A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

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Themes and Colors
Tyranny and Revolution Theme Icon
Secrecy and Surveillance Theme Icon
Fate and History Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Resurrection Theme Icon
Imprisonment Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Tale of Two Cities, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fate and History Theme Icon

Madame Defarge with her knitting and Lucie Manette weaving her "golden thread" both resemble the Fates, goddesses from Greek mythology who literally controlled the "threads" of human lives. As the presence of these two Fate figures suggests, A Tale of Two Cities is deeply concerned with human destiny. In particular, the novel explores how the fates of individuals are shaped by their personal histories and the broader forces of political history. For instance, both Charles and Dr. Manette try to shape and change history. Charles seeks to escape from his family's cruel aristocratic history and make his own way in London, but is inevitably drawn "like a magnet" back to France where he must face his family's past. Later in the novel, Dr. Manette seeks to use his influence within the Revolution to try to save Charles's life from the revolutionaries, but Dr. Manette's own forgotten past resurfaces in the form of an old letter that dooms Charles. Through these failures of characters to change the flow of history or to escape their own pasts, A Tale of Two Cities suggests that the force of history can be broken not by earthly appeals to justice or political influence, but only through Christian self-sacrifice, such as Carton's self-sacrifice that saves Charles at the end of the novel.

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Fate and History Quotes in A Tale of Two Cities

Below you will find the important quotes in A Tale of Two Cities related to the theme of Fate and History.
Book 1, Chapter 1 Quotes
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Through these famous first lines of Dickens's novel, he sets the scene for one of the major focal points that the book will return to again and again. Today, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times" has become so well known as to almost count as a cliché, but it's worth asking what Dickens really means in the passage. How does this series of oppositions function? Each time the narrator attempts to characterize one aspect of the contemporary age in which he's living, he modifies it, backtracking with its precise opposite. "Epoch" and "season" suggest that the book will deal with a specific moment in history, but the words also suggest a cyclical nature to history, in which certain elements inevitably return.

Indeed, there's a tension throughout the passage between the chronicle of a particular moment and a sweeping characterization of history in general. By adding the pronoun "we" into the passage, Dickens broadens the scope of this process, even as he also seems to limit it, again, to a certain time and place. Still, this series of oppositions seems to suggest the futility of gaining any final, conclusive perspective on historical events – or at least one that would convince us that we humans are in control. Instead, each time we try to get a handle on vast historical processes, they slip out of our reach, as if unfolding beyond our will and beyond our capacity to fit them into available frameworks.

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Book 1, Chapter 5 Quotes
The children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sign, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and started up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat. Hunger was the inscription on the baker's shelves, written in every small loaf of his scanty stock of bad bread; at the sausage-shop, in every dead-dog preparation that was offered for sale.
Page Number: 32-33
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrative moves to Paris, where Lucie Manette will meet her long-lost father, and as it does so, the narrator lingers on the setting crossed by the group from England. This evocative scene is powerful in itself, but it is also significant in terms of what it foreshadows for the rest of the book's plot.

Hunger here is personified, described as "pushed out" and staring down. As a character itself, hunger can, we realize, have just as enormous effects in history as a human figure. The narrator describes the state of hunger as a state of desperation, so critical that it doesn't seem sustainable. Indeed, the desperation described in this passage will help to explain much of what takes place later, as those suffering reach a breaking point – while suggesting that such a breaking point may always have been inevitable in such a situation.

Book 2, Chapter 4 Quotes
Only his daughter had the power of charming this black brooding from his mind. She was the golden thread that united him to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery: and the sound of her voice, the light of her face, the touch of her hand, had a strong beneficial influence with him almost always.
Related Characters: Dr. Alexandre Manette, Lucie Manette
Related Symbols: Knitting and the Golden Thread
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Dr. Manette has been "resurrected" into new life by the care of his daughter Lucie, not all of the frightening power of his imprisonment has left him. He still tends to be brooding and gloomy, unable to entirely shake himself of the madness that had once enveloped his life. Still, he is clearly aware of and grateful for Lucie's strong-willed direction.

