A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is an immortal story about politics and status. Many have heard of this book, but many run and hide from the notion of actually reading it. From a distance, the task seems rather daunting, but after further inspection, we can see that A Tale of Two Cities is actually a very exciting, well written book. Dickens uses many tools to capture the readers attention. He often pokes fun at his characters, uses beautiful description, and even tells us of the time period.
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Right from the beginning, Dickens sheds light on the humorous qualities of his otherwise serious characters. When we first hear of the business man, Mr. Lorry, the old man is expecting company. He flattens down his wig, but that “was most unnecessary, for nothing could be flatter than its shining surface was before,” (27). Dickens also seems to dislike another man’s hair, saying that it was “like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair, that the best of players at leap-frog might declined him, as the most dangerous man in the world to go over.”(17). Later on we read about Jerry and Jerry Cruncher. Like father, like son, they walk down the street “with two heads as near to one another as the two eyes of each were, bore a considerable resemblance to monkeys.”(60). Although most of the humor is directed toward physical appearances, Dickens also mocks some of the strange habits of people. One of them describing Monseigneur’s extravagant meals: “but, his morning’s chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur, without the aid of four strong men besides the Cook.” (105).
Along with his humorous writing, Dickens is also able to pain pictures in our heads. He talks about a time where wine spilled over “the rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing every way, and designed, one might have thought, expressly to lame all living creatures that approached them.” (31). Dickens also takes time to describe many characters. Often he talks about their expressive foreheads or a man’s “markings in his nose, curved with a sarcasm that looked handsomely diabolic.”(127). Not only does Dickens expertly describe settings and appearances, but also the state in which the people of a certain town live. He describes their situation then and to come as he tells us that “they were at sea, and the ship and crew were in peril of tempest.”(34).
Since A Tale of Two Cities takes place during the years leading up the French Revolution, we readers don’t often understand what that time period was like. Dickens does a wonderful job of illustrating this time for us. In this time, many of the people were in poverty. This meant that some turned to one many vice in particular to forget their troubles: “Those were drinking days, and most men drank hard.”(88). We see those in power start to abuse their power as well. In those times, the thought was “Death was Nature’s remedy for all things, and why not Legislation’s?” (56). The law just assumed that death was the answer to all. After this abuse, however, the people stand up for themselves. Dickens foreshadows to this when he says, “For, the time was to come, when the scarecrows of that region should have watched the lamplighter, in their idleness and hunger, so long, as to conceive the idea of improving on his method, and hauling up men by ropes and pulleys, to flare upon the darkness of their condition.”(34).
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a classic for good reason. The humorously portrayed characters, descriptions, and the politics of the time are three of the many reasons why A Tale of Two Cities is worth the read.
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