Several years pass in Chapter 21 and between Chapters 23 and 24 in Tale of Two Cities. Why might the author have skipped over years?
How does the passing of time contribute to the larger effect of the novel?
A novel most uncharacteristic of Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities has been long been criticized for its lack of character development, a plot that is "disjointed" and for its historical treatment of the French Revolution that even his friend and contemporary, C. K. Chesterton, criticized as an elemental act of emotion rather than a recognition of intellectual ideas.
Dickens's treatment of this section of his novel seems more metaphoric than chronological. His Chapter 21 seems to be an effort to develop more the emotional aspect of his novel as he writes of "the echoing footsteps" and "the golden thread." His characters are also given more development, especially Sydney Carton as more a spiritual influence upon the family, perhaps in anticipation of his role as their sacrificial lamb. Perhaps the years of the fomenting revolution may not be important to Dickens so much as the emotional "sea that rises" which cannot be defined in terms of time.
The author might have skipped over years in these chapters because nothing of significance to the development of the central plot happened during these times.
In Chapter 21, the first six years of Lucie's marriage to Charles Darnay are briefly recounted. These are years of peace and tranquility for the couple; they live "a life of quiet bliss." A child is born to them, and though another does not survive, they are comforted by the knowledge that he is with God. Although these years of quiet prosperity and domesticity are overshadowed by the ominous echo of something bad to come, nothing shocking actually happens during this time, and so the author skips quickly over these years.
Three years pass between Chapters 23 and 24. Chapter 23 ends with France in turmoil, but things seem to improve somewhat by the time Chapter 24 begins with events occurring three years later. In the intervening years, not much happens of significance to the plot as conditions in France calm down, so again, the author is able to pass over those years while providing little detail as to what transpired.
The author's method of moving quickly through these passages of time allows him to advance the central plot without bogging down the reader with insignificant details. The narrative, set in real history, covers a large chronological period, and by focusing only on events that are important to his story, he is able to cover a great many years while sustaining an atmosphere of continuity and suspense.