How relevant is the theme in this story to our world today?As Dickens highlights a particular theme in "A Tale of Two Citie"; as readers, how is this theme relevant to us? On how many levels are...

How relevant is the theme in this story to our world today?

As Dickens highlights a particular theme in "A Tale of Two Citie"; as readers, how is this theme relevant to us? On how many levels are we able to identify ourselves with the main theme?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

How relevant, indeed, is the opening passage of "A Tale of Two Cities":

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, itwas the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredultiy, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us....

What makes a novel a classic is its universality of theme, its timelessness.  For, it records the experience of human nature which always remains constant in its cupidity, malevolence, selfishness, and virtue.

Very concerned about the social injustices of his time, Charles Dickens included in his novels themes and motifs that point to the errors of society.  By the fact that there are so many parallels between what occurs in England and in Paris, Dickens points to the contributing factor of all social ills:  the pettiness in human nature, "the evil that men do" as Shakespeare writes.  All of history is replete with the same tale as the novel of Charles Dickens.  What else is more germane than Dickens's theme?

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One particular theme that is brought out in Dickens' with modern relevancy is the idea of authenticity of political regimes.  The Revolutionay period in France and the leaders of it, such as Madame Defarge, utliized the spirit of freedom and liberty to conduct political actions that represented the antithesis of such concepts.  The Reign of Terror became a perversion of the ideals to which the French Revolution clung.  This idea of government asserting one belief, but practicing another is critical to the modern setting.  Individuals have become quite accustomed and almost jaded to the idea of a government being fraught with hypocrisy and divergence in both theory and action.  Nations that speak of freedom and autonomy occupy nations through miltary and economic force.  Governments that speak of transparency and openness are shrouded in secrecy and "double speak."  Leaders who demand action in the name of the many act in the interests of the few.  The modern setting has seen these particular actions as all too common, and all too real.  These ideas were seen in the Revolutionary committees as described in Dickens' work.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As with all novels by Dickens, there is an incredible depth to A Tale of Two Cities, and so there are many themes you can identify to talk about. For me, however, what stands out above all other themes is the character of Carton and how he is able by the end of the play to transcend his limitations, vices and weaknesses and commit a truly heroic act. The willing sacrifice of your own life for someone else is of course echoed in many other stories, but most famously in the death of Christ for us within the Christian faith. I think this novel therefore offers us hope that any character, however "fallen" or depraved, can rise above their limitations to do truly amazing, or, as Lucie describes it in Chapter 20 of Book II, "magnaminious" deeds. We need to have faith in the power of humanity to do good deeds.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Indeed, resurrection cannot occur without destruction of death of someone or something, for the word implies rebirth.  Sydney Carton is reborn as a worthy, loving man with his sacrifice for Charles Darnay.

raminagrobis, you are right to state that the novel is about the value of love, as well.  Dickens's theme of social ills implies that love and charity are the solutions to such ills.  But, it is Dickens's first purpose to point out these ills so that people will become aware of them and, then, act upon them in a positive way, following the examples set by Lucie and Sydney Carton. After all, one must first recognize the problem in order to solve it.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anyone who has lived a bit has a clear understanding of "the best of times" and "the worst of times."  If not already here, those times will come.  There is a universality to that concept which is highlighted in every aspect of this story.  Charles is a good, selfless, and kind landlord; his uncle was a cruel, sadistic, and selfish tyrant.  Sydney is a man of dissolution and wasted talent; Sidney is a man capable of the greatest love and sacrifice.  Keep looking and you'll see plenty more such dichotomies in this novel.  It's inspiring to read, which makes it relevant today.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The rift between the haves and have-nots is just as wide today.  We may not have an aristocracy that treats people this way in England or America, but there are plenty of countries that do.  It is time for us to wake up and realize that there are people that need our help, and we are doing nothing to help them.

raminagrobis | Student

What I meant about destruction and resurrection is  whether at the general level, society is able to progress without first destruction of the old order or, at the individual level, whether a human being who does not experience adversity can really become a better person. The French and American Revolutions (destruction) eventually led to the more democratic order we now enjoy (resurrection). Was the destruction necessary? In the same vein, could the abolition of slavery have been achieved without the Civil War? We would dearly like to think so, i.e. that, somehow, social progress could have been realised with less pain if people had only been more "reasonable" and less blind to what was going on. But is it not naive to think so, given what we know about human nature? For instance, there is a famous saying in France that the French aristocrats who came back home from exile in 1815 after the first Revolution "had forgotten nothing and learned nothing". They were therefore were condemned to repeat in the 19th century the mistakes their parents made in the "good old time" of the "king with the big jaw" and the "queen with the fair face". This obstinacy in their error led to the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 and their eventual disappearance into the dustbin of history. Slave-owners were also blind to the need to change their ways and faced a similar fate in the aftermath of the Civil War (gone with the wind).


raminagrobis | Student

I am only half way through the book but I find the assessment made so far a bit too bleak: yes the book is about destruction, corruption, wickedness, but it is also about love, love between Lucie and her father, love between Lucie and Darnay, desperate love of Carton for Lucie. It is also about resurrection, for instance in the case of Docteur Manette and Carton. Can resurrection occur without destruction?

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A Tale of Two Cities

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