A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

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Secrecy and Surveillance Theme Analysis

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.
Secrecy and Surveillance Theme Icon

Everybody in A Tale of Two Cities seems to have secrets: Dr. Manette's forgotten history detailed in his secret letter; Charles's secret past as an Evrémonde; Mr. Lorry's tight-lipped attitude about the "business" of Tellson's Bank; Jerry Cruncher's secret profession; and Monsieur and Madame Defarge's underground activities in organizing the Revolution. In part, all this secrecy results from political instability. In the clash between the French aristocracy and revolutionaries, both sides employ spies to find out their enemies' secrets and deal out harsh punishments to anyone suspected of being an enemy. In such an atmosphere, everyone suspects everyone else, and everyone feels that they must keep secrets in order to survive.

Through the secrets kept by different characters, A Tale of Two Cities also explores a more general question about the human condition: what can we really know about other people, including those we're closest to? Even Lucie cannot fathom the depths of Dr. Manette's tortured mind, while Sydney Carton remains a mystery to everybody. Ultimately, through Lucie's example, the novel shows that, in fact, you can't ever know everything about other people. Instead, it suggests that love and faith are the only things that can bridge the gap between two individuals.

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Secrecy and Surveillance 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 Secrecy and Surveillance.
Book 1, Chapter 3 Quotes
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

As the chapter begins, before the narrator returns to the events of the plot, he reflects upon the strangeness at the heart of human relationships. The narrator clarifies this thought by asking the reader to imagine a concrete circumstance, wandering through a "great city" at night. A city is perhaps particularly suited to the narrator's exploration of secrecy, given that it joins thousands or millions of people together in a relatively confined space, and yet these people often don't know each other and don't interact with each other.

However, the narrator is also interested in a slightly different problem – that is, even the people we think we know remain secret to us. Much of this novel will be taken up with characters' secrets, the degree to which fellow characters remain ignorant of those secrets (sometimes tragically so), and the contrast between characters who think they know other people and what they actually know about those people.

Nonetheless, the narrator does not seem to think that there is something necessarily foreign and strange about a person's character: instead, it simply is the case that people can so often remain mysteries to each other, failing to really plumb the depths of another's character. Indeed, the narrator's own task in telling the story presumes that he, at least, can know other people's characters – that he can break through the mystery that so often shrouds human contact.


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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.