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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2473

Book the First: Recalled to Life
Chapter 1: The Period
Chapter 2: The Mail
Chapter 3: The Night Shadows

1. Discuss the theme of the likeness of people despite differences of place or time. Is this relationship useful only within the context of A Tale of Two Cities, or can it be applied to other situations?

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2. How does the fear of the messenger illustrate the narrator’s idea that it is impossible to know another person? Does anything else in these opening chapters support this thought? Does anything contradict it?

Chapter 4: The Preparation
1. Write an essay reflecting on Mr. Lorry’s insistence that all of his relations are of the business type. Why could this be important as to what his character represents? How is this related to his lifelong bachelorhood? How does this reflect the Victorian Age?

2. Write an essay discussing the way Lucie Manette is portrayed as a woman in this chapter. What problems arise from this depiction? Is this a mere reflection of Victorian ideals, or is it relevant to today’s times?

Chapter 5: The Wine-Shop
1. How does this chapter foreshadow the coming revolution? Look beyond the obvious answer that equates the wine with blood. What does the single-mindedness of the crowd mean in this context? What of the desolate conditions that they live in?

2. Discuss the significance of the name “Jacques.” What do the peasants gain by addressing each other in this way? How did they come to use this term? Discuss any contemporary manifestations of this idea.

Chapter 6: The Shoemaker
1. Write an essay exploring the ways in which Dr. Manette has lost his identity. Use specific examples to show how much of his past he has forgotten.

2. Discuss the role of Lucie’s affections in helping her father remember his past. Does this present any problems in a contemporary context? How does this help to define Lucie as a character? What does this say about the role of women in Victorian society?

Book the Second: The Golden Thread
Chapter 1: Five Years Later
Chapter 2: A Sight

1. Write an essay describing how Dickens portrays the English court system of the 1780s. Pay attention to the discussion of the death penalty, the conversation between Jerry Cruncher and the man who wishes to see Darnay drawn and quartered, and the nature of the crowd in the courtroom.

2. Write an essay comparing the behavior of Lucie Manette and Mrs. Cruncher in these chapters. What do these two women have in common? Is their class difference more important than their similarities, as portrayed by Dickens?

Chapter 3: A Disappointment
1. Write an essay exploring the use of comedy in this chapter. Contrast the ways in which the prosecution and the defense portray the witnesses. Discuss the use of hyperbole in relation to the use of outright lies. Are they the same? Different? Which one can be viewed in a comic light?

2. Discuss the crowd as they leave the courtroom. What are they in search of? Does this have anything to do with a desire for justice? In what ways can this be seen as a warning against the danger of crowds?

Chapter 4: Congratulatory
Chapter 5: The Jackal

1. Write an essay about Sydney Carton. Can his lack of ambition be explained from the evidence given? Do you, as a reader, feel any sympathy for him? Why or why not?

2. Discuss the idea that one character can shed light on our view of another character. What does the conversation between Carton and Lorry reveal about each man? Besides the physical resemblance, how does Darnay function as a mirror for Carton?

Chapter 6: Hundreds of People
1. Write about foreshadowing in this chapter. Take into account the idea of “hundreds of people,” the approaching storm, the echoing footsteps, and the final paragraphs. What do all of these things anticipate?

2. Discuss the symbolism of the shoemaker’s bench. Why has Dr. Manette kept the bench? What does this say about him?

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Chapter 7: Monseigneur in Town
Chapter 8: Monseigneur in the Country

1. This chapter portrays the French nobility for the first time in the book. How are they portrayed? What is the effect of placing this directly after the ominous warning of the previous chapter?

2. Write an essay describing how the nobility have no awareness of what the peasants are capable of. Pay close attention to the accident and to what Defarge says and does, as well as to the man riding along with the carriage.

Chapter 9: The Gorgon’s Head
1. Write an essay that provides an overview of the argument that Darnay and the Marquis have about class structure. Whose argument is more convincing? Why?

2. Describe the symbolism of stone in this chapter. How does the myth of the Gorgon relate to the scene? Keep in mind the description of the murdered Marquis as a “stone face” with a “stone figure” attached.

