A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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How does Dickens use paradox in the first chapter of A Tale of Two Cities?

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claudineht eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The themes of this work include plenty of comparisons, contrasts, or doubles. We see this in the comparisons of England and France, two major countries. We also see the theme of doubles in the look-alike characters of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. There is also the contrast between Charles and his uncle (who was his father's twin), the Marquis, whose personalities couldn't be any more different.

The introduction to the titular "two cities" is also a paradox, contradiction, or reflection of itself: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness . . . ”

The first paragraph of the chapter explains, however, the real reason for Dickens's paradoxes: they set the tone for the historical period (the book takes place beginning in 1775). The first chapter compares and contrasts the two monarchies of England and France, along with each country's set of problems. Moreover, the different social structures of these two countries and their faults are described, so that a reader from a number of different backgrounds might relate to or be engaged by this storyline.

Some have suggested that Dickens wanted his work to have mass appeal. Indeed, such contrasts would engage a wider audience than would one set of descriptions.

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The famous opening paragraph of the book sets the scene for Dickens's subsequent treatment of paradox. Here, Dickens establishes what is without a doubt the fundamental paradox at the heart of the Enlightenment:

[I]t was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 563 words.)

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