Having read A Tale of Two Cities, would you say Dickens is an optimist or pessimist? Why?Having read A Tale of Two Cities, would you say Dickens is an optimist or pessimist? Why?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That Charles Dickens was tremendously influenced by the ideas of Carlysle's The French Revolution:  A History indicates that he had a predilection for optimism in his belief . For he believed in Carlysle's contention that in chaotic times heroes take control over competing forces.  Thus, for Dickens, heroes will rise to save France.  In his novel, Dickens's characters Dr. Manette, a tortured soul, rises to the occasion and frees his son from prison in France.  And, in a supremely heroic effort, Sydney Carton redeems Charles Darnay, returning him to his wife, while he also redeems his own dissipated soul. 

In the end of his novel, the main forces of evil are quelled.  Madame Defarge dies.  Sydney Carton recites "I am the resurrection..." and the little seamstress dies contentedly.  Darnay is united to Lucie; their children love them, with one named after Darnay about whom the parents tell the child.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hah.  I'd say Charles Dickens is a realist.

A Tale of Two Cities is a revolutionary story that realistically portrayed the violence of French Revolution, the dangers of a corrupt government, and the anger of a society that desperately wanted a voice.  But it also showed that the overthrowing of a government results in more killing, not necessarily less.  This book was as well liked as it was hated for these reasons.

For this, Dickens cannot be described as an optimist nor a pessimist.  The time period he wrote about was by nature a negative time in history.  But I also believe that anyone willing to paint a portrait of something as realistically as possible, wishes to do so for the greater good - a reminder to learn from negative events in the past or to gain wisdom from the place in which we came.  So in the end, I think that makes him an optimist.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with both my fellow editors.  A realistic approach is generally seen as being negative; however, when Dickens tells his tale of a specific time and place which includes such unrest and violence, he tempers it with a storyline about forgiveness and love.  In other words, he could have loaded this account with stories of the victims and the evils perpetrated by many members of the aristocracy and nobles. We're compelled by the evil in others, and people would have read that novel.  Instead, he gives equal--if not more--weight to the Manettes, Darnay, Lorry, Pross, and of course, Carton.  Dickens creates flawed characters who do the right thing when it matters.  By nature, then, it seems to me he is an optimist. 

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that Dickens is an optimist.  I do agree with what others have written, but I have two reasons for saying this.  First, he believes in the possibility of redemption.  He writes about this theme again and again, in books that are dark and morose but have this uplifting message, such as in A Christmas Carol.  He knew the terrible things people did to each other, but he also believed that people can change.  Dickens did see what was wrong with the world, and he bitterly reproached his society, but he also believed that things can change. 


q30r9m3 | Student

Pessimist, because he let a lot of people die.


1. Carton died for Darnay

2. Marquis got killed.

3. Dr. Manetted nearly got killed through his madness.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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