A Tale of Two Cities Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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What is the meaning of the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities?

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The opening two paragraphs describe the condition in England and France in 1775, the year the novel begins, establishing this as a historical novel (it was published in 1859). Dickens points out that the condition he describes is very much like the "present period," or his own times, too, universalizing his theme.

Therefore, using a series of antitheses or oppositions, Dickens describes what times are like universally, but also, more particularly, what they were like in Britain and France in 1775, fourteen years before the French Revolution. Times are the "best" and, simultaneously, the "worst." They are filled with wisdom, belief, light, and hope but also with foolishness, incredulity (disbelief), darkness, and despair, all intermingled. Using anaphora, or repetition at the beginning of lines, Dickens establishes a sense of litany, giving his opening the timeless quality of religious authority.

From the start, Dickens is setting up the oppositions that will define this novel about the...

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