What is the significance of the beginning paragraph in the novel A Tale of Two Cities?A tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Ranked among the most famous lines of all literature, the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities begins with dramatic contrasts that, ironically, suggest dualities.  The message of Charles Dickens, who has read Thomas Carlysle's The French Revolution: A History with trepidation for his own England, is that both England and France are between chaos and order, despair and hope, darkness and light--"the worst of times" and "the best of times."

Long a social reformer, Dickens intends to alert his English reader that what has happened in France could well occur on both sides of the Channel. Thus initiating the motif of dualties, the first paragraph helps to launch the character doubles in Darnay/Carton, Manette/Lorry, Styver/Marquis d'Evremonde and the opposing doubles of Mme. Defarge/Lucie and Miss Pross as well as the parallels between London/Paris.

Finally, the opening paragraph suggests the literary tensions between family and love, oppression and hatred.  For instance, with the Evremonde family, especially, this tension is present as Charles Darnay, the nephew, renounces his family name, yet he is pulled by the "Loadstone Rock" to his home.

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