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Allusion in A Tale of Two Cities

In keeping with many Victorian writers, Dickens frequently employs biblical allusions in the novel. He is especially interested in the downsides of Enlightenment values, such as reason and logic over faith or religion. The novel’s repeated emphasis on Original Sin (Genesis) and the trials of living (Ecclesiastes) suggest the inevitable fall of humankind in the absence of religion.

Allusion Examples in A Tale of Two Cities:

Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter II

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"the two Testaments..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter II)

The two Testaments are the Old Testament and the New Testament from the Christian Bible. So, Dickens is simply referring to the entire Bible. The coachman is so certain that his horses are unfit for the journey to Dover that he is willing to swear on the Bible.

"the Furies..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter VIII)

The Furies are three mythological, winged goddesses of vengeance. They tormented humans for disturbing the natural order, murdered criminals, and inflicted famines and pestilence on the world.

"Gorgon..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter IX)

In ancient Greek mythology, Gorgons were female monsters who had snakes for hair. Medusa is perhaps the most recognizable Gorgon. She was the only mortal Gorgon and was beheaded by Perseus. Those who looked upon her severed head turned to stone.

"I don’t know..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIV)

It is important that this anonymous peasant joins in the violent chaos of the mob without knowing why. Dickens frequently alludes to the growing revolutionary sentiment that culminated in the French Revolution years later.

"a poet sat upon a stool in a public place..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIV)

Dickens alludes to the poet Dante, who reportedly perched on a stool in public, possibly to watch the construction of the Florence cathedral (which was constructed in 1296).

"bitter waters..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XVII)

The phrase “The bitter waters of captivity” suggests an allusion to the biblical Psalms 126 and 137, two songs that deal with exile and redemption. In Psalm 126, God is asked to “Turn again our captivity...as the streams in the south,” while in Psalm 137 the exiled people weep “By the rivers of Babylon.”

"dust he was..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXIII)

The phrase “reflect that dust he was” alludes to the biblical book of Genesis 3:19, which details the fall of humanity after Eve eats the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. God punishes Adam and Eve by condemning them to a hard life of farming: “Cursed is the ground because of you;/ In toil you will eat of it/ All the days of your life.” God explains that they will die and be returned to the earth, “For you are dust,/ And to dust you shall return.”

"Loadstone Rock..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XXIV)

The word "loadstone" refers to a magnet made of the magnetic oxide of iron. In marine navigation, loadstone rocks were used as compasses. Here, Dickens alludes to "The Third Calendar's Tale" from Arabian Nights, a story which follows Ajib as his ship sinks when it crashes into a loadstone rock. Through this allusion, Dickens suggests that Darney is drawn to Paris with the same connection as a ship to a loadstone rock, and that he will also encounter the same fate as Ajib.

"Samaritans..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter IV)

Here, the noun “samaritan” refers to a charitable, helpful individual. This definition stems from the parable of the "Good Samaritan" in the biblical book of Luke 10:25-37, in which a traveler is beaten and left naked on a road. A priest and a Levite pass by without helping the traveler, but a good-hearted Samaritan stops to help him.

" truest to them in the season of trial,..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter V)

Dickens may be alluding to the biblical book of Ecclesiastes 3, which describes each “season,” such as sorrow and happiness, that one might encounter in life. Each of these seasons serves a “purpose under heaven”—a statement that reinforces the theme of predestination that runs through the entire novel.

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