Identify the mood set for the reader in chapter 1 of A Tale of Two Cities.

The mood set for the reader in chapter 1 of A Tale of two Cities is satirical, sardonic, and ominous.

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Dickens opens the first chapter of the novel with the following line:

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.

These famous opening lines create a sardonic mood. The narrator is implying that England and France are at this time riddled with uncertainty, contradiction, and confusion. Coupled with the matter-of-fact tone of the narration, the implication suggests a sardonic, almost resigned mood, as if the narrator has given up any hope of finding any certainty or clarity in the current times.

A little later in the chapter, Dickens writes that France was at this time "roll(ing) with exceeding smoothness down hill." The euphemistic language here again suggests a sardonic, satirical mood. The "down hill" metaphor also implies that France is getting worse very quickly—and seemingly without any obstacles to prevent the decline. Dickens also writes that France

entertained herself...with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out...his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks.

The language here is again euphemistic and deeply ironic. The torturing and killing of the youth is, of course, not at all a "humane achievement," but the implication is that France claims to be a humane civilization and is profoundly hypocritical for doing so.

Describing England, and specifically London, Dickens writes that "highway robberies took place...every night," and that "prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys" and that "the mob fired on...musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob." The matter-of-fact language here again suggests a sardonic, satirical mood. The fact that so much violence is being described in such a matter-of-fact way also suggests that this violence was an everyday, accepted part of life in London. This creates an ominous tone. In neither France nor England does there seem to be much by way of decency, order, or civilized behavior. And in neither England nor France does there seem to be any sign of things getting any better.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 23, 2021
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