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"It was the worst of times, it was the best of timesâ€¦it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despairâ€¦we were all going direct to Heaven." (Dickens 1) Charles Dickens opens his novel, A Tale of Two Cities with this contradicting statement to contrast the dual backgrounds of Paris, France with London, England. Surrounding France is an ominous air that foreshadows an inevitable Revolution, and while England is able to maintain social peace, it too is not safe from a revolution if current conditions continue. Yet, amongst all this, living within these years was exciting and dangerous regardless of status or social standing. Dickens concludes that, from any walks of life whether born of royal blood or living in poverty, "we were all going direct to Heaven" (1). But, Dickens proclaims that rebirth or eternal salvation of one's sins must be determined by one's actions during the best and the worst of times in one's life. No matter the troubles humans face throughout their life; their suffering must be used to better society, and only then after life and death will they truly be "recalled to life."
Although various characters are resurrected throughout the novel, whether by faking their own death or by taking on a new identity, the most obvious and bravest individual who is recalled to life is Dr. Alexandre Manette. Dr. Manette personifies the central motif of the novel: "every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other" (30). The mystery surrounding Dr. Manette's confinement is kept well hidden and only a few clues are mentioned here and there; Dickens keeps the readers guessing until the very end. The mystery itself is like a puzzle piece and only when the final piece is collected, does the full picture reveals. The worst times in Dr. Manette's life is his eighteen years of wrongful imprisonment. The experience had left Dr. Manette delirious and awkward due to his isolation from society. Though the reader never learns specifically how Manette suffers, his relapses into trembling session of shoemaking verify the seriousness and depth of his misery which also proves that "darkness had fallen on him" (43). Despite Lucie's and Mr. Lorry's best efforts to nurse the doctor back to health, he continues to slip in and out of lucidity. Their ability to restore the old doctor has reached its limits and now Dr. Manette must save himself or continue living in a temporal state of sobriety. As each secret resurfaces, he degenerates back into his Pre-Lucie state. To his best efforts, the doctor is able to resurrect his own soul from his tainted past. During his best of times, Dr. Manette succeeds in transforming from a deranged prisoner into a man of distinction. A literary critic, David D. Marcus from The Carlylean Vision agrees and states the following, "the doctor's final relapse makes clear, the obliteration is an incomplete process, but he is able to achieve a newer balance" (Marcus 32-33). The determination and strength that Manette displays while committing himself into rescuing Darnay confirms Dickens's suggestion that the salvation of one's life is determined by how one's suffering must be used to improved the lives of others.
Next, the character most closely associated with the theme of resurrection is Sydney Carton. He is also the main focus of this recurring motif, to which he rightfully earns. During the worst times of his life, Carton is a complete drunk, who "care[s] for no man on earth, and no man on earth cares for [him]" (Dickens 85). Although Carton processes a brilliant mind, his alcoholism and lack of motivation, weighs down his chance of success. Literary critic Albert Hutter, from Nation and Generation also admits that Carton has always "willingly [play] jackal to Stryver's pompous lion" (Hutter 44). However, when Sydney Carton confess his love for Lucie Manette, a critical change in his character subtly emerges. After speaking in private with Lucie, she tells him that he is capable of better things, and that he is "much, much worthier of [him]self" (Dickens 151). Through the power of love, Lucie resurrects Sydney and gives him hope. As Carton leaves he guarantees his life to her, if she or a loved one ever needed it. And true to his words, when Darnay is condemned to the Guillotine, Carton is able to keep his promise to Lucie. Carton recognizes that his biggest gift to Lucie is his life. By saving Darnay's life, Sydney in addition of gaining admiration from the Manette family, also obtains the satisfaction that his life is now significant. Ironically, the best of times in Carton's life would be the moments before he dies. Carton finally finds peace within all the surrounding chaos and realizes that he "is 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" (380). This is a direct allusion to the bible, which also officially establishes Sydney as the Christ figure and also the true hero of the novel. With his ultimate sacrifice-his life, Carton, ironically is redeemed. Though he is brought "back to life" through the reincarnation of Lucie Manette's son and grandson, Sydney does not regret his decision. He dies with a composed face, content with the knowledge that "it is a far, far better thing that [he has done], than [he ever will do]; it is a far, far better rest that [he will] go to than [he would] have ever known" (382). After finally rising above the mundane, Carton becomes the noble person that he was always meant to be.
Additionally, not only do characters in the novel receive a "recall[ing] to life", but France the nation itself goes through a rebirth. It is obvious that France is about to undergo one of the bloodiest revolutions that Europe has ever seen. The people of France are imprisoned by a social and economic system from which they can escape only by means of a revolution. French streets are also unsafe with "burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night" (4). The citizen's accumulating thirst for blood, as seen in the imagery of the spilt wine, also adds to the rise of the revolution. Dickens portrayal of the horrible treatment that the peasant had to endure is so realistic and unjust that it creates sympathy to the reader. Though he only points out the negative depiction of the aristocrats such as his description of the Monseigneur and the Marquis, it is enough to leave a bitter taste in the reader's mind while also underlining the true reason for a revolution in the first place. Despite the brutality of the aristocrats, it is obvious that the revolutionaries themselves were equally cruel. As the Revolution progresses on, the revolutionary begins to lose sight of what their original intentions were. France's lowest point in time was between the years of the revolution. France's struggle during the change from a monarchy to a democracy mirrors Sydney Carton's own struggle. The similarities do not lie in the struggle themselves but rather in the way that they each were uniquely reborn. In both cases the nation and Sydney had to experience a true death before they each were able to be redeemed. France's death can be personified in the sense that millions of French citizens had to die unjustly under the revolution, while Sydney's death was also unfair because he had died in place of another man. In short, the period before the revolution represents Life, while the revolution itself represents Death and after rising from the abyss, France will ultimately be reborn.
Though each living soul has an equal chance of redemption, Dickens insists that true external salvation can only be attain when an individual overcomes his burdens and use his experiences to improve society. Dr. Manette and Sydney Carton are two of the dominant characters in this theme of rebirth, but France also plays an important part dealing with this particular theme. Dr. Manette's mysterious past keeps him from truly living in the present, but once he began to forgive and accept his past, everything fell into its rightful place. Ironically, when Sydney Carton is recalled to life, he must do so in his death. Carton receives further respect dying for another man's sins than he ever could receive while living. After the destruction and death of the Revolution, France will eventually rise from the abyss and break free of all old sins. Like Dickens has suggested, deliverance can exclusively be determine by the actions during "the best [or] the worst of times" (1). Humans may face many "deaths" in their lifetime but their ability to raise and overcome their darkest hours determine their true worth as a person who rightfully deserves to be "recalled to life" (50).