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Gifted English 3rd
February 10, 1999
In the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, one of the important themes is that of death and renewal.
The idea of being 'recalled to life' penetrates every aspect of the novel. Characters 'recalled' from either a symbolic or impending death include Dr. Manette, Charles Darnay, and, in an ironic way, Roger Cly. Jerry Cruncher, the 'resurrection man', brings the dead back into the world in a grisly way; Lucie Manette, gently restoring her father's memory, brings the doctor back in a loving way. (Morrice 30)
Dickens uses many examples throughout the novel that are sometimes very subtle and may be overlooked quite easily, yet other times are quite obvious. Although this theme mainly focuses on the characters, it can also can be applied to the French ideals and the government during the Revolution.
One of the most evident examples of life coming out of death is in the character of Dr. Alexandre Manette. The symbolic death of Dr. Manette is his confinement in a small cell in the Bastille for eighteen years. Dickens gives a vivid description and emphasizes the hopelessness and misery of Manette's imprisonment:
The faintness of his voice was pitiable and dreadful. It was not the faintness of physical weakness, though confinement and hard fare no doubt had their part in it. Its deplorable peculiarity was that of the faintness of solitude and disuse…So expressive it was, of a hopeless and lost creature, that a famished traveler would have remembered home and friends in such a tone before lying down to die. (70)
His only daughter Lucie was under the impression that he was dead, and in Mr. Jarvis Lorry's thoughts he thinks of Manette as being buried alive. These small details might be implications to the impression of Manette's death (Charles 87).
Manette is renewed when Lucie restores him to life by devoting all her love and time to make her father happy. She alone makes him happy with her affection and unconditional love. Lucie becomes "the golden thread that united him to a past beyond his misery, and to a present beyond his misery" (Great Writers 21).
The life of Charles Darnay is on the line more than once in the novel, and each time he is saved by Sidney Carton. When his character is first introduced, he is on trial in England for treason. If convicted, Darnay is doomed to face the gruesome death of being "drawn on a hurdle to be half hanged, and then taken down and sliced before his own face, and then his inside will be taken out and burnt while he looks on, then his head will be chopped off, and last he'll be cut into quarters" (Dickens 91). Although Sidney Carton is not a friend to Darnay and in fact admits a dislike towards him, he instills a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors by pointing out their striking resemblance. This reasonable doubt is enough to set Darnay free, and he is saved. Then, when Darnay is imprisoned as an emigrant in France, he is condemned to die by the guillotine. He is acquitted once due to the influence of Dr. Manette, but is put back into prison to die the next day. Sidney Carton uses his resemblance once again to save Darnay and again is saved.
The Dictionary of Literary Characters describes Carton as a dissolute but good-hearted barrister, who is the idlest and most unpromising of men (121). Carton describes himself as a disappointed drudge and he is extremely unhappy with his wasted life and wasted talents. He spends nights crying about how his life could have been. He has neither loved nor been loved. One might even say that his life was death in itself.
Lucie Manette inspires a transformation in the heart of Sidney Carton. He yearns to be the better person he always wish he could be, and in meeting Lucie has now found a purpose in his life. In the end, Sidney Carton sacrifices his life for Charles Darnay in the name of his love for Lucie, which is death eternal. Yet, at this point the spirit of Carton is released and he is renewed. There are associations with Carton and resurrection throughout the novel. Carton
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