An overview of the theme of light versus darkness in a tale of two cities
The chaotic and churning society of the eighteenth century is well-depicted in Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities. As France goes through its intense revolution, England remains in its peaceful state. Dickens compares the two countries and their societies throughout the novel. Light and dark imagery is often used to contrast the two societies about which the novel is written, as well as to contrast characters as they change with the progressing story, for example Dr. Manette and Sydney Carton. This imagery helps to develop these characters and shows the theme of duality and contrast in other areas throughout the novel.
From the very beginning, light and dark are contrasted in A Tale of Two Cities. In the opening sentence, it says “… it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness ….” (5) In the opening quote, all of the contrasting aspects of England and France are discussed. In order to stress the contrast, the light versus dark motif is included. Another reason that the light versus dark motif appears in the beginning of the novel is that this sets up the use of this motif throughout the book and helps the image unify the novel by its inclusion in the beginning, middle, and end.
The light versus dark motif appears again as the reader meets one of the golden thread of the novel. Mr. Lorry goes to meet Ms. Mannette in her hotel room, where much of the story is then set up. This room is a perfect example of light/dark contrast for it is described as “a large, dark room, furnished in a funereal manner with black horsehair and heavy dark tables.” (22) This dark room is contrasted with its contents, the shining Ms. Mannette. The dark room with which Lucie is contrasted can be equated to the lives she will soon touch. Dr. Manette has been locked away in a dark prison for many years and has nearly lost his mind beyond all hope of recovery. Charles Darnay is struggling to right the wrongs done by his family and to lose the dreaded name of Evremonde. Sydney Carton has been living his degenerate life so long and so far from any light that he feels he has no purpose or worth. To all three of these men Lucie will be the shining light that will lead them to recovery and bring them out of their darkness.
Within Dr. Manette’s conflicting personalities, the light/dark motif often appears. The bright side of him which has been recalled to life by Lucie is often depicted as the light side. Within Dr. Manetter, however, the shadowy prisoner still lingers. When he emerges from his ten day relapse after Lucie’s marriage to Charles, light versus dark is used to describe his resurfacing. “On the tenth morning of his suspense, he was startles by the shining of the sun into the room where a heavy slumber had overtkaen him when it was a dark night.” (205) When Dr. Manette emerges, Lorry sees it as an end to this nightmare that he had been afraid would never end. The light of Dr. Manette’s sane personality peers through into this dark night, however, and the crisis is ended.
At the end of the novel, light versus dark is used in the battle between good and evil. The representative of good, Ms. Pross, fights Mlle. Defarge, evil, to the death. Both women are stong oppenents, and Dickens paints a picture of them as they face off; Ms. Pross, a shining blaze of firey red, on one side and Mlle. Defarge, a dark haired, evil woman, on the other. The battle between the two forces of light and dark cuminates as Ms. Pross cries “I’ll not leave a handful of dark hair upon your head…!” (381) This battle contrasts good and evil and clearly shows which is the stronger, as Ms. Pross, armed with love, is victorious.
Throughout A Tale of Two Cities, light and dark are contrasted. The light in Ms. Manette is contrasted with the dark of the lives that intertwine with hers. Dr. Manette’s personalities are each characterized as either light or dark. The fight between Ms. Pross and Mlle. Defarge, arguably the climax of the novel, is portrayed as an epic battle between light and dark. Another light and dark contrast is used in the very ending of the novel. Carton, who has gone from a dark, depressed character to a ray of light with the ability to give Lucie a life she loves, is the final light that we see as it is snuffed out by the dark tide of the revolution. Because of his actions, Carton is able to triumph over darkness, even though he is killed. Fittingly, he ends his life with words belonging to the ultimate light, as he says, “I am the resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.” (389)
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