What is the significance of the title of Book the First, "Recalled to Life" in A Tale of Two Cities?  Please go into detail.

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title of Book the First captures one of the central themes in the novel - that of resurrection. Of course, you are not alone in your confusion regarding the answer that Jarvis Lorry entrusts with Jerry Cruncher, for Jerry himself exclaims:

"That's a Blazing strange answer, too."


The coachmen likewise are able to make nothing of it at the end of Chapter 2, but we are reintroduced to this phrase in Chapter 3, for Jarvis Lorry begins to dream of speaking to the man who has been buried "for 18 years" and now has been "Recalled to life." It is only in Chapter 4 that we work out that the person who has been "Recalled to Life" is Dr. Manette, Lucie Manette's father, who had been feared dead for so very long but has now been released from the Bastille in France where he has been prisoner for 18 years. Note how the description of Dr. Manette in Chapter 6 reinforces this impression that he has risen from the dead in some way:

The faintness of the voice was pitiable and dreadful... It was like the last feeble echo of a sound made long and long ago...

Note too how the expression "haggard eyes" is used to describe the Doctor at first, placing emphasis on his weakness and frailty.

Of course, the expression "Recalled to Life" is not only featured in the resurrection of Dr. Manette, but in the resurrection (if you like) of both Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay at the end of the novel. Sydney Carton is able to become the man and resurrect his better qualities by his decision at the end to give his life up for Darnay, and Darnay is literally given a second chance at life through Carton's sacrifice.

corinnedolci | Student

Dickens points our attention to the phrase “recalled to life” in multiple ways as the novel opens. It is the title of Book the First, and it forms a riddle between Mr. Lorry, the coachmen, and the reader over the course of the first chapter. 

Most plainly, “recalled to life” means that a person or entity who has died has been resurrected. Initially, the person brought back to life is Dr. Manette. Dr. Manette has been imprisoned for 18 years when Mr. Lorry travels to France to free, or resurrect, Dr. Manette from prison to continue his life with his daughter Lucie.

But Dr. Manette is only the first example of resurrection in the novel. Consider the description of French peasants outside the Defarge's wine shop in Chapter 5: “men with bare arms, matted locks, and cadaverous faces.” A “cadaver” is another word for a dead body. So, like Dr. Manette, the French peasants are also in the process of being “recalled to life.” Unlike Dr. Manette, however, these peasants are not resurrected by the love of a daughter and old friend; they are resurrected by their hunger and poverty, which transforms into rage and violence in the face of the injustices of the French political, social, and economic system.

At the end, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton are also “recalled to life.” Like Dr. Manette, Charles Darnay finds himself awaiting certain death in French prison. Darnay is “recalled to life” when Sydney Carton breaks into prison and trades places with Darnay so that Darnay can return to England with Lucie and Dr. Manette.

With Sydney Carton, however, the meaning of “recalled to life” shifts. In sacrificing himself for Darnay, his character becomes a Christ-like figure. Dickens underscores this by having Sydney quote the Bible three times: “I am the resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord.” While Dr. Manette and Sydney Carton were “recalled to life,” Sydney is called to a saintly afterlife. In so doing, Dickens suggests that the way to heavenly peace, for society and for the individual, is through self-sacrifice.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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