Religion Question in a Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities: A Christian Novel?
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens delves into the spiritual concept of finding meaning in life through death. Sydney Carton’s act of true, boundless love should resonate within the hearts of Christians, as it is established in John 15:13 that “Greater love has no one than this: Than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” However, should this connection compel us to go so far as to label A Tale of Two Cities as a Christian novel?
Before the aforementioned question can be answered, there must first be a solid definition of what it means for a novel to be classified as Christian. If a Christian novel is one that is explicitly stated to be by Christians and for Christians, it can be said that the Christian label to be inapplicable to novels, and more so applicable to self-help books and the like. Most would agree that it is not particularly common to see an outright proclamation of Christianity from every protagonist involved in an ultimately fictitious story that is typically only a vehicle for a concept. While concepts are the brainchildren of living, opinionated beings, concepts themselves are not alive. They are brought to life within us, and applied to our own personal truths.
Under this definition, A Tale of Two Cities does not qualify as a Christian novel. However, A Tale of Two Cities is an important read for Christians because it is an accurate representation of the kind of love that Christianity sets out to extend toward all of humanity. It is a reflection of the best of what humanity is capable of. It is laced with the impurity of pride, but ultimately overtaken by the transcendent power of the gift of love that has been given unto man.
Some have presented the idea that Sydney Carton is a Christ-like figure, but Carton is very human. The reader’s first impression of him is rather bleak– he is a cynic and a slave to alcohol, aimlessly wandering through his life, in belief that he has lost sight of his only dream. He is in love with Lucie Manette, but the good in him is present enough to resist pursuit as long as he is caught in his cycle of hopelessness. This immediately gives us a clue toward the ever- present intensity of his affection toward Lucie– but his imperfection is ever-present as well.
Carton is not a reflection of Christ, but a reflection of the work of Christ within humanity. Even as he finds the meaning of his life through his sacrifice, there is a reasonable fraction of pride involved. In the midst of the beautiful, selfless thoughts running through his mind, he envisions Lucie and notes, “I see a child upon her bosom, who bears my name.” (292) He has the desperate longing to be remembered and revered that all human beings would have in the event of sacrifice.
However, this longing to be revered intertwines with Christ’s influence upon him as he recalls the passage recited at his father’s funeral, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” In this moment, the reader beholds the unlikely hero in his entirety. The reader sees his good intentions, pride, love, fear, and ultimate serenity as he whispers this verse to himself before the guillotine. The reader sees every last corner of his humanity as he surrenders it to the love that demands his whole being.
The spirituality of the concept addressed in the astonishing ending of the book may cause one to wonder, how could anybody ignore the link to Christianity? However, this is not a matter of ignorance, it is a matter of refusing to limit the powerful message behind A Tale of Two Cities to a Christian audience. The profound concept of the book should be recognized as important to all people of all religions, regardless of the fact that Carton’s actions are influenced by a power that transcends humanity.
Humanity is created in an even greater love than that which Carton displays in A Tale of Two Cities, and there is hope for all human beings to be capable of aspiring toward that love. If A Tale of Two Cities is labeled as a Christian novel, could it not be said that its reach is being devalued? Carton’s display of the love Christ has instilled within His creation is capable of moving not only Christians, but all people of all religions. Perhaps those who have read A Tale of Two Cities have started to crave that kind of affection toward another human being, and have began pursuit of whatever it takes to acquire such a fulfilling, compelling love for another.
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