is most strongly visible. He gives importance to the happiness of Lucie and family and this encourages him to sacrifice his life. Carton does not have a family of his own and he lead an unproductive life throughout, so he haven’t offered much to the world. So he believes this act of sacrifice will redeem everything and make his life meaningful. Next factor which strengthens the theme of sacrifice is the revolution. Revolutionaries sacrifice their life to give a new society.
Violence and oppression is the next major theme. Even though Dickens’s seems to support the revolution, he emphasizes the sufferings caused by violence. Dickens sympathizes with the peasantry and emphasizes the need for liberation. But the strategy of peasants for overcoming this situation causes more violence and death of many innocent humans. The scenes of people sharpening their weapons in the grindstone, senseless killings of people and dance with weapons emphasizes the theme of violence and oppression.
Since the background of the novel is eighteenth century society Social Inequality and Class conflict are the next important theme. There are two classes in France, the peasants and the aristocrats. The aristocrats are portrayed as lazy, irresponsible, spoiled and heartless who does not have any regard for the peasants or lower section of the society. The social inequality is evident in the incident of the rape of the peasant woman by Marquis. And when the Marquis killed the son of Gaspard he is not subjected to any legal proceedings because he is from the aristocracy. The storming of Marquis’s castle is the symbol of the fall of aristocracy. Towards the end the situation reverse. The violent measures by the peasants arises as a result of long suffering. Even though Dickens supported revolution he portrayed both social class as equally violent and oppressive.
The theme of justice is intertwined with discrimination and injustice. Justice is presented literally by trails and imprisonments in the plot. The imprisonments of Darnay and Dr Manette are example of innocent people being subjected. As said earlier after the death of the son of Gaspard Marquis is not subjected to any legal proceedings. At this occasion justice is taken by individuals, like murder of Marquis by Madame Defarge as a revenge against Everemonde family.
Apart from these major themes Dickens focuses on themes of duality like light v/s darkness love v/s hatred with the comparison of two countries and the actions of the people there. While England remained as peaceful country, France goes through intense revolution. The contrast between these countries is progressed through the novel which intensifies the theme of light v/s darkness. Dr. Manette has been locked away in a dark prison for many years and lost his mind. Charles Darnay is struggling to right the wrongs done by Evremonde family. Sydney Carton is living his life unproductive and feels he has no purpose. So Lucie is the person who is considered as the light in their lives, who lead them to recovery and bring them out of darkness.
Revolution is the next major theme which is clearly apparent throughout the novel. The revolution and it’s impact on lives of many people is clearly portrayed. The sinners and innocent people, both are equally affected by revolution. The reversal of roles are the next theme. Towards the end of the novel the peasants who were poor in the beginning become more barbaric and cruel. And as a result of this the aristocrats suffer at the end. So this is an example of reversal of roles among peasants and aristocrats. On another level the replacement of Darnay by Carton in the prison is also an example for the reversal of roles. Apart from these, themes like family preservation, fate, love and hate are also included by Dickens. Through these themes author clearly reflects the society of eighteenth century.