Irony In A Tale Of Two Cities

What are some examples of verbal irony in A Tale of Two Cities and how are they ironic?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Continuing to examine Chapter I of Book the First, Dickens goes on to narrate ironically,

France,(a) less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness downhill, making paper money and spending it. (b) Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with (c)such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards.

(a) This statment is ironic because England's "matters spiritual" are those superstitious and fraudulent claims mentioned in post #5

(b) "guidance" is an ironic choice of words since the pastors are evil and corrupt, so they do not offer Christian guidance at all. 

(c) cutting one's hands off for not kneeling before a monk is hardly a "humane achievement."

Another passage which contains verbal irony is in Chapter III of Book the Second, in which the Solicitor-General questions

the unimpeachable patriot appeared in the witness-box.

Mr. Solicitor-General then, following his leader’s lead, examined the patriot: John Barsad, gentleman, by name. The story of his pure soul was exactly what Mr. Attorney-General had described it to be—perhaps, if it had a fault, a little too exactly.

As the reader learns later in the narrative, the description of John Barsad could not be further from the truth.  While he would have the court believe him to be a patriot, Dickens is having fun with these descriptive words.  For the reader, there is also a revelation later of what Dickens really meant about Barsad.


booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, one form of irony is found with the character of Jerry Cruncher. In Chapter Three, "The Night Shadows," the messenger says...

“No, Jerry, no!...It wouldn’t do for you, Jerry. Jerry, you honest tradesman...

The reader discovers that Jerry is a "resurrection man" who steals bodies from graveyards and sells them to medical schools. The schools, in turn, provide the bodies to medical students to study medicine—specifically, anatomy. Jerry's...

...values are upside-down; he regards body-snatching as honest work and prayer as weakness.

Jerry is also not truly honest in that he has to lie to his son about his profession. It would seem that the title of "honest" attached to Jerry is ironic once the reader discovers more about him—honesty is not a word we would be comfortable attaching to him by the end of the story.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is very little actual humor in this novel because the topic is so serious and the consequences so deadly. Despite that, there are several characters and exchanges which provide some comic relief through verbal irony. One of those was mentioned above, when Jarvis Lorry continually refers to himself as a "man of business" yet he acts anything but unemotional and business-like. Another is John Barsad, when he is testifying against Charles Darnay in his London trial for treason; there is plenty of irony to be found in his testimony. A third character who provides some humor through verbal irony is Jerry Cruncher. He calls his wife's prayers "floppin'" and his grave-robbing "fishing." That's funny stuff, especially in the context of a bloody, nation-changing Revolution. 

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Verbal irony is when a statement seems to contradict itself, or be the opposite of what you'd expect. One example is the "recalled to life" phrase used repeatedly. It's ironic because of the contradiction of being brought back to life through memory, and it has a double meaning because recalled can mean remembered or summoned, or brought back. Another good example is also related to Lorry. Irony seems to drip from the man. When he says he is a man of business, for example. His business is the bank, but he is also directly connected to the Mannettes. I saved the best for last in Jerry Cruncher. His very name is ironic, because he shares the same initials as Jesus Christ. He also calls himself an honest tradesman, when his trade is grave robbing!
belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When choosing quotes from any text, remember that irony is not simply a misfortune or oppositely occurring event, but a specific juxtaposition of events or statements that are in themselves both coincidental and contradictory; also, it does not need to be humorous, although the common conception of irony is usually for humorous purposes.

Here is a good summary of irony and how to find it. George Carlin defines it thus:

If a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of my favourite examples actually comes from Dickens himself and the way that he names chapters. If we examine the chapter headings in Book II, we can see that two are called "The Fellow of Delicacy" and then "The Fellow of No Delicacy." What is interesting about these titles is that the first applies to Stryver, who, in announcing that he has decided to propose to Sophie Manette shows that he is actually not a fellow of delicacy at all. The second refers to Carton, who in his proposal definitely illustrates he is a fellow of delicacy. Dickens has said the opposite of what he means to underline the difference between these two characters.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One example occurs very early in the first chapter, when the narrator remarks that

It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this.

"Spiritual revelations" is an ironic term here, since the ensuing sentences make it clear that the narrator is referring to fraudulent claims and to bogus prophecies.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One example of irony in the text is that the beliefs of Mr. Lorry as seen when contrasted with his behavior. He tells characterizes himself as a businessman (being staunch and driven), but by the end, his behaviors are not very businesslike. (Not meant in a negative way. Simply referring to the way businessmen are standoffish and he is not.)

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A Tale of Two Cities

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