Themes are overarching ideas and beliefs that the writers use to convey them to their readers. Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities has themes that are not only universal but also highly relevant to any time. Some of the major themes of A Tale of Two Cities have been discussed below.
Themes in A Tale of Two Cities
The theme of resurrection and change is one of the major themes that seem to emerge on both social and personal level. The character of Sydney Carton and his death saves the life of Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette. He also saves his name with his heroic act of going to the gallows to save Darnay. The end of the novel is suggestive about him regarding his Christ-like resurrection, as he becomes an icon of sacrifice and heroism for those he has sacrificed his life for.
On a social level, the old status of France appears to give way to new France where Carton has sacrificed his life for others. His final act of the great sacrifice tells how Paris and the society in which he has shown this example will see resurrection. Despite his death and violence in France against and by the aristocracy, the revival of peace and better society echoes throughout the novel.
Sacrifice is another dominant theme along with resurrection and an integral part of a happy life in A Tale of Two Cities. The novel presents the need for sacrifice on personal as well as social level. The revolutionaries sacrifice their own lives and love to bring revolution. The guard, when he arrests Darnay, reminds Manette that the interest of the country overrules everything else. Madame Defarge also teaches her husband the same thing when he expresses his love for Dr. Manette. On a personal level, Sydney Carton’s personal sacrifice brings happiness for Lucie and Darnay. Therefore, the need for sacrifice with resurrection is an important theme of the novel.
Violence and Oppression
Violence and oppression are two other major themes of the novel A Tale of Two Cities. The readers can see that the revolutions bring torture, violence and mass killings. Although Dickens seems to support the revolution, his attitude is not clear about the evils committed by the revolutionaries. The viciousness of the aristocracy, which Evremonde demonstrates, appears to be the major reason for criticism.
Similarly, Marquis’ exploitation of the peasants is shown in the poor light. However, Dickens has also shown their vengeance following the revolution in which various innocents are crushed such as the Manettes. In fact, seeking revenge after the revolution is to burgeon another cycle of violence, revenge, and oppression. The depiction of the dance with weapons being ground seems to herald a cycle of senseless killing and massacre. Even the tribunals set up to punish the aristocracy worked working without a set law.
There are two classes in France before the revolution; the peasants who are at the receiving end and the aristocrats, the exploiters. When the revolution takes place, the whole social fabric experiences a rude jolt. The peasants become no less violent than the aristocracy against them before the revolution because of the long-suppressed suffering. The rape of the peasants through the Marquis in the pre-revolution era reverses in the post-revolution era. The class struggle becomes apparent in the shape of the wine shop of Madam Defarge and Mr. Defarge which becomes a hub of the anti-aristocratic forces. The burning of the chateau of Evremonde is a symbol of the fall of the aristocratic norms. The outcome of this mess comes in the shape of summary execution through guillotines like that of Carton and vengeance as Mrs. Defarge shows toward the Manette.
Theme of Fate
A Tale of Two Cities highlights another theme that is fate. The mention of time in the very start of the novel presents the idea of fate intertwined with the land and time. Dicken’s method of referring to trees to form a guillotine in France shows that something terrible was going to happen. Lucie, though predicts correctly about the happenings, is fortunate in the end when Darnay is freed. Although Darnay is caught when he returns to France but is freed after Carton sacrifices his life for him. Even women were not safe after the revolution and as mentioned, “There were many women at that time, upon whom the time laid a dreadfully disfiguring hand”.
The theme of social injustice is intertwined with revolution and class discrimination. The novel, A Tale of Two Cities, presents this theme through different characters. Dr. Manette does not deserve to be incarcerated for such a long time. The peasant boy is not destined to be killed and then left deliberately by Marquis St. Evremonde. This is an extreme type of social injustice that the boy meets. Moreover, the social injustice going on in Paris is put into contrast with justice in London where everybody has to accept the rule of law while in Paris even persons like Darnay and Manette have to go through torture and imprisonment in spite of their innocence.
Family and its preservation is another major theme of the novel. It is clear from Darnay’s advances toward Lucie and her trip to Paris to meet her incarcerated father. Although she knows the risks involved and also that her father has lost his memory, she undertakes the journey to meet him. Even Marquis Evremonde is concerned with the family reputation despite knowing that they have done wrong as he says, “we did a world of wrong.” On the other hand, Defarge, too, plays a vital role in the pre and post-revolution times using animosity to preserve their family preservation.
Reversals of Roles
Revolutions not only bring bloodshed but also reverse the roles of people and classes. The poor become cruel and barbaric, while the aristocrats and exploiters suffer at their hands. Despite being an aristocrat, Darnay becomes a prisoner when he returns to Paris. However, he is freed when Carton sacrifices himself for Darnay due to his love for Lucie. Their roles reverse by the end of the novel, and Sydney Carton replaces Darnay to be hanged.
Love and Hate
The novel also presents the theme of love and hate and their interaction. Madam Defarge represents hatred on account of her past sufferings. Carton and Darnay, on the other hand, exhibit love which they shower on Lucie while Carton sacrifices his life for love. Lucie’s love for her father brings him to life from his prolonged incarceration. Therefore, love and hatred go hand in hand in the novel.
The nature of a revolution and its impact is another theme of the novel. France was going through an upheaval. The whole social fabric has turned topsy-turvy as the poor people like Defarge became revengeful and the aristocrats like Evremonde had fallen. Even Darnay has to go through many challenged due to his family connections. The killing spree has led to the deaths of innocents and sinners alike.