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.
Juxtaposition is a literary term describing the placement of things near one another. The "things" could be people, places, ideas, objects, moods, motifs, emotions, etc. Juxtaposition as a literary element is accomplished by placing two (or more) "things" near each other. Much like classification in science, and comparing and contrasting, when placing two objects next to one another, the similarities and differences are typically noticeable right away. The less alike the two are, the greater the contrast, and the easier it is to spot the contrasts.
It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
The passage is a run-on which is filled with contradictions. The winding length of the quote indicates a story and time from the past, and the contradictions exist at the same time, making the period in question paradoxical in nature.
The narrator is reflecting on a time that is tumultuous and full of tension because the aristocracy and the commoners are at odds with one another, much like the contradictions Dickens highlights in these opening lines.