A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

by

Charles Dickens

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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.

Tyranny and Revolution

Much of the action of A Tale of Two Cities takes place in Paris during the French Revolution, which began in 1789. In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens shows how the tyranny of the French aristocracy—high taxes, unjust laws, and a complete disregard for the well-being of the poor—fed a rage among the commoners that eventually erupted in revolution. Dickens depicts this process most clearly through his portrayal of the decadent Marquis St.

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Secrecy and Surveillance

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…

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Fate and History

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

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Sacrifice

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…

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Resurrection

Closely connected to the theme of sacrifice is the promise of resurrection. Christianity teaches that Christ was resurrected into eternal life for making the ultimate sacrifice (his death) for mankind. Near the end of A Tale of Two Cities, Carton remembers a Christian prayer: "I am the resurrection and the life." As he goes to the guillotine to sacrifice himself, Carton has a vision of his own resurrection, both in heaven and on earth…

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Imprisonment

In the novel, the Bastille symbolizes the nobility's abuse of power, exemplified by the unjust imprisonment of Dr. Manette by Marquis St. Evrémonde. Yet the Bastille is not the only prison in A Tale of Two Cities. The revolutionaries also unjustly imprison Charles in La Force prison. Through this parallel, Dickens suggests that the French revolutionaries come to abuse their power just as much as the nobility did.

The theme of imprisonment also…

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