A Tale of Two Cities Essay
In ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, Charles Dickens creates a significant atmosphere in every major event of the plot, in several different ways; firstly, the ghostly mood of the messenger’s arrival at the Dover Mail provides strong indications at things of the future. Then, Dickens uses actions of characters to build an atmosphere in Dr Manette’s room in the tower in France. Within this, Dickens attributes these places to different concepts and ideas.
When Jerry travels to find the Dover mail so that he can give a message to Mr Lorry, Dickens creates a very mysterious, gloomy atmosphere that seems to allude to a darker end. Firstly, the mist is ‘an evil spirit’, which suggests that it is alive or has ‘unfinished business’ on earth. It suggests that the mist has an agenda, and given that it is ‘trying’ to engulf the carriage in itself, it appears that it has some sort of agenda against something or someone in the carriage. Secondly, everyone on the mail suspects each other of something; they don’t know anything about each other because the passengers feel that that is information that could be used against them. Both of these things don’t necessarily mean anything, but it plants the idea in the reader’s mind that something significant is about to happen, specifically something bad, involving someone on the Dover Mail.
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In the attic, where Dr Manette is staying following his release from 18 years of captivity, a rather different atmosphere is created. The three men who are being shown Manette stay by the doorway, rather than going in, and also, when Lucie Manette enters she doesn’t go straight to him but she ‘crept around the wall’ to the edge of the room. It suggests something at least mysterious, if not ominous, about Manette and he seems to be literally repelling people from him, all except Lucie in the end. One could argue that this is because Manette is really dead or ‘unconscious’ (Dickens indicates throughout the novel that not being loved is equivalent to death) and those around him are alive, and these two opposites are repelling each other. Also, I think it is significant that the room that Manette is being kept in is a small, dark room at the top of a tower, rather like a prison. People are generally put in prison to keep them safe, or to keep people safe from them, but sometimes, it is merely to hide them or remove their influence. He is also asked if he could ‘bear more light’, which also suggests some sort of death and also that he has been cut off from the world and kept in darkness for a long time and he has forgotten what light is and/or cannot bear light anymore. This builds some sort of mysterious and secretive atmosphere about what is going on, and also continues to build unanswered questions in the readers’ mind: why was he imprisoned in the first place? Etc.
Dickens also links places to concepts or ideas revolving around society, or what Dickens dislikes about it. It seems that the roads of the Dover Mail’s travels are linked to crime, robbery and fear by Dickens, and he uses this event or place to highlight something he dislikes about society: the fact that everyone suspects each other and nobody trusts anyone. The attic room, as well as the similar home of Carton later on in the novel, shows that Dickens believes being cut off from the world and from love is the same as death. When Lucie comes to Manette’s side, that love is back in his life and he is immediately free from imprisonment; when he was released from actual imprisonment, he remained imprisoned in this tower until Lucie came. Another example would be the courtroom. The general public are ‘blue-flies’ in Dickens’s eyes, buzzing and searching for victim after victim. The courtroom is a place that is linked to death, and shows Dickens’s hatred of the harshness of the law. This place is also connected by Dickens to the public wanting the harshness of the law and being responsible for each execution, rather than the jury or the judge.
Ultimately, a Tale of Two Cities tells the story of a few people, specifically in this context Dr Manette, and their transformation through the love and sacrifice of others; here, that would be Lucie Manette. Dr Manette was merely a mad prisoner before Lucie found him, and then, he was ‘recalled to life’.