About A Tale of Two Cities


If the terrors of the French Revolution take a political form, the hope that Dickens holds out in this novel has distinct religious qualities. On a basic level, A Tale of Two Cities is a fable about resurrection, depicting the main characters, Doctor Manette, Charles Darnay, and Sydney Carton, as all being "recalled to life"in different ways.

The Doctor regains his freedom and sanity, Darnay escapes a death sentence three times, and Carton redeems his soul through sacrifice. By using the theme of resurrection, Dickens demonstrates that the spiritual lives of all people depend upon the hope of renewal. Without such hope, as in the case of Madame Defarge, people lose what makes them human and resort to violence and cruelty.

In order to convey the significance of revolution and resurrection in the novel, Dickens relied upon his descriptive skills, which are perhaps at their best in A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens adeptly portrays the horrors of mob violence throughout the novel, leaving the reader with images of waves of people crashing through the battered gates of the Bastille; of Foulon with his mouth stuffed full of grass as he is beaten to death and beheaded; of the hundreds of unruly citizens singing and dancing wildly around Lucie Manette as she stands alone outside her husband's prison. However, Dickens balances these visions of revolutionary terror with images of rebirth and hope, such as Lucie's golden hair mingling with her father's prematurely white hair in the moments after he first remembers her mother and Carton's prophetic vision of the future as he goes to the guillotine. Although A Tale of Two Cities lacks the wealth of memorable characters found in other Dickens novels, the unforgettable images Dickens creates compensate for this deficiency.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, critics began to reexamine previous assessments of A Tale of Two Cities based on new trends in criticism. Biographical critics read the book in terms of the revolution occurring in Dickens' life, while psychological critics analyzed the relationships between fathers and sons and the prison imagery in terms of Dickens' childhood. Meanwhile, historical and Marxist critics examined A Tale of Two Cities as a work of historical fiction and in terms of political overtones. Although few people champion the book as the best of Dickens' novels, critics have given it more respect and increased attention in recent decades.

Regardless of critical interest in the novel, theatrical and film interpretations of A Tale of Two Cities have fascinated audiences since Dickens first published the book. Various productions have retold the story of Carton's sacrifice, including one in which John Barsad saves Carton from the guillotine. The tale was especially popular with early moviegoers; five silent films of the book were made between 1908 and 1925. Since then, two more films of A Tale of Two Cities were made in 1935 and 1957, and the story has been repeatedly adapted for radio and television. Such frequent interpretation by the media, combined with the large number of students who read the novel each year, demonstrates that Dickens' story of revolution, sacrifice, and redemption continues to captivate modern imaginations.