A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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Significant Allusions

Dickens employs a number of biblical, historical, and literary allusions in A Tale of Two Cities. These allusions enable him to express apprehension about the post-Enlightenment emphasis on logic over religious values, the depraved state of the upper class, and the danger of mass rage. 

Biblical Allusions: Like many Victorian authors, Charles Dickens regularly used biblical allusions. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens’s use of biblical allusions suggests a deep ambivalence about the fate of humanity in the absence of religion. However, the biblical allusions Dickens employs ultimately suggest that humankind is not necessarily destined for a dismal fate in the wake of the Enlightenment. Here are two of the novel’s most prominent biblical allusions: 

  • At the beginning of the novel, Jesus Christ’s resurrection is established as a key overarching allusion. According to the New Testament, God raised Jesus from the dead three days after he was put to death by the Romans. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus appeared before his closest followers to reveal the prophecy of his death, resurrection, and the subsequent pardon of humanity’s sins. Until Christ’s death and resurrection, God condemned every human soul to Hell as punishment for the disobedience of Adam and Eve. However, following Christ’s sacrifice, humans can reach heaven if they attain the grace of God. Each primary male character in A Tale of Two Cities seems to experience some degree of resurrection, from Dr. Manette’s liberation after years of imprisonment to Jerry Cruncher’s odd side profession as a “Resurrection Man.” It is Sydney Carton’s conveyal to the guillotine, however, that most directly pulls from the story of Christ’s crucifixion in the New Testament. 
  • The novel’s apprehension about the fate of post-Enlightenment humanity is in part expressed by allusions to the act of original sin, from the Book of Genesis, and to the Book of Ecclesiastes 3. In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were the first humans ever to be created. Though initially innocent and obedient, they disobeyed God’s express orders to not eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. God banished them from Eden and all human nature was subsequently corrupted by sin. Though never stated directly, the inevitable degradation of society following the Enlightenment may be interpreted as a parallel to the Fall—the understanding of good and evil that marked the end of innocence— after Adam and Eve eats the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Dickens suggests that humanity’s subsequent suffering serves a “purpose under heaven.” 

Historical Allusions: Given that A Tale of Two Cities is set in London and Paris both before and during the French...

(The entire section is 696 words.)