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Free Study Guide: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - Free BookNotes

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A TALE OF TWO CITIES: FREE ONLINE STUDY GUIDE

THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS

Resurrection

The major theme that runs through the story is that of resurrection. It is suggested by the title of the first book "Recalled to Life" and is present throughout the novel. Dr. Manette, who has been buried alive in prison is resurrected, when he is rescued and brought to freedom; then Lucie nurses him back to life, health, and happiness. Darnay is also saved from death on three different occasions, once by Dr. Manette and twice by Sydney Carton. Roger Cly, the police spy, fakes his own death and is then resurrected to play a part in the novel. Even Madame Defarge is, in a way, resurrected, when she ironically surfaces as the lost sister that Darnay has been seeking to find for many years. Sydney Carton is also resurrected through his death; he is brought back to wholeness from his wasted existence through his noble sacrifice. As he prepares to die, he says that he is doing the best thing ever in his life.

Vengeance - Retribution

Vengeance (or retribution) is another theme that is woven into the entire fabric of the novel. Madame Defarge, The Vengeance, and the mob are seeking revenge for the innumerable wrongs they have suffered at the hands of the French aristocracy. Ironically, vengeance brings them no peace or happiness; instead, it pushes them into frenzied madness. Dr. Manette also suffered from a great desire for vengeance against the Evremondes. When his daughter marries a member of the Evremonde family, he buries his vengeful emotions and his life returns to happiness and normalcy. Dickens, by contrasting Dr. Manette with Madame Defarge, is clearly stating that love and forgiveness bring much greater peace and happiness than hatred and vengeance.


The Fruitless Nature of Revolution

Another theme of the novel is the fruitless nature of revolution. Dickens captures the essence of a revolution gone bad. Dickens' initially sympathizes with the miserable lot of the oppressed lower classes and denounces the cruelty and callousness of the aristocracy. The treatment of his theme, however, undergoes a change after the revolution takes place. He cannot sympathize the mob, "dancing wildly like demons" and killing needlessly and senselessly. As a result, Dickens’ sympathies are turned away from the mob towards the innocent aristocrats, such as Darnay. He shows that the injustice of the Bastille is now being duplicated in La Force, and the revolutionaries are just as power hungry and inhumane as the aristocrats they abhor. He also points out that the revolutionaries still live in misery and poverty in spite of all the bloodshed. It is obvious by the end of the novel, that Dickens feels that revolutions seldom accomplish their goals.


DICKENS’ USE OF IRONY

Dickens uses irony very effectively throughout the narrative. Almost all the characters and situations of the plot are touched in some way by irony. It is ironic that Dr. Manette, who seeks revenge against the Evremondes, should find himself the father-in-law to a member of the Evremonde clan. It is further ironic that his love for Lucie and Darnay destroys the vengeance he feels and restores him to health and wholeness. It is ironic that the evil and cruel Madame Defarge turns out to be the missing sister that Darnay has been seeking ever since his mother’s death. Darnay's dislike of Carton is also extremely ironic, since Carton is the man who becomes his savior. Similarly, Dr. Manette's letter, written while imprisoned, becomes the very instrument that condemns his son-in-law to death. There is irony at the end of the novel when the drugged and sluggish Darnay, the symbol of goodness and nobility, resembles the alcoholic Carton, the symbol of a wasted life, in such a realistic manner that he gets away safely. Madame Defarge’s end is also filled with irony. She goes to Lucie’s lodging, seeking evidence to imprison Darnay’s wife and sentence her to death; instead, she herself dies when her own gun discharges and kills her instantly. In these instances and many more, Dickens heightens the underlying meaning of his novel through his sophisticated use of irony.


STUDY QUESTIONS - BOOK REPORT IDEAS


1. Compare and/or contrast the two main female figures in the novel - Madame Defarge and Lucie Manette.

2. Compare and/or contrast two significant male figures - Darnay and Sydney Carton?

3. Why is the novel a tragic comedy?

4. What is Dickens' idea of the ideal of manliness? Who in the book best represents this concept?

5. If Dickens critiques both the obscene excesses of the aristocracy and the excesses of the people during the revolution, is he even-handed, or does he sway the reader to siding with one? Explain your answer.

6. What is the role of servants in this novel?

7. Explain Carton as a Christ-figure in the book.

8. What is Mr. Lorry’s role in the book?

9. Explain Dickens' attitude towards the revolution. How is it developed in the course of the novel?

10. Explain three significant ironies in the book and why they are important.

11. Explain Dickens' use of repetition in the novel, giving specific examples.

12. How is the theme of resurrection developed through the plot.

13. Contrast the cities of London and Paris as they are depicted in the novel.

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