Chapter 10: Two Promises
Chapter 11: A Companion Picture

1. Write an essay comparing Darnay’s revelation that he wants to marry Lucie to Stryver’s revelation of the same intentions. Whom do the two men respectively tell? How do they speak of their desire? Who seems more likely to marry Lucie? Why?

2. Discuss Stryver’s opinion of Carton. How is this ironic? Keep in mind what Carton does for Stryver. What can be made of Stryver’s opinion that Carton should marry a woman who will protect him “against a rainy day”?

Chapter 12: The Fellow of Delicacy
Chapter 13: The Fellow of No Delicacy

1. Discuss the character of Mr. Stryver in relation to his plan to marry Lucie. What do we learn about him as this plan falls apart? What do his comments about Lucie reveal about his personality?

2. Explore just what is meant by Lucie’s “compassion.” How does she relate to Sydney Carton? Why does he love her? What else do we know about Lucie, besides her capacity for compassion? Is her character meant to be a personification of just this one trait, or does this seem unintentional? Explain.

Chapter 14: The Honest Tradesman
1. Write an essay about Jerry Cruncher’s “business.” How does this compare with what Mr. Lorry has said about needing an occupation? What does it say about the class structure in England?

2. How does Jerry Cruncher relate to his family in this chapter? Compare this to events at the Manette household. What does this say about class structure in England?

Chapter 15: Knitting
1. Explain how the Defarges are slowly building support for the revolution in this chapter. What thoughts do they plant in the head of the mender of roads? How do they do this in a subtle way? Pay attention to Madame Defarge’s use of metaphor.

2. Write an essay about the mender of roads. Is there a difference between him and the Defarges? Does he seem aware that a revolution is brewing? Are the Defarges manipulating him for their own designs in the same way that the nobility has been? Why or why not?

Chapter 16: Still Knitting
1. Write an essay about Madame Defarge. Is she portrayed as lacking compassion? Pay close attention to her interaction with John Barsard and to her reaction to the news about the Manettes. Contrast this with the compassionate character of Lucie Manette.

2. What does Ernest Defarge’s reaction to the news about the Manettes reveal about him? How is he different from his wife in this respect? Between what are his loyalties split? How does this complicate matters for him?

Chapter 17: One Night
Chapter 18: Nine Days

1. How does Dr. Manette react to the marriage of his daughter? What does he say to Darnay? Does it seem that it is something other than his daughter’s marriage that has led him back to his shoemaker’s bench?

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2. Explore what we know about Charles Darnay’s secret. Think of his past as well as Dr. Manette’s past. Keep in mind Dr. Manette’s reaction upon learning the secret. Why do we still not know the whole secret? Examine how the clues to the nature of the secret are revealed.

Chapter 19: An Opinion
Chapter 20: A Plea

1. Write an essay about Lorry’s non-confrontational way of talking to Dr. Manette. Why does he employ this method? Has he used this method before? When? Why? How does this relate to his business sense?

2. How is the past put to rest in this chapter? Think of both Dr. Manette and Sydney Carton. What do they respectively do to come to terms with past events? Do they both seem to meet with success? Why or why not?

Chapter 21: Echoing Footsteps
1. How is Lucie’s life described? Think of her two children and the mention of the echoing footsteps, as well as the hope in the final paragraph that events in France will not affect her. Even though Lucie is the focus of part of this chapter, is she described as doing anything? What is the significance of this?

2. Compare Madame Defarge to Lucie. Does Madame Defarge have compassion? What does she say about women and killing? What does she do to the governor’s body? What do these things reveal about her? What emotions do Madame Defarge represent? Is she the opposite of the docile, passive Lucie?

Chapter 22: The Sea Still Rises
Chapter 23: Fire Rises

1. Write an essay about how women are depicted in this
chapter. Why are they described as mad? What does The Vengeance’s name reveal? What about Madame Defarge’s treatment of Foulon? Contrast these portrayals with Lucie’s inactivity.

2. Is Dickens siding with the peasants or the nobility? Or is he treating both sides equally? Refer to what the peasants do, keeping in mind what the nobility has said and done.

Chapter 24: Drawn to the Loadstone Rock
1. Reflect on Darnay’s decision to go to France. Does it seem believable? Why is he going? Would he be aware of the danger he was placing himself in? Where do his loyalties lie?

