Analysis Pages

Literary Devices in A Tale of Two Cities

Foreshadowing: Much of the action in the novel foreshadows the arrival of the French Revolution, both through its depictions of intensifying social unrest in Saint Antoine and the mysterious echoes that surround Dr. Manette’s house in London. Furthermore, Dickens seems to foreshadow a similar revolt in England by using the French Revolution as a warning; if England’s out-of-date, oppressive, and harsh treatment of the common people is not reformed, the peasantry will likely overthrow the aristocracy and government.

Irony: The primary instance of irony is found with the revolutionaries in France. They revolt against oppression and tyranny and yet become oppressive and tyrannical, even executing their own impoverished people because of paranoia about “plots” against the Republic. Though they believe they are breaking the cycle of oppression, they are merely keeping it alive in a new form.

Personification: Dickens personifies the feeling of hunger and Saint Antoine in a way that unifies the French peasantry into a single body—an uncontrollable mass acting (often irrationally) on paranoia, resentment, and enthusiasm for the public spectacle of execution. Furthermore, the personification of the guillotine suggests both the widespread bloodthirstiness of the revolutionaries and the subsequent suspension of Christian values. Through its presence, violence is automatic and institutionalized.

Literary Devices Examples in A Tale of Two Cities:

Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter I

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"IT WAS THE BEST of times, it was the worst of times..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter I)

This sentence is an example of both anaphora and antithesis. Anaphora involves repeating a phrase at the beginning of successive clauses for rhetorical effect. Antithesis features the juxtaposition of opposite ideas (“it was the best… it was the worst…”) in a balanced or parallel construction.

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"of comparison only..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter I)

The opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities is perhaps one of the most famous in English literature. The combination of parallelism, juxtaposition, and contrasting images Dickens employs accurately reflects the confusion and chaos of this time period in France.

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"two of the plain and the fair faces..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter I)

This phrase references Queen Charlotte of England and Queen Marie-Antoinette of France. Dickens continues the English stereotype that Germans are ugly and unattractive, calling Charlotte "plainer" than Marie-Antoinette.

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"damp..."   (Book the First: Recalled to Life - Chapter IV)

Dickens often uses sensory imagery, such as his description of the mildewy, rank coach with its “damp and dirty straw,” to comment on the deplorable living conditions in England at the time. Dickens’s imagery highlights the major drawbacks of both the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, which began in England in the mid-18th century.

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"their course..."   (Book the Second: The Golden Thread - Chapter VII)

The water from the fountain is perhaps a symbol of the terrible fate that awaits the French nobility. The repetition of the word “ran” demonstrates inevitability and foreshadows impending revolution.

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" **** ..."   (Book the Third: The Track of a Storm - Chapter I)

Dickens's use of punctuation mimics Darnay's pacing and racing thoughts. The punctuation suggests that his sanity is slowly deteriorating, similarly to Dr. Manette's during his time in the Bastille.

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