As a "golden thread," a charmed version of the threads woven by the Fates that direct our lives and the course of history, Lucie seems to possess the power to turn at least individual lives for the better, based only on her own love and commitment. Nonetheless, it is not yet clear whether or not Lucie's golden thread will prove more powerful than the Fates or history, or whether it is just one part of a greater universal plan, one in which her small actions ultimately cannot undo the all-powerful workings of Fate or history.

Book 2, Chapter 9 Quotes
"Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend," observed the Marquis, "will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof," looking up to it, "shuts out the sky."
Related Characters: Marquis St. Evrémonde (speaker), Charles Darnay (a.k.a. Charles Evrémonde)
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Charles has confided to his uncle, the Marquis d'Evrémonde, about his love for a "sacred object," Lucie, but the Marquis quickly dismisses his idealistic goals. While Charles has embraced the new Enlightenment philosophy of equality and freedom – so much so that he is struggling to reconcile his own heritage with his beliefs – his uncle is steadfastly committed to the aristocratic tyranny that is all he knows (and which benefits him so immensely). 

Here, the Marquis suggests that his own beliefs are part of a greater truth about history. Only by repressing people who are weaker can those in power hope to stay that way. By blocking out the sky, as it were, aristocrats can even make people lose their hope for a better life, implying that what they experience is all there is. But the Marquis's words also implicitly suggest that aristocrats may well be in danger if they do fail to "shut out the sky," and if people begin to hope for the possibility of a better life.

Book 2, Chapter 16 Quotes
Another darkness was closing in as surely, when the church bells, then ringing pleasantly in many an airy steeple over France, should be melted into thundering cannon; when the military drums should be beating to drown a wretched voice, that night all potent as the voice of Power and Plenty, Freedom and Life. So much was closing in about the women who sat knitting, knitting, that they their very selves were closing in around a structure yet unbuilt, where they were to sit knitting, knitting, counting dropping heads.
Related Symbols: Knitting and the Golden Thread
Page Number: 193-194
Explanation and Analysis:

The would-be revolutionaries have failed to save the life of the Marquis d'Evrémonde's murderer, Jacques, and now they are beginning to plot in revenge – in what will turn out to be a tragic and violent cycle in which many of the revolutionaries become no better than the tyrants they hope to depose. Here, the narrator steps back from the immediate plot at hand to suggest larger historical processes at work across all of France. Describing the darkness "closing in," the narrator suggests that these processes are or have become inevitable – there is no turning back from the process of revolution now. 

Another way to describe this inevitability is through the workings of fate, which is here, as elsewhere, linked to the image of women knitting – in particular, Madame Defarge stitching the names of those to be killed, but also the classical Fates threading out the plot of mortal lives. The way these knitters "close around" a structure being built creates a mental image of a kind of prison, which emerges as a metaphor for the coming revolution, the impossibility of stopping it, and the cycle of violence it unleashes that no one can escape.

Book 2, Chapter 24 Quotes
Like the mariner in the old story, the winds and streams had driven him within the influence of the Loadstone Rock, and it was drawing him to itself, and he must go. Everything that arose before his mind drifted him on, faster and faster, more and more steadily, to the terrible attraction. His latent uneasiness had been … that he who could not fail to know that he was better than they, was not there, trying to do something to stay bloodshed, and assert the claims of mercy and humanity.
Related Characters: Charles Darnay (a.k.a. Charles Evrémonde)
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:

Charles has received a letter from the Evrémonde family servant, Gabelle, who has been jailed merely because of his association with aristocracy, though he has been attempting to help Charles to work for good. Now Charles realizes that he must return to Paris, and that he has a chance not to escape his aristocratic heritage but to redeem it by doing everything he can to mitigate the violence of the revolution. Here the narrator refers to the famous poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Coleridge: the Loadstone Rock, in this poem and in elsewhere, exerts an almost mystical, but also scientifically magnetic, influence, drawing objects to itself. 

For Charles, his return to Paris is part of his individual trajectory, an active choice made in order to reduce the violence of revolution and to make his own mark against the tyranny of both sides. At the same time, however, the comparison to the Loadstone Rock – that "terrible attraction" – suggests that Charles is ultimately subject to the same forces of fate and history as everyone else. He cannot but help playing his role in this process just like the others, and further suggests that regardless of the role he intends to play, he will end up playing whatever role history has in store for him.