2. Write an essay explaining how the action seems to be shifting towards France. Who goes to France? Can the rest of the plot be inferred from the information given so far? Are there any unresolved mysteries to hold reader interest?

Book the Third: The Track of a Storm
Chapter 1: In Secret

1. Write an essay about how the Revolution is gaining momentum. What has happened since Darnay left England? What does Defarge’s refusal to help Darnay say about the strength of the Revolution?

2. Compare the behavior of the empowered peasants to the behavior of the previous ruling class. How do they deal with personal appeals? Remember the Marquis and think of the treatment of Darnay’s arguments.

Chapter 2: The Grindstone
Chapter 3: The Shadow

1. Describe Mr. Lorry’s allegiances in this chapter. Does he put Lucie in danger by placing her in a less secure apartment? Does he seem to care more for the bank than for Lucie? Why or why not?

2. Explore the parallels between Lorry’s allegiance to the bank and Ernest Defarge’s allegiance to the republic. What are Defarge’s allegiances? Can we be sure of them yet? How do personal considerations fit into both situations?

Chapter 4: Calm in Storm
Chapter 5: The Wood-Sawyer

1. Write an essay about the change that takes place in Dr. Manette in this chapter. How is he using his imprisonment to his advantage? What change does this present in him? Why does his new position allow him to gain strength? How is this related to Darnay’s suffering?

2. Discuss Lucie’s behavior in this chapter. What activity does she undertake? How is her character development consistent with what has been said about her and with what she has said and done in earlier chapters?

Chapter 6: Triumph
Chapter 7: A Knock at the Door

1. Write an essay comparing this trial with Darnay’s earlier trial in England. Are the results the same? Pay attention to how these results were achieved. Notice any similarities in the way Darnay was prosecuted in England and the way he defends himself here. What does this say about systems of justice?

2. Describe the use of surprise and suspense in this chapter. Why is Darnay arrested again right after he is freed? How does this play on reader expectations? How does this relate to the Defarges’ strategy of keeping the nobility unaware of the danger they are in?

Chapter 8: A Hand at Cards
1. Explain how the various subplots are becoming important to the action of the central story. Pay attention to Jerry Cruncher’s “honest trade” as well as Sydney Carton’s earlier behavior and keep in mind Barsad’s previous actions.

2. Discuss the significance of Sydney Carton’s comment about “dangerous times” and the nature of crowds. What does his comment about playing a “losing hand” foreshadow?

Chapter 9: The Game Made
1. Write an essay on Sydney Carton’s behavior in this chapter. Why does it seem that he is preparing for his own death? What can be inferred about his plan from his behavior?

2. Examine Mr. Lorry’s interactions in this chapter. Consider his discussion with both Jerry Cruncher and Sydney Carton. How do these conversations resolve previous thematic concerns? How do they help to move the plot forward?

Chapter 10: The Substance of the Shadow
1. Write an essay describing how the information learned in this chapter changes our perception of Dr. Manette. Does he seem like a stronger character now? Why or why not?

2. Examine what is revealed in this chapter about Charles Darnay’s family. How does this help to explain his renunciation of his family? What role does his mother play in all of this?

Chapter 11: Dusk
Chapter 12: Darkness

1. How does Madame Defarge’s revelation change our perception of her character? Can she be viewed with more sympathy now that her motivation has been revealed? Do her motives justify her behavior? Why or why not?

2. Write an essay about Sydney Carton’s plan. Can it be inferred at this point of the novel? Could it have been inferred earlier? If so, does this point to a dramatic failing of the plot? Why or why not?

Chapter 13: Fifty-two
1. Write an essay about Sydney Carton’s behavior in this chapter. What is his motivation for what he is doing? Think not only of his promise to Lucie but also of his reflections on the worthlessness of his own life.

2. What does the fact that Darnay does not once think about Carton reveal about the relationship between the two men? Does this affect our perception of what Carton does? In what way?

Chapter 14: The Knitting Done
Chapter 15: The Footsteps Die Out For Ever

1. Write an essay about Madame Defarge. Can we feel any sympathy for her? What effect does her death have on any sympathetic feelings that we may have for her? How would her character seem different if she lived?

2. Examine Sydney Carton’s final words. What do they say about his perception of his life? What do they reveal about his feelings concerning his act of sacrifice?

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