1. Some critics charge that Dickens, in much of his work, failed to create meaningful characters because he exaggerated them to parodic extremes. Do you find this a fair assessment of his characterization in A Tale of Two Cities? Does the author’s use of caricature detract from his novel’s ability to speak to human nature?
2. Dickens relies heavily on coincidence to fuel the plot of A Tale of Two Cities: letters are found bearing crucial infor-mation, for example, and long-lost brothers are discovered in crowded public places. Do such incidents strengthen or weaken the plot and overall themes of the novel?
3. Discuss Dickens’s attitude toward the French Revolution. Does he sympathize with the revolutionaries?
4. Based on Dickens’s portrayals of the villainous characters in his novel (particularly Madame Defarge), what conclusions might the reader draw about the author’s notions of human evil? Does he seem to think that people are born evil? If so, do they lack the ability to change? Or does he suggest that circumstances drive human beings to their acts of cruelty?
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Book the First: Recalled to Life
Chapter 1: The Period
Chapter 2: The Mail
Chapter 3: The Night Shadows
1. Discuss the theme of the likeness of people despite differences of place or time. Is this relationship useful only within the context of A Tale of Two Cities, or can it be applied to other situations?
2. How does the fear of the messenger illustrate the narrator’s idea that it is impossible to know another person? Does anything else in these opening chapters support this thought? Does anything contradict it?
Chapter 4: The Preparation
1. Write an essay reflecting on Mr. Lorry’s insistence that all of his relations are of the business type. Why could this be important as to what his character represents? How is this related to his lifelong bachelorhood? How does this reflect the Victorian Age?
2. Write an essay discussing the way Lucie Manette is portrayed as a woman in this chapter. What problems arise from this depiction? Is this a mere reflection of Victorian ideals, or is it relevant to today’s times?
Chapter 5: The Wine-Shop
1. How does this chapter foreshadow the coming revolution? Look beyond the obvious answer that equates the wine with blood. What does the single-mindedness of the crowd mean in this context? What of the desolate conditions that they live in?
2. Discuss the significance of the name “Jacques.” What do the peasants gain by addressing each other in this way? How did they come to use this term? Discuss any contemporary manifestations of this idea.
Chapter 6: The Shoemaker
1. Write an essay exploring the ways in which Dr. Manette has lost his identity. Use specific examples to show how much of his past he has forgotten.
2. Discuss the role of Lucie’s affections in helping her father remember his past. Does this present any problems in a contemporary context? How does this help to define Lucie as a character? What does this say about the role of women in Victorian society?
Book the Second: The Golden Thread
Chapter 1: Five Years Later
Chapter 2: A Sight
1. Write an essay describing how Dickens portrays the English court system of the 1780s. Pay attention to the discussion of the death penalty, the conversation between Jerry Cruncher and the man who wishes to see Darnay drawn and quartered, and the nature of the crowd in the courtroom.
2. Write an essay comparing the behavior of Lucie Manette and Mrs. Cruncher in these chapters. What do these two women have in common? Is their class difference more important than their similarities, as portrayed by Dickens?
Chapter 3: A Disappointment
1. Write an essay exploring the use of comedy in this chapter. Contrast the ways in which the prosecution and the defense portray the witnesses. Discuss the use of hyperbole in relation to the use of outright lies. Are they the same? Different? Which one can be viewed in a comic light?
2. Discuss the crowd as they leave the courtroom. What are they in search of? Does this have anything to do with a desire for justice? In what ways can this be seen as a warning against the danger of crowds?
Chapter 4: Congratulatory
Chapter 5: The Jackal
1. Write an essay about Sydney Carton. Can his lack of ambition be explained from the evidence given? Do you, as a reader, feel any sympathy for him? Why or why not?
2. Discuss the idea that one character can shed light on our view of another character. What does the conversation between Carton and Lorry reveal about each man? Besides the physical resemblance, how does Darnay function as a mirror for Carton?
Chapter 6: Hundreds of People
1. Write about foreshadowing in this chapter. Take into account the idea of “hundreds of people,” the approaching storm, the echoing footsteps, and the final paragraphs. What do all of these things anticipate?
2. Discuss the symbolism of the shoemaker’s bench. Why has Dr. Manette kept the bench? What does this say about him?
Chapter 7: Monseigneur in Town
Chapter 8: Monseigneur in the Country
1. This chapter portrays the French nobility for the first time in the book. How are they portrayed? What is the effect of placing this directly after the ominous warning of the previous chapter?
2. Write an essay describing how the nobility have no awareness of what the peasants are capable of. Pay close attention to the accident and to what Defarge says and does, as well as to the man riding along with the carriage.
Chapter 9: The Gorgon’s Head
1. Write an essay that provides an overview of the argument that Darnay and the Marquis have about class structure. Whose argument is more convincing? Why?
2. Describe the symbolism of stone in this chapter. How does the myth of the Gorgon relate to the scene? Keep in mind the description of the murdered Marquis as a “stone face” with a “stone figure” attached.
Chapter 10: Two Promises
Chapter 11: A Companion Picture
1. Write an essay comparing Darnay’s revelation that he wants to marry Lucie to Stryver’s revelation of the same intentions. Whom do the two men respectively tell? How do they speak of their desire? Who seems more likely to marry Lucie? Why?
2. Discuss Stryver’s opinion of Carton. How is this ironic? Keep in mind what Carton does for Stryver. What can be made of Stryver’s opinion that Carton should marry a woman who will protect him “against a rainy day”?
Chapter 12: The Fellow of Delicacy
Chapter 13: The Fellow of No Delicacy
1. Discuss the character of Mr. Stryver in relation to his plan to marry Lucie. What do we learn about him as this plan falls apart? What do his comments about Lucie reveal about his personality?...
(The entire section is 2473 words.)