A Tale of Two Cities Essay
In A Tale of Two Cities, deep symbolism and complex themes are an integral part played by the book to capture the reader’s attention and fill one with a sense of intrigue. One of the most recognizable is the theme of resurrection. Throughout the novel, characters and situations again and again allude to rising to a new life. Most prominently so are Alexandre Manette, Charles Darnay, and Sydney Carton. Book I of A Tale of Two Cities is centered mostly on the rescue of Alexandre Manette from the horrid French prison, the Bastille; thus, it is titled “Recalled to Life”. Alexandre Manette once had a full life; one of peace and contentment.
Imprisoned unjustly, his intellect—and all that was sane in his brilliant mind—dies. Enter Lucie Manette, his daughter, glowing with life and youth. Her love and patience, and simply the realization that she is his daughter, brings Manette back to sanity and health; in a sense, back to life. Alexandre Manette is not, however, the only person whose life Lucie touches. Charles Darnay also is influenced, to the point of asking Lucie to marry him—and bring new life into the world. Lucie accepts, and thus forms a family tie that will prove essential when Darnay becomes imprisoned in later years.
Also essential for Darnay’s rescue is the wit of Sydney Carton; who, through saving him from imprisonment, has once before brought Darnay a resurrection. Carton’s growing heroism—and love for Lucie—spurs him on to again rescue Darnay from inevitable death, to bring him back to a beautiful new life of safety in England. Carton himself believes he will never rise to a new life. Yet, through his willingness to face death, he raises himself to something greater. And by giving Darnay back to the loving arms of Manette and Lucie, he opens the door to a long, beautiful life for them all, and the generation to come.
Despite the life of waste he once lived, he gains something eternal by his sacrifice. He realizes this, speaking his last beautiful thoughts: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known. ”As the immortal words run through Carton’s head while he nears the guillotine—“I am the Resurrection and the Life”—we are assured that Carton, by his death, was also raised to a new life; where perhaps one day he will again see those whom he gave all for. With A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens asserts his belief n the possibility of resurrection and transformation, both on a personal level and on a societal level. The narrative suggests that Sydney Carton’s death secures a new, peaceful life for Lucie Manette, Charles Darnay, and even Carton himself. By delivering himself to the guillotine, Carton ascends to the plane of heroism, becoming a Christ-like figure whose death serves to save the lives of others. His own life thus gains meaning and value. Moreover, the final pages of the novel suggest that, like Christ, Carton will be resurrected—Carton is reborn in the hearts of those he has died to save.
Similarly, the text implies that the death of the old regime in France prepares the way for the beautiful and renewed Paris that Carton supposedly envisions from the guillotine. Although Carton spends most of the novel in a life of indolence and apathy, the supreme selflessness of his final act speaks to a human capacity for change. Although the novel dedicates much time to describing the atrocities committed both by the aristocracy and by the outraged peasants, it ultimately expresses the belief that this violence will give way to a new and better society. Dickens elaborates his theme with the character of Doctor Manette.
Early on in the novel, Lorry holds an imaginary conversation with him in which he says that Manette has been “recalled to life. ” As this statement implies, the doctor’s eighteen-year imprisonment has constituted a death of sorts. Lucie’s love enables Manette’s spiritual renewal, and her maternal cradling of him on her breast reinforces this notion of rebirth. Resurrection in A Tale of Two Cities Resurrection is a powerful theme found throughout the plot of A Tale of Two Cities. Many of the characters in the novel are involved with the intertwining themes of love, redemption, and good versus evil.
The theme of resurrection involves certain aspects of all of these themes and brings the story together. Dr. Manette is the first person to experience resurrection in A Tale of Two Cities. He is taken away from his pregnant wife and then imprisoned for eighteen very long years. Over the years, his condition deteriorates until he forgets his real name and mindlessly cobbles shoes to pass the time. In Book the First, he is released by the French government and then put in the care of Monsieur Defarge. He is suddenly recalled to life(19, 35).
However, his rebirth has just begun and does not become complete until he is reunited with his daughter; Lucy Manette. In Book the Second; The Golden Thread, the resurrection theme appears several times. At the start of this book, Charles Darnay is on trial for treason in England. He has been traveling back and forth between France and England and is thought to be a spy. The people in the crowd are sure that he will be found guilty, the punishment for this crime being death. Darnay is saved by the ingeniousness of Sydney Carton, and he too is suddenly resurrected or recalled to life.
In both Book the Second and Book the Third, the reader gets different perspectives of the resurrection theme. Jerry Cruncher is a body-snatcher and he refers to his late night activities as though it is an honest trade. His son knows of his father’s nocturnal activities and expresses his desire to follow in his fathers footsteps: Oh, Father, I should so like to be a resurrection-man when I’m quite growed up! (166). This parodies the resurrection theme because it is a simple physical resurrection of corpses from the graveyard with seemingly little meaning.
