A Tale of Two Cities begins with a paradox. For whom might it have been the best of times and for whom might it have been the worst of times?

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The famous opening of this novel points towards one of the critical themes that is built upon in its pages which is that of the rampant inequality and inequitable division of wealth that French society is built upon. Let us remind ourselves of what the opening novel says and the way that it uses paradox to make its point:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...

Clearly, as we continue reading the novel, we understand that, from the point of view of the French aristocracy, it was "the best of times." They enjoy such wealth and such prestige as to make their lives full of comfort and ease, as is made clear if we look at chapters such as Chapter Seven of Book II, which describes the antics of one of "the great lords in power at the Court" and how he needed four men to bring him his hot chocolate. Clearly, it was "the worst of times" for those who were being exploited by the French aristocracy, namely, the French peasantry. The chilling description we are given of the kind of poverty in which they live in Chapter Eight of Book II reinforces this. The opening paradox of the novel is therefore vital in establishing the kind of inequality which characterised French society at the time, which was one of the core factors that led to the Revolution.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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