A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities book cover
Start Your Free Trial

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?

Expert Answers info

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2010

write4,539 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

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. 

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

belarafon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write2,867 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Science, and History

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.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write4,625 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

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.)

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write16,149 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

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...

(The entire section contains 8 answers and 1,067 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Verdie Cremin eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write2,994 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write13,728 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

booboosmoosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2003

write4,119 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write15,968 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial