In A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Dickens outlines the duality and contrasts between England and France at the time. More specifically, he outlines the duality between Paris and London. The title, in fact, hints that Dickens will present the story of two cities. He establishes the parallelism and duality between the two cities at the very beginning of the novel:
It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness...
If it was the best of times, how could it simultaneously be the worst of times? We know that Dickens is writing about these two cities at the time of the French Revolution. It was the best of times in London perhaps, but it was the worst of times in Paris, where chaos reigned. Dickens writes, “Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh.”
Describing the respective monarchies, Dickens sets up the two cities as near mirror images of one another:
There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.
Dickens also writes, “we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” If you lived in London and came from a certain economic background, you had everything before you. However, if you lived in Paris and came from that same economic background, you had nothing before you but the prospect of prison or death.
While London is contrasted with the chaos of Paris, the prisons in both cities seem equally difficult to endure. Darnay and Doctor Manette discuss the Tower (of London). Darnay was imprisoned there, he recalls “with a smile, though reddening a little angrily.” Similarly, Doctor Manette was imprisoned in the Bastille, and it drove him mad for a while.