At what points in the story does Dickens change from the past tense to the present tense and from third-person to first-person narration?
in a Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
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in chapter 3 mostly.
Perhaps the most salient example in A Tale of Two Cities of Dickens's authorial intrusion comes in Chapter 3, "The Night Shadows" of Book the First:
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that i loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all....In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?
In the opening chapter of his novel, Dickens draws parallels between historical periods and the present period; here again in this chapter, Dickens wishes the reader to understand that he has observed in his time what others have noticed in the past. In this way, the reader takes notice of the universality of his themes.
In addition, the tense change to present creates an immediacy to a passage such as that at the end of Chapter 21:
Seven prisoners released, seven gory head on pikes,...--such, and such-like the loudly echoing footsteps of Saint Antoine escort through the Paris streets in mid-July, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine. Now Heaven defeat the fancy of Lucie Darnay, and keep these feet far out of her life! For, they are headlong, made and dangerous; and in the years so long after the breaking of the cask at Defarge's wine-shop door, they are not easily purified when once stained red.
Again Dickens ties his narrative and its historical context to his time as, influenced strongly by Thomas Carlysle's The French Revolution: A History in which the author's idea that history cycles through destruction and resurrection was an important influence on the novel.
The sections which deviate from present tense and third person in A Tale of Two Citiesare those which are clear and obvious foreshadowings of the Revolution to come. In these passages, the omniscient narrator interjects himself into the story to talk directly to the reader. Recall the many passages about the echoing footsteps at Dr. Manette's house, or the passages where the common objects of today (trees, rude farmers' carts) will one day become significant objects in the Revolution (guillotine, tumbrels). Dickens makes it clear when he detours from the present storyline by shifting tenses and narrators.
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