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Influenced strongly by Thomas Carlysle's The French Revolution: A History, which told of the poor and oppressed of France and their revolt against a corrupt monarchy, Charles Dickens, a champion of the poor in England, who feared greatly the reactions of mobs, decided to write his monumental work, A Tale of Two Cities. Now, to truly summarize such a narrative as Dickens's book in four sentences is impossible. However, here are a few points to consider as you decide which are important enough for your "summary":
- There is a recurring pattern of resurrection imagery as Charles Darnay, a French emigrant, is saved from charges of treason by his double, Sydney Carton; Doctor Manette is "recalled to life," after having been incarcerated for 18 years; Mr. Lorry finds friendship and love after having been buried in the dark confines of Tellson's Bank; Sydney Carton redeems his dissipated life in his sacrifice for another.
- There are distinct parallels between Paris, France, and London, England as both cities have the poor and disenfranchised.
- Although Dickens sympathizes with the plight of the poor, he demonstrates his disapproval for the French people's violence and cruelty by illustrating in A Tale of Two Cities that problems of human suffering are not solved with political or economic systems. Instead, they are solved by the unselfishness and altruism of others, such as Lucie Manette, Charles Darnay, and Sydney Carton.
Charles Dickens's novel serves as a model for individuals who would improve the conditions of the poor and disenfranchised. No amount of revenge, no amount of bloodshed or autocracy will solve the problems for the peasants. Instead, it must come from the hearts of men. A Tale of Two Cities illustrates how "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
As our novel starts, a very businessman-like British gentleman makes his way into of Paris. He’s on a very unsettling mission. In fact, it’s almost enough to make a businessman cry. You see, eighteen years ago, a French doctor was imprisoned without any warning (or any trial). He’s been locked up in the worst prison of all prisons, the Bastille. After almost two decades, he was released – again without any explanation – and he’s currently staying with an old servant of his, Defarge. Today, Mr. Lorry (that’s our British businessman) is on a mission to the French doctor back to England, where he can live in peace with his daughter.
Dr. Manette may be free, but he’s still a broken man. He spends most of his time cobbling together shoes and pacing up and down in his dark room. Too accustomed to the space of a prison to understand that he can actually leave his room, Dr. Manette seems doomed to live a pitiful life.
Fortunately for Dr. Manette, he happens to have the World’s Perfect Daughter. Lucie, the child he left eighteen years ago, is now a grown-up, smiling, blond, perfect ray of sunshine. They don’t have much money (Dr. Manette’s cash was all seized in France), but Lucie manages to shine her rays of wonderfulness over their lives. In other words, they’re pretty happy. And they’ve adopted Mr. Lorry as a sort of drop-in uncle.
As we pick up the story in 1780, Dr. Manette and Lucie have been called as witnesses in a treason case. Apparently, a young man named Charles Darnay is accused of providing classified information to the French government. English trials at the time resemble smoke-and-mirror tricks: Dickens takes great delight in mocking the esteemed members of the court.
Sydney loves Lucie with all his heart, but he’s convinced that he could never deserve her. She’d like to help him be a better person, but he would rather wallow in his misery. After all, wallowing sounds like so much fun, doesn’t it? Wallow, wallow, wallow. That’s Sydney in a nutshell.
Charles, meanwhile, fares a little bit better. He marries Lucie. On the day of his wedding, he tells Dr. Manette a secret: he’s actually a French nobleman in disguise. A very particular French nobleman, as a matter of fact: the Marquis Evrémonde. Because everything in a Dickens novel has to fit into a neat pattern, it’s no real surprise that the Evrémondes were the evil brothers who locked Dr. Manette up in the first place. The good doctor is a bit shocked, of course, but he eventually realizes that Charles is nothing like his father or his uncle (the evil Evrémondes brothers). Dr. Manette is willing to love Charles for the man he is, not the family he left behind.
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