Dramatic Irony

A Tale of Two Cities

by

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities: Dramatic Irony 2 key examples

Definition of Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given situation, and that of the... read full definition
Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given... read full definition
Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a... read full definition
Dramatic Irony
Explanation and Analysis—An Honest Tradesman:

Jerry Cruncher spends so many years doing odd jobs for Tellson’s Bank that he becomes a de facto employee of the respectable institution. However, the scrupulous Mr. Lorry of Tellson’s spends almost the entirety of the novel unaware of Cruncher’s secret moonlight occupation as a “resurrection man,” or in other words, a graverobber.

Though the audience learns of Cruncher’s illegal activities early on, Mr. Lorry remains in the dark until Chapter Eight, Book Three, when, in order to unmask the spy Barsad, Cruncher must reveal how he knew that Roger Cly’s coffin was empty. Only then does Mr. Lorry discover that the self-appointed “honest tradesman” is not so honest. The disconnect between what Mr. Lorry knows and what readers know is an example of dramatic irony.

Book 3, Chapter 13
Explanation and Analysis—Sydney's Sacrifice:

Darnay’s ignorance of Carton’s plan to sacrifice himself in Darnay’s place is an instance of dramatic irony. In the prison cell, when Carton asks Darnay to switch clothes with him, the unsuspecting Darnay is as compliant as “a young child in his hands.” Though Darnay writes his wife a long parting letter explaining why he kept his noble birth a secret, Carton forces him to write a new letter, the substance of which Darnay does not understand. The letter contains Carton’s last words to Lucie, and it reads:

If you remember […] the words that passed between us, long ago, you will readily comprehend this when you see it. You do remember them, I know. It is not in your nature to forget them.

Carton’s letter references his long-ago declaration of love to Lucie, an event which Darnay likely knows nothing about. Shockingly enough, Darnay obeys Carton’s unorthodox parting requests without suspecting Carton’s true intention—to die in his stead. Readers, who are familiar with Carton’s earlier promise to sacrifice himself for Lucie, understand the letter’s meaning, though Darnay does not. Darnay’s ignorance casts him in a surprisingly passive role for a romantic hero and imbues the scene with a sense of dramatic irony.

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