Does Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities explore the dichotomy of the choice between changing society and changing ourselves?

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Advocating for changes in society was a recurring element of Charles Dickens’s writings. In particular, he decried the way poor people were treated in Victorian England and wrote about it frequently, especially how poverty often led to indebtedness and, in turn, imprisonment. In A Tale of Two Cities ,...

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Advocating for changes in society was a recurring element of Charles Dickens’s writings. In particular, he decried the way poor people were treated in Victorian England and wrote about it frequently, especially how poverty often led to indebtedness and, in turn, imprisonment. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens observes the society at the time in two cities: London and Paris.

In Paris, the society was in chaos, with the pending French Revolution and executions of myriads of privileged noblemen. On the other hand, in London, privileged people were unaffected by what was happening in France, other than that many Londoners had friends among the aristocracy in France.

In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens explores the dichotomy of the choice between changing society and changing oneself. One clear example of someone who undergoes a substantial change is Doctor Manette. Prior to the revolution, Doctor Manette was a respected physician in Paris. In order to survive and avoid the guillotine, he becomes a shoemaker and is not executed.

Another example is that of Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay, who change in the extreme so that one of them can survive. Carton tells himself, “Ah, confound you! What a change you have made in yourself!” Carton changes himself in order to become Darnay, enabling Dickens to make a point that sometimes one must change in the extreme in order to survive the established society.

However, at the same time, Dickens also wanted to change society A takeaway from the novel is that the dichotomy between changing society and changing ourselves shows that it is much easier to change ourselves in the short term. However, when injustices exist, it is equally important to help change society in the long term.

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