Book 3, Chapter 1 Quotes
Not a mean village closed upon him, not a common barrier dropped across the road behind him, but he knew it to be another iron door in the series that was barred between him and England. The universal watchfulness so encompassed him, that if he had been taken in a net, or were being forwarded to his destination in a cage, he could not have felt his freedom more completely gone.
Related Characters: Charles Darnay (a.k.a. Charles Evrémonde)
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

As Charles makes his way from London to Paris, he is increasingly aghast by how the values of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity that were supposed to have motivated the revolution have been distorted out of all recognition. He is suspicious of everything and everyone around him, not knowing whom he can trust, and unsure of the course history will take next.

At the same time, his journey to France, though undertaken of his own will, begins to seem more and more like a prison sentence, as with each step Charles's path seems to become more irrevocable. The further he goes into revolutionary France, the less able he is to turn back, to change course. Instead it seems that he is walking into his own fate – not in a positive, optimistic way, as if he were choosing his own destiny, but rather as though he is willingly walking into a trap of inevitability and will be able to find no way out.

Book 3, Chapter 10 Quotes
The boy's eyes, which had been fixed on mine, slowly turned to the looker-on, and I saw in the two faces that all he said was true. The two opposing kinds of pride confronting one another, I can see, even in this Bastille; the gentleman's, all negligent indifference; the peasants, all trodden-down sentiment, and passionate revenge.
Related Characters: Dr. Alexandre Manette (speaker), Marquis St. Evrémonde
Page Number: 337
Explanation and Analysis:
This passage is part of a somewhat complex framed narrative – that is, a story within a story (within a story!). Monsieur Defarge is reading aloud a letter written by Dr. Manette, in which he related the story of a young boy horrifically mistreated by the Evrémonde family, and who soon died at their hands. Writing the letter from the Bastille, where he was imprisoned, Dr. Manette drew a broader lesson from the conflict between the peasant boy and the aristocratic Evrémondes. In a tone of remarkable prescience, given the way that revolution would develop afterwards, the letter suggests that the "negligent indifference" of the aristocrats would clash with the "passionate revenge" of the peasants until the conflict would reach a breaking point, and violence would inevitably result. 
Book 3, Chapter 14 Quotes
There were many women at that time, upon whom the time laid a dreadfully disfiguring hand; but, there was not one among them more to be dreaded than this ruthless woman, now taking her way along the streets … imbued from her childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, and an inveterate hatred of a class, opportunity had developed her into a tigress. She was absolutely without pity.
Related Characters: The Vengeance
Page Number: 375
Explanation and Analysis:

La Vengeance strides through the streets, heading towards Lucie's apartment in the hopes of gaining evidence against her that will be of use in condemning Lucie to death. While we have now learned that Madame Defarge was the sister of the peasant family ruthlessly tortured by the Evrémondes, the book portrays her and her sidekick as still more ruthless, the tyranny of aristocracy only begetting the even more pitiless tyranny of revolutionaries. Just as the narrator has personified objects like the guillotine before, this passage portrays the woman as a powerful but inhuman concept, that of Vengeance.

In addition, by depicting the woman as one extreme example of a nonetheless widespread type, the book underlines once again just how widespread the terror of the revolution has become. In a way, Madame Defarge's terrible childhood and many like it have set this inevitable process in motion, though the book does not as a result excuse the actions of people like her and her sidekick.

Book 3, Chapter 15 Quotes
Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day's wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. … Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.
Related Symbols: Wine, Guillotine
Page Number: 384
Explanation and Analysis:

As Sydney Carton's execution approaches, the carts are described with an allusion to the carrying of Jesus on the cross to his own crucifixion, similarly paraded through the town and subject to ridicule and condemnation. Once again, the guillotine is personified, becoming the image of pure evil itself with "insatiable" hunger for blood. And once again, wine is described in relation to blood, though here the metaphor is slightly different: "wine" for the guillotine is the bodies of people that will be killed under the guillotine's power, with which the guillotine nourishes itself.

This dark, haunting scene concludes with the suggestion that these events are not limited to one time and place alone. Any time there is boundless oppression and injustice, the passage suggests, people will rise up against it, and they will be just as susceptible to replacing injustice with injustice, oppression with oppression, in turn. While the book never excuses the revolutionaries' violence, it does place the root of the inevitable process of tyranny and revolution in the original oppression of those in power.