A Tale of Two Cities strays from the typical Dickensian format, in that the silly names and humor are pushed aside to focus on a more serious analysis of one of the most tumultuous periods in world history. However, Charles Dickens does maintain his social critique of the European world, much like his other popular novels. In a world where the nobility gleefully runs over children in horse carriages, badgers innocent commoners on the streets, and holds onto a system of privilege to the detriment of the country’s economic health, the French Revolution provides Dickens with the perfect setting to analyze the limits of justice and what happens when a ruling class continues to suppress the will of the people. In doing so, Dickens explores important themes such as the destructive nature of revenge, revolution, the importance of sacrifice, and resurrection.
In order to best understand this novel and the motivations of the characters, students should have a solid understanding of the causes and effects of the French Revolution, especially the tensions between the aristocracy and the peasants. While the French Revolution was inspired by many of the Enlightenment ideals that inspired the American Revolution, things didn’t go quite as well for the French citizens and there are important reasons why. Luckily, our Storyboard That history teachers have crafted a complete teacher’s guide for the French Revolution that has some handy activities for getting students thinking about the important aspects of this time period.
Some important causes of the Revolution to review with students include:
The Bastille was a symbol of oppression and abuse of power, as many of those who were imprisoned there never went to trial. Instead, they spent years in dark cells, alone with their thoughts - and many lost their minds in that isolation, like Dr. Manette. The Bastille was a fortress dating back to the 14th century, and it became the focus of the revolutionaries’ ire with the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.