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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 Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter XIV

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"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 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.”

" 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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