A Tale of Two Cities reflects that aristocracy deserved all they got, but the passion engendered in people by misery of starvation replaced one set of oppression for another. Discuss.

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Taking a position on this prompt requires consideration of the social and historical context of the novel’s production and the author’s perspective. The book is about England as much as France. Charles Dickens lived in a monarchy and, although he wrote critically of the inheritance-based class system, condemned neither the monarchy nor the aristocracy. Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities about seventy years after the French Revolution, during a period that had brought the temporary restoration of monarchy to France under Napoleon Bonaparte. Furthermore, England had experienced an anti-monarchic purge in the seventeenth century under Cromwell.

With the advantage of hindsight, Dickens attempted to convey the unfortunate consequences of the pre-revolutionary social system, which oppressed those at the lowest levels of society, as well as the revolutionary and democratic excesses. He favored a moderate approach to social reform, not a total revolution.

In the novel, there are heroes and villains on both sides. Dickens chose to make Charles Darnay a member of the aristocracy to show their humanity. While some of the aristocrats are evil, others are oblivious and primarily make the mistake of ignoring the underlying social problems. Still others have tried to ameliorate the worst suffering but encountered widespread opposition.

The blindness of the ruling class, Dickens suggests, led to their downfall, but the peasants and working class must also be held accountable. The desire for revenge predominates over justice, as seen in the Defarges and the instances of mob violence. In many ways, the novel served as a cautionary tale for the English aristocracy, reminding them of the consequences of exploitation and of ignoring social problems.

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