How are contrasts used in Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities to convey the theme of morality?

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Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Contrasts are presented from the very first paragraph. Dickens gives several pairs of opposites (including “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”), showing the conflicts of the age. This sets up the theme of goodness versus evil, often shown through various symbols. The two titular cities, London and Paris, are also shown to be opposites, even moral opposites. In London live the people who strive to do the right thing. In Paris are the revolutionaries and the nobility, both of whom are corrupt and violent. Light and shadow are common motifs, one example being the description of the street where the Manettes live. It is a shadowed street except for a bright spot where Doctor Manette and Lucie live (Book Two, Chapter Six). Even the characters of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton are shown to be moral contrasts. Charles is good and noble, while Sydney is dissolute and unmotivated. In the end, however, Sydney brings together the light and the dark, the good and the evil, in his self-sacrifice. His redemption brings justification to himself, if not to the times in which he lives. His quotation from the Bible, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25), reflects this redemption. He has been “recalled to life,” the phrase used concerning Doctor Manette on his release from the Bastille (Book One, Chapter Two). No darkness is so complete that it cannot be redeemed. This is the moral message Dickens gives throughout the novel.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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