A Tale of Two Cities is, in many ways, Doctor Manette's story. The Doctor's release from the Bastille begins the novel, and the mystery of his imprisonment creates tension throughout the book. The reading of his letter ultimately condemns Darnay to death, forcing Carton to sacrifice his life. Despite the Doctor's centrality to the book, however, many people portray him as a weak, pitiful character, especially in theater or film productions of A Tale of Two Cities. Such a perception does the Doctor and the story a great disservice.
A close reading of the book reveals the Doctor to be one of its few complex characters. Throughout the course of the novel, he is seen as an aspiring young doctor, a prisoner who craves revenge and who descends into madness, and a man who fights to regain his mind, his family, and his profession. His life after prison is a continual struggle against the shadows of madness and despair that are his legacy from the Bastille. The love he has for his daughter helps him to overcome the darkness in his life, even giving him the strength to welcome the son of his enemy as a son-in-law. When his status as a Bastille prisoner becomes an asset at the end of the book, he regains the strength and confidence that characterized him before his imprisonment. When his bitter, angry letter surfaces, however, the past undermines his stability.
Through the Doctor, Dickens makes a statement regarding the nature of forgiveness and revenge. The Doctor's ability to forgive brings him happiness in his daughter's marriage and children. However, his past demand for revenge has the power to destroy his life and the lives of his family. Additionally, whereas revenge leads the Doctor to a state of dementia, forgiveness raises him to a level of intellectual vigor and emotional happiness. In showing these contrasting aspects of Doctor Manette's character, Dickens emphasizes the concepts of the destructive power of revenge and the healing power of forgiveness.