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.
Sacrifice Theme Icon

A Tale of Two Cities is full of examples of sacrifice, on both a personal and national level. Dr. Manette sacrifices his freedom in order to preserve his integrity. Charles sacrifices his family wealth and heritage in order to live a life free of guilt for his family's awful behavior. The French people are willing to sacrifice their own lives to free themselves from tyranny. In each case, Dickens suggests that, while painful in the short term, sacrifice leads to future strength and happiness. Dr. Manette is reunited with his daughter and gains a position of power in the French Revolution because of his earlier incarceration in the Bastille. Charles wins the love of Lucie. And France, Dickens suggests at the end of the novel, will emerge from its terrible and bloody revolution to a future of peace and prosperity.

Yet none of these sacrifices can match the most important sacrifice in the novel—Sydney Carton's decision to sacrifice his life in order to save the lives of Lucie, Charles, and their family. The other characters' actions fit into the secular definition of "sacrifice," in which a person gives something up for noble reasons. Carton's sacrifice fits the Christian definition of the word. In Christianity, God sacrifices his son Jesus in order to redeem mankind from sin. Carton's sacrifice breaks the grip of fate and history that holds Charles, Lucie, Dr. Manette, and even, as the novel suggests, the revolutionaries.

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Sacrifice 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 Sacrifice.
Book 1, Chapter 6 Quotes
If you hear in my voice … any resemblance to a voice that once was sweet music in your ears, weep for it, weep for it! If you touch, in touching my hair, anything that recalls a beloved head that lay on your breast when you were young and free, weep for it, weep for it! If, when I hint to you of a Home that is before us, where I will be true to you with all my duty and with all my faithful service, I bring back the remembrance of a Home long desolate, while your poor heart pined away, weep for it, weep for it!
Related Characters: Lucie Manette (speaker), Dr. Alexandre Manette
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene of reunification between Manette and his daughter, the pathos of Manette's sorry condition joins with the bittersweet attitude of Lucie in finding her father, whom she long thought dead, alive but old and confused. Manette seems to have recognized something of his wife in Lucie, and Lucie clings to this possibility, suggesting that she has come, in a way, to replace her mother, and to offer her father a chance for a new life with her. By creating a correspondence between her own face and that of her mother, but also by making a contrast between Manette's former desolate home and the new, happy home that she hopes to make for him, Lucie stresses that it is possible to gain second chances.

For Lucie, it is as if her father had risen from the dead, since she never knew him to be alive. Learning of his presence is such a powerful feeling for her that it seems to be almost a miracle, spurring her to want to sacrifice anything for the sake of her father. This sentiment is only further prompted by her recognition of his prison-like environment, from which she hopes to rescue him.

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Book 2, Chapter 5 Quotes
Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbing to a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears.
Related Characters: Sydney Carton
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

Carton is obviously in a more powerful position than Charles, who is on trial for his life, and yet Carton still envies the man, who seems to incarnate that "ambition, self-denial, and perseverance" that he has somehow lost. It is not clear exactly what has happened to Sydney Carton that has made him go awry: here, the narrator uses largely metaphorical language to suggest the gap between Carton's still romanticized, hopeful desires, and the state in which he now finds himself. Carton imagines just for an instant a kind of heaven on earth, but this vision cannot be reconciled with the "wilderness" that mostly directs his life.

Book 2, Chapter 13 Quotes
For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. If my career were of that better kind that there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you. Try to hold me in your mind, at some quiet times, as ardent and sincere in this one thing. The time will come, the time will not be long in coming, when new ties will be formed about you […] O Miss Manette, […] when you see your own bright beauty springing up anew at your feet, think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!
Related Characters: Sydney Carton (speaker), Lucie Manette
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

Sydney Carton has gone to visit Lucie and finds himself proclaiming his love for her, at the same time that he recognizes, though in a way that is excruciating for him, how little he deserves her because of his (still mysterious) past. Lucie nonetheless expresses a conviction that Carton can lead a better life. Here, Carton expresses his profound gratefulness to Lucie by vowing to sacrifice anything for her, even his life. 

Carton's words seem to foretell a moment in the future of great change for Lucie. Perhaps he is thinking of Stryver, or perhaps he's simply realized that Lucie should and will marry someone who deserves her, but he wants to make sure that she knows of his feelings for her. Even if he doesn't realize it, Carton is in fact prophetic, as his vow of sacrifice will indeed have to be tested later on in the novel.

Book 3, Chapter 8 Quotes
Miss Pross recalled soon afterwards, and to the end of her life remembered, that as she pressed her hands on Sydney's arm and looked up in his face, imploring him to do no hurt to Solomon, there was a braced purpose in the arm and a kind of inspiration in the eyes, which not only contradicted his light manner, but changed and raised the man.
Related Characters: Sydney Carton, John Barsad (a.k.a Solomon Pross), Miss Pross
Page Number: 310
Explanation and Analysis:

Sydney Carton has appeared almost out of nowhere and has identified John Barsad to Jerry as Solomon Pross, an opportunistic man who has no principles and will easily betray one side to another. However, he is also the brother of Lucie's servant Miss Pross, and before dealing with Solomon, Carton escorts Miss Pross back home, showing himself to be gallant and polite.

Unlike Solomon, Carton understands that the bonds of family and love can be powerful, so he doesn't dismiss Miss Pross's entreaties to him not to hurt Solomon. Miss Pross is impressed by the inner light and inspiration that seem to emanate from Sydney Carton – a sense of the man that we haven't really seen in him earlier in the book. She does sense the contradiction of this light with his easygoing manner, but this only further makes her recognize how much he must have changed.

Book 3, Chapter 15 Quotes
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die."
Related Characters: Sydney Carton (speaker)
Page Number: 389
Explanation and Analysis:

Earlier, the narrator has suggested that the figure of the Christian cross, signifying forgiveness, resurrection, and sacrifice for a greater cause, has been replaced by the ruthless terror of the guillotine. Now, Sydney Carton's monumental sacrifice suggests that all is not lost. Here, Carton repeats lines spoken by Jesus in the New Testament Gospels, and also repeated at Sunday mass for Christians. As he comforts another woman sentenced to death, and prepares to die himself, he draws solace from these words of faith.

Carton shows himself committed to an alternative view of justice and redemption than that located in the indiscriminate violence of the revolution, and in so doing he offers the hope that a new life, even on Earth as well, might be possible. The novel has powerfully portrayed how violence leads only to more violence, how injustice leads to more injustice, in a kind of historical fate that is impossible to escape. But Carton's sacrifice, following the spirit of Jesus's long ago sacrifice, offers the possibility of a way to end that vicious cycle of violence, through the Christian ideals of forgiveness, mercy, love, and sacrifice.