In A Tale of Two Cities, identify five simple themes and an example of each.  

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many themes that Dickens brings out in A Tale of Two Cities.  In finding five, delving into the characterizations is a part of this process.

Sacrifice- Dickens uses the character of Sidney Carton to represent the theme of sacrifice.  Initially, Carton is shown to be a character who believes in only himself as the only cause towards which he shows affinity.  Carton is disdainful of others and social notions of the good.  However, when Carton falls in love with Mannette and sees what is happening around him, his consciousness is awakened.  He can no longer remain silent and remain detached.  In foregoing his own life for others, the theme of sacrifice and human beings keeping an eye on the maintenance of the social order is a critical theme in the novel.  When Carton words of “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known," is a testament to the theme of sacrifice that defines his characterization.

Abuse of power- Dickens uses the character of Madame Defarge as an example of individual who abuse the power they possess.  Dickens uses her character as a way to show how individuals in the position of power sometimes use it for their own benefit as opposed to the general good.  Madame Defarge uses her power as a way to placate her hatred of the aristocracy and to feed her own vengeance.

The Human Predicament- The opening paragraph of the novel outlines the basic condition of humanity in the modern setting.  Dickens describes it as one where human beings find themselves poised between opposing ends of human existence:

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, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

The binary opposition that defines human beings in terms of "light" and "darkness," "best" and "worst," and "wisdom" and "foolishness" accurately depicts how Dickens sees the modern predicament and human beings within it.

Political Corruption- In tracing the development of the French Revolution from organic well- spring of democracy to the Reign of Terror, Dickens articulates how far political orders can stray from their intent.  Corruption in terms of both power and partisan interest are critical elements in the French Revolution turning out to be so far from its original intent. This theme is displayed throughout the narrative's plot contours, but also in lines such as  "Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; — the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!"  Dickens uses the French Revolution to show how corruption in modern political regimes is a reality towards which all modern individuals must understand and guard against.

Insider/ Outsider- In showing the callousness with which the Marquis de Evremonde kills a poor child with his carriage, Dickens speaks to how voice in the modern predicament is silenced by those in the position of power.  This dynamic highlights the theme of insider/ outsider.  Dickens shows that there is a political condition in the French Revolution time frame where there were definite insiders, those who possessed political and social power, and those who were on the outside, individuals whose voices were being silenced.  This theme was not only a part of the historical condition that led to the French Revolution, but a significant theme in Dickens's work. 

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A Tale of Two Cities

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