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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens
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In A Tale of Two Cities, what are some major literary allusions used to add depth to the novel? For instance, Sydney Carton. He acts like Jesus and recites Christ words of being the Resurrection and the Life. How can I connect this to a good literary allusion in the novel?

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The majority of the allusions in A Tale of Two Cities are biblical. The most profound development in the novel—Sydney Carton's evolution from listless drunkard to self-sacrificing hero—is reminiscent of Christ's redemptive sacrifice for mankind. He puts himself in Charles Darnay's place so the other man might live and be...

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The majority of the allusions in A Tale of Two Cities are biblical. The most profound development in the novel—Sydney Carton's evolution from listless drunkard to self-sacrificing hero—is reminiscent of Christ's redemptive sacrifice for mankind. He puts himself in Charles Darnay's place so the other man might live and be happy with Lucie.

There are other references to Christ as well. Jerry Cruncher (whose initials are JC, a detail which is likely intentional on Dickens' part) is considered a "resurrection man" since he takes bodies from graves to sell. He is a kind of grotesque parody of a Christ-figure. Doctor Manette's liberation from the Bastille is referred to as a resurection, since Cruncher's message to Dover describes his being freed as being "recalled to life."

Aside from Biblical references, there are allusions to Greek myth in the characters of Madame Defarge and the Vengeance. They both knit as they watch the heads roll during mass executions, evoking the mythical Fates, who also knitted and controlled human lives via threads of fate.

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To a large extent Dickens presents the character of Sydney Carton as almost a Christ-like figure. Carton, though outwardly a brilliant young lawyer, has never achieved real fulfillment in his life. He has led a drunken, dissolute lifestyle which induces within him a profound self-loathing and depression. At one point, he even breaks down in tears over what he realizes has been a wasted life. Yet, at the end of the book, after a life of dissipation, he finally achieves redemption by sacrificing his life for that of his friend, Charles Darnay.

Inevitably, religious and biblical allusions abound. Dickens is especially fond of alluding to Genesis, with its introduction of the notion of original sin; and also Ecclesiastes, with its focus on the challenges of Christian living in the face of the trials and tribulations of earthly life.

But not all of the many allusions in A Tale Of Two Cities are religious. There are also numerous references to secular literature and Greek mythology. For instance, the domineering figure of Madame Defarge is likened to the notorious Lady Macbeth, constantly urging her vacillating husband to maintain his revolutionary zeal, even if it leads to injustice and acts of murder.

Her constant knitting is also an allusion to the Fates, the three Greek goddesses who spun the thread of human fate. In her implacable thirst for bloody vengeance, Madame Defarge can also be likened to another set of Greek goddesses, the Furies, who bring justice and wreak revenge.

For the most part, secular allusions are used by Dickens to highlight the chaos and disorder into which revolutionary France has been plunged. The biblical allusions, by contrast, provide a glimpse of the stable, unchanging transcendent world of faith and truth to which the endless turmoil of this earthly life is compared—and found wanting.

Both sets of allusions are highly portentous: the secular and mythological pointing towards the increasing degeneracy of the French Revolution into blood-stained tyranny; the biblical allusions steadily building up to the redemption of Sydney Carton through his ultimate sacrifice.

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A Tale of Two Cities is historical fiction, and is full of historical allusions.  The French Revolution really happened, and many of the events Dickens described were historically accurate to a certain extent.  A good example is the storming of the Bastille prison, which is a famous symbolic even that started the revolution and the Guillotine, used by the revolutionaries  to behead their aristocratic victims. 

There are also biblical allusions throughout the book.  For example, the theme of resurrection and Jerry Cruncher referring to himself as a resurrection-man.  Sacrifice and rebirth is a biblical theme, and as Christ martyred himself to save mankind, Carton martyred himself to save Lucie.

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