Mar 5, 2020 in Research

A Tale of Two Cities

The name of Charles Dickens became a symbol of English literature. He remains one of the most popular and widely read authors both in the homeland and abroad. Nowadays, it can be argued that problems standing in the spotlight of Dickens’ works are extremely important for modern times. These problems include crime and punishment, death and rebirth of personality, and search for ways to trigger changes and progressive evolution of society as a whole and a person in particular. The author wrote a great number of works, and all of them are highly popular and relevant even today. A Tale of Two Cities is one the most celebrated creations of Charles Dickens. The plot revolves around the story of violent passion and adventurous activities during the great changes of the French Revolution, in the center of which there are two largest cities of Europe - London and Paris. At that time, a guillotine or a condemned cell in the Bastille were considered the same ordinary things as lace dresses and home conversations in front of the fire. Cruel hatred, love, betrayal, sacrifice, and dedication are the cornerstones in several Dickens’ works, primarily in A Tale of Two Cities and Barnaby Rudge. Thus, the paper is aimed at making a comparison of these two works. A Tale of Two Cities is discussed from the perspective of Marxist criticism as Charles Dickens depicts that revenge leading to violence generates only evil, and despite the widespread belief, the world cannot become good if people are driven only by the idea to revenge on the ruling class.

This work of art depicts the events happening in the eighteenth century in Britain and France. According to the author, this century was the most beautiful, horrible, violent, life-affirming, and the most controversial. The events in A Tale of Two Cities happened in the summer of 1775. Two great European powers - Britain and France - were mired in sin, depravity, cruelty, and injustice. Cities of these two powers were under constant oppression of cold, dirt, disease, ignorance, poverty, and hunger. Besides, the issue of famine was particularly monstrous as a hunger became a heavy burden for virtually every citizen. To handle these troubles, a new force was originated in cities and small villages. It was revolution.


The famous writer wanted to show that the society during the French Revolution was extremely similar to those people who built it. This society sowed death and destruction. It was associated with the fact that it was moved by hatred and vengeance. However, it was only a logical product of the entire preceding course of events. In this novel, Charles Dickens made an attempt to understand the generalized laws of history. Nonetheless, he did not do so as the author of the historical novel, since Dickens tried not to delve into philosophy of history but into moral philosophy. According to the writer, immorality was the root of social evil. In addition, it was both personal and social immorality. Society was immoral and its moral was immoral. As a consequence, representatives of society were also immoral.

It seems that it was not difficult to improve the situation in this case. Based on the Dickens’ concepts of early period, it was possible to correct the society with the help of the reforms and, thus, a new person would appear. In spite of this, Dickens did no longer believe in the possibility of changing the society by people created by this society. In his book Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Bloom wrote that, “A Tale of Two Cities marks a transition for Dickens as he began to see the disadvantages of working for others”. The author believed that cannibals could only build a society of cannibals. People who were raised on injustices, blood, and violence created a world of violence and bloody terror, which put a knife on innocent heads. It is the law. Dickens intuitively arrived at such conclusion in Barnaby Rudge, but there, it could not have a generalizing philosophical note. At that time, Charles Dickens believed in the magical power of intelligent and far-reaching reforms which could change people’s lives and he demanded it. In A Tale of Two Cities, on the contrary, a question is different, although it may seem that these two novels are similar. They have much in common even in the imagery. To illustrate this, it is enough to recall the famous defeat of the wine cellars and transformation of wine into blood and blood into wine, a broken jar, and a label blood at the beginning of the novel Barnaby Rudge as well as bloody orgy at the end of the story A Tale of Two Cities. The writer who is so diverse in the world of artistic images persistently used the same comparison, on the associative basis of which, there is a rite of Communion. Wine in these novels gave communion to people during the bloody orgies, which was certainly not a coincidence. It is a persistent repetition of an idea which Charles Dickens considered to be important. However, what was specific in Barnaby Rudge transforms into the symbol and synthesis in A Tale of Two Cities. It should be noted that evil is similarly depicted in these two novels. In the book Charles Dickens and Europe, it is noted that “the mob violence of Barnaby Rudge is therefore not presented as the direct result of social inequality and the oppression of the poor by the rich but rather as the indirect result of a general social malaise”. The same is true for A Tale of Two Cities. Hence, these novels can be analyzed from Marxist criticism.

It is not a sheer coincidence that A Tale of Two Cities is one of the few novels where the action happens outside Britain. It is possible to argue that the events of the novel are depicted in France, because Dickens wanted to show the revolution. However, the portrayal of that period does not necessarily required transferring the actions abroad, namely to France. It was enough to move the events to the seventeenth century, since England also experienced a bloody revolution at that time. Charles Dickens needed to describe France in order not to concentrate the reader’s attention on the time of the novel. Thus, he wanted to make general conclusions. The similarities shared between different countries and different nations in terms of historical situations and behavior allow making generalizations about the philosophy of life, humanity, and history in general. In fact, it is the novel where Dickens shows not a person and/or society but mankind. This is a novel-warning to the English aristocracy and the English ruling class. Most importantly, it is a novel-warning to the modern society.

Basing upon philosophical reasoning about the world and its fate, Charles Dickens concluded that humanity can achieve a new society about which Sydney Carton dreamt of before the death, and which he prophetically saw on the way to the guillotine, only by the synthesis of the inner moral perfection and the reverse impact of the renewed man on society. It is highly imperative that this process should capture all segments of society and especially the ruling class. Humanity has no chances due to the fact that the rulers remain what they are now, which clearly shows that from the point of Marxist criticism, one of the main problems of the novel is class inequalities. The ruling class and common people had extremely different ways of life and, thus, they almost could not understand each other. The novel shows the Marxist perspective regarding social inequality and terrible events happening in the eighteenth century in France and England.

The whole novel embodies a recurring idea that evil generates evil. However, Charles Dickens does not preach philosophy of humility, resignation, and inner self-perfection that leads away from the action. On the contrary, the image of Sydney Carton cannot be regarded as an apotheosis of ideas of non-resistance to evil. In his choice to die for the Marquis, Sydney Carton saved humanity that was covered in blood. It is a transition from skeptical contemplation of the imperfect world to the action. The essence of Dickens’ idea lies in the fact that this action does not terminate Sydney Carton’s life. In this sense, it is necessary to understand the evangelical passage, which is repeated twice by Dickens at the last pages of the novel, “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me . . . yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die” (Dickens). In the text of the novel, it is said that Sydney Carton will live in the hearts of children and grandchildren, and the Marquise was saved at the cost of his death. Despite this vivid example, the author still holds the view that people cannot achieve anything if they are driven by revenge and hatred. Consequently, they should change their attitude to the world as they should be driven only by the force of peaceful changes.

In conclusion, many of Charles Dickens’s masterpieces discuss extremely important social questions. A Tale of Two Cities definitely belongs to such works. In this novel, the author raises rather significant questions of morality and human fate. Furthermore, he criticizes English society and revolutionaries who are often more cruel than the aristocrats despised by them. The whole novel is based on the relations of common people with the ruling class. That is why, Marxist criticism can be applied when discussing this work. According to Charles Dickens, immorality, cruelty, and passivity of the ruling class can lead to the return of cruelty and wickedness of the oppressed class. Undoubtedly, evil cannot do good, so to answer with violence in return to violence means to do evil.

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