Blog-a-Book: ’A Tale of Two Cities’ springs back to life
|by Kristine Steakley|
As promised, Gina and I are taking over A Tale of Two Cities from Catherine and will be talking about some of the great themes in the book. One of the things that makes Dickens a genius as a writer is the way he takes a theme and weaves it through an entire book. The very first thing we know about Pip in Great Expectations is that he is an orphan, and it turns out that being alone in the world is a major theme in that novel. The opening scenes of Bleak House introduce us to the chancery court, a place that will symbolize the fruitlessness of hanging one's hopes on improbable dreams.
Likewise, A Tale of Two Cities opens with its own theme. The first section is titled "Recalled to Life," referring to the enigmatic message that informs a banker that one of his clients has been released from prison in France after years of captivity, years in which he had often been presumed dead. This restoration of life where none was thought to be found is one of the major themes of the book. Dickens builds on his theme in the early chapters by referring to the American Revolution, the birth of a new country, and of course his entire book is set in the French Revolution, from which would spring a new French republic where there had once been a monarchy. In the days of the revolution, it would have been difficult to imagine that anything lifelike could emerge from the carnage.
In chapter 5 of the first section, set several years before the French Revolution took hold, Dickens wrote of a cask of wine that breaks in the street, causing the starving Parisians to crawl in the dust to catch a few drops:
The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground on the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled. It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes. The hands of the man who sawed the wood left red marks on the billets; and the forehead of the woman who nursed her baby was stained with the stain of the old rag she wound about her head again [after using it to soak up some wine]. Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a nightcap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees--BLOOD.
The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there.
The prisoner who had lived so long in a dark prison that his mind was half-gone is nursed back to life by a daughter who thought she was an orphan. Mr. Darnay, whom we meet as he stands trial for suspected treason on account of his mysterious trips between England and France, is given new life by a jury verdict of "Acquitted." Meanwhile, the indolent Mr. Carton is brought to life by his awakening interest in the pretty Miss Lucie Manette. And all this just through chapter 5 of "Book the Second."