Some people are remembered forever in the hearts and minds of those that have been impacted by that person. This allows for their name to live eternally, much after their existing presence. However, what truly sets these people apart from others is the fact that they are selfless. In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens shows the notable kindness of his characters through their many acts of sacrifice. The novel takes place in Paris 1789 in the middle of the French Revolution.
Dickens illustrates how the monarchy of the French government, with their ignorance of the lower class, many unfair laws, and high taxes, caused for the commoners to be angry and eventually erupt into chaos. He establishes the theme of sacrifice through the story using the events that occurred involving Dr. Manette, the Defarges and the French Revolution, and Sydney Carton. This theme developed over the course of the novel. The theme of this story is while sacrifice is painful at first, it can lead to future strength and happiness.
To begin, Dr. Manette’s reunion with his daughter allows for a piece of his humanity to come back and eventually gains a position of power in the French Revolution because of his earlier roles in the Bastille. He even states that he would do anything for her because she means the world to him and along with the fact that they had just recently been reunited, he feels very protective of her (Dickens 203). Lucie was also joyful to have been reunited with her father, after a total of 18 years apart, thinking that her father had died. She wanted to“ ‘ bring back the remembrance of a Home long desolate, while your poor heart pined away, weep for it, weep for it’ ” (Dickens 53). She hoped to cure away the insanity that had built up in her father’s head with her constant pleas.
Dr. Manette says “any fancies, any reasons, any apprehensions, anything whatsoever, new or old, against the man she really loved…they should all be obliterated for her sake” (Dickens 140). Dr. Manette had many years of bottled-up anger and revenge, while being locked up, but he forgot all about it in order to make Lucie happy. He is willing to give up everything so that Lucie can be happy. He even allowed for her to marry Darnay, whom he seems to despise, because he made her so happy. They depended on each other, but also gave up many things to allow for the other to be happy. The theme of sacrifice is also shown through the act of sacrifice for one’s country. The French Revolution was a movement that started in the late 1780s and brought an end to the monarch, including many of the citizens lives. French people were willing to put their lives at risk if it meant that they were free from tyranny.
The revolution was described to have ‘sounded as if all the breath in France had been shaped into the detested word, the living sea rose, wave on wave, depth on depth, and overflowed the city to that point. Alarm-bells ringing, drums beating, the sea raging and thundering on its new beach, the attack began’ (Dickens 214). Charles Dickens describes the take over of the Bastille as not only a rebellious event, but also as a means of redemption and justice for the citizens.
The commoners, under the leadership of the Defarges, urge forward against all odds against them, and challenged the powerful French resistance, risking their life and liberty, all for justice and peace. This event captures the sacrifice these people make. By risking their lives and liberty, the commoners display their sense of urgency to act for a better future for other generations of French people, ultimately highlighting Dickens’ theme of Sacrifice; specifically, sacrifice for one’s country and happiness. “there was a braced purpose in the arm and a kind of inspiration in the eyes, which not only contradicted his light manner, but changed and raised the man” (Dickens 294). The French wanted to “ ‘ see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy, in that England which I shall see no more’ ” (Dickens 366-367).
This was a picture that many would hope to see in their future. It is inferred at the end of the novel that France will turn from the terrible bloodbath of the revolution into a peaceful world of prosperity and happiness. Finally, with hope and admiration, Sydney Carton contemplates his last thoughts moments away from his death. Dickens pushes his continuous theme of sacrifice by demonstrating Carton’s gesture of love. He decides to take the place of Charles Darnay and allows Lucie, Dr. Manette, and Darnay to live a happy future. Carton’s love for Lucie was strong, even from the beginning, which to his sacrifice of himself and allowing for Lucie to be with Darnay. This showed the selflessness within him to take over and going back to his original promise of Carton giving up his life if it meant for Lucie to live a life that she loves (Dickens 156).
His sacrifice allowed for him to get his final wish in a way because he had wanted to marry her anyways, but this is now happening under his name but with Charles Darnay following it through. Sydney Carton’s sacrifice could also be seen as a Christian allegory. His sacrifice fit the Christian definition, where God sacrifices his son, Jesus, in order to redeem mankind from their sins. “ ‘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’ ” (Dickens 366). Doing so, Carton not only enables his happiness but a go at the spiritual rebirth. By sacrificing off Carton for Lucie and her family, Dickens goes back to his original position of sacrifice for happiness.
Because this is the last scene in the novel, it leaves the reader with an prolonging impression on their personal responsibility and sacrifice for love. Sydney Carton’s decision to sacrifice his life in order to save the lives of Lucie, Charles, and their family shows the main sacrifice example in the entire novel. Unlike the other characters, whose sacrifices only fit the literal sense of the word, Carton’s sacrifice parallels with the ideals of Christianity. He was able to die peacefully, and was seen to be the most peaceful he had been in his whole life (Dickens 367). Just like God sacrificed his only son, Jesus Christ, to eliminate the various sins of humanity, so does Carton sacrifice himself, to give to Lucie the life she deserves. Doing so, he would be forever remembered “in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence” (Dickens 367).
To conclude, the act of sacrifice is needed to achieve happiness. Throughout the novel, Dickens illustrates the lives of the various characters with anticipation and vagueness. In the end, the main characters reached a point where a choice must be made, sacrificing a part of their happiness for the possibility of future happiness and recovery. We soon learn that Dickens presents this recurring theme by defining the varying nature of sacrifice to fit for one’s happiness, and by showing the various types of sacrifice throughout the novel.