The reader later realizes the significance of the activities of the resurrection-man in Book the Third. In the battle of good versus evil in A Tale of Two Cities, good tends to resurrect or be resurrected, while the forces of evil mimic or parody the resurrection theme. This is shown twice in the novel. Old Foulon, the evil French aristocrat, fakes his own death so that he will not be slaughtered by the revolution. He is found later, alive, and is murdered anyway. This pattern of false death and false resurrection is also followed by Roger Cly.
He too is evil, faking his death and being reborn as a spy again in a different country. In Book the Third, the resurrection theme plays a pivotal role in the development of the plot. Miss Pross recognizes the spy Barsad as her lost brother, Solomon. In the eyes of Miss Pross, Solomon is resurrected and her brother is restored. Sydney Carton meets Barsad and shortly after, Jerry Cruncher reveals to them that Roger Cly is not dead. Cruncher knows this through his honest trade of body-snatching. This allows Barsad to be manipulated by Sydney Carton so that Darnay might be saved from death once again.
Sydney Carton is the character that is most involved with the theme of resurrection in A Tale of Two Cities. Carton is a man of very little self esteem, but a tremendous amount of courage and devotion. Carton is the man who helped to resurrect Charles Darnay in England, but it would not be the only time he would save Darnay’s life. Carton has led a miserable life and he has always looked up to Darnay. In Sydney Carton, the theme of love is deeply involved with the theme of resurrection. He is in love with Lucy Manette, even after she marries Charles Darnay.
His love for Lucy is similar to the knights during the age of chivalry. He vows to give his life for her or anyone she loves. Carton soon realizes that he may have to make good on the promise he made to Lucy. Darnay is taken prisoner for a second time in France and Carton knows that the French rebels will stop at nothing to kill him this time. Carton realizes that he may be able to use his influence over Barsad to switch places with Darnay. Carton looks remarkably similar to Darnay and he knows that this may be his only chance to save Darnay.
As Carton organizes the switch, the inner purpose of his actions can be seen. Sydney Carton has never succeeded in life like he wanted. His vow to Lucy wasn’t the only thing that drove him to endanger his own life, he also saw it as a way to redemption. The switch is done successfully and Carton then realizes fully what he has done. He does not back away from his inevitable death, he embraces it. He becomes peaceful and prophetic as he befriends a women who has also been unjustly sentenced to death by the bloodthirsty mob. Carton is content in knowing that his action will allow Lucy to live happily.
In his final moments before death, Carton is portrayed as a sort of Messiah. He is giving up his life so that others may enjoy theirs. Just before he is beheaded, the words of Jesus are mentioned; I am the Resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die(366). After Carton is beheaded, Darnay and his family escape to England. The reader gets a brief glimpse of their life after they escape and how Sydney Carton is literally resurrected.
Sydney Carton’s resurrection and redemption are described as how he might describe them: I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in the path of life which was once mine. I see him winning it so well that my name is made illustrious by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it faded away. I see him, foremost of the just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name, with a forehead I know, to this place… and I hear him tell the child my story, with a tender and faltering voice. 367) Carton lives on and with the end of the book the final resurrection occurs. Criticism of this book comments that effortless running on-and-on is rare in the major novels of the middle period, including A Tale of Two Cities (Guerard 150). This means that every thing, like the separate themes intertwining, have a specific purpose in the novel. The classic themes of love, redemption, and good versus evil are all included in the closing use of the resurrection theme, uniting and unifying the plot of the novel, capturing and adding to Dickens’s style of writing.
Sydney Carton twice saves Darnay; first from prison and then from death. Charles Darnay is a wealthy aristocrat, but he chooses to live a more modest life. He marries Lucy Manette, Sydney Carton’s love. In the beginning of the book, Darnay is put on trial for treason, though he really has not done anything wrong. Sydney Carton is the clerk for Darnay’s attorney. Things do not look hopeful for Charles, but then the court notices a remarkable resemblance of Darnay to Carton. Darnay is luckily set free because of this similarity. Had Carton not been present, Charles would have almost surely been found guilty.
In the narration, “… Mr. Charles Darnay-just released congratulating him on his escape from death (59),” we see how much of a difference Carton made in Darnay’s life. Darnay is also later imprisoned and sentenced to death in France because of something his uncle and father did many years before. Though he tried to right these wrongs by confronting the family his relatives hurt, he could not. Although he failed, it was another attempt at achieving social justice. All hope is lost after every attempt to set Darnay free ends up in failure.
The day of the execution, Carton has a plan of his own that is completely unexpected. He goes to the prison and trades places with Charles Darnay. Darnay safely leaves the prison while Carton stays in his place, awaiting his own death. Sydney does this because of his promise to Lucy earlier, that he would do anything for her or for anyone dear to her. Carton sees that Darnay has a family to go home to, while he does not. This serves as the perfect opportunity for Sydney to make his life meaningful, allowing a person with purpose to live on while strengthening the theme of social justice.