He then goes to the guillotine in Darnay's placed, disguised as his friend, and acting with the assurance that it is a "far better" thing that he is doing than anything he has ever done before.
2. Political Themes: The Loss of Personal inside the Political
Dickens uses characters, language, metaphor, and other literary elements in order to link his characters to the political themes in his book. It was been seen in the previous section how the setting of the novel indicated that an overt political interpretation was possible. In this section the precise nature of that political interpretation will be discussed.
Dickens makes suggestions throughout the text regarding the connection between the personal lives of his characters and their political selves. For example, when he is narrating the travels of a lorry driver who is on the way to pick up Dr. Manette from the prison at the novel's beginning, he remarks upon "A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other" (14) It is in the way such individuals are situated relevant to their societies, and the way their mysteries are made known to their societies, that their explicitly political natures are manifested. Daniel Stout makes this point in a different way while discussing an interaction between Darnay and a border guard in France just before he is arrested for immigration violations:
In this novel, the fact that life has been borrowed is so prevalent that even nameless border officials know it. When Charles returns home to France and is told that "his cursed life is not his own," the Revolutionary official does not mean that Charles is only pretending to be "thicker than a gramophone record," but he does mean something that Charles had already begun to understand even in England - that his life has been and remains only on increasingly tenuous loan. (p.6)
This results in what Stout calls "the Indifference of personhood" in Dickens' novel (p.6). Dr. Manette is seen being mentally or not being mentally ill. Darnay is committed to England or not committed to England. There are rumors and intrigue that suggest either is the case. It hardly matters in the end. The point is that the society owns the person in some significant way, and that their political selves govern their personal selves in all aspects of life.
When Darnay is sentenced to death for ancestral guilt-by-association, the brutal fact of the state's authority over him is explicit. However, the fact that Carton is willing to take Darnay's place in order to redeem himself and live up to some ideal that Lucie has inspired in him suggests that he, too, is living at the dictates of a set of social expectations. Why would he put his life on the line for a man that he has envied and a woman that he cannot win? The answer is that he doesn't. Instead, he takes it onto himself to answer a call to a higher purpose and sacrifices himself to that purpose. And that purpose comes from the authority of his society, just as realistically as Darnay's comes from the revolutionaries. It is significant that each man found salvation only when they put on the clothes of another. Only in disguise of their real selves were they afforded safety and satisfaction.
Stange argues that Dickens novels operate from within their own set of laws. Here those laws are dictated by a recognition that society itself runs by its laws, and characters and persons must comply. There is a sense of inevitability about it all. When Carton was on his way to his execution he reflected that "there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind" (p. 512). This point applies to the revolution, true, but it ultimately applied to England as well. Athena Vrettos argues that Dickens' novels approach the mechanized human in a way that "not only confronted but reproduced the troubling convergence of individual and cultural routines" (p.421).
A Tale of Two Cities presents, in the final analysis, just what its title indicates: a tale of two societies. The characters in the story are foils to move a story along so that the underlying political themes can be made clear. By arguing that persons are subsumed to politics, Dickens was putting this novel in the lineage of other novels that address mechanized society. As such he gives insight concerning the link between personal lives and politics that still resonate today.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. New York, Allyn and Bacon, 1922.
Hanisch, Carol. The Personal is Political. www.docs.google.com. February, 1969. Web. 14 December 2009. .
Stange, Robert. Dickens and the Fiery Past: A Tale of Two Cities Reconsidered. The English Journal 46 (1957): 381-90.
Stout, Daniel. Nothing Personal: The Decapitation of Character in A Tale of Two Cities. www.findarticles.com. Fall, 2007. Web. 15 December 2009. .
Vrettos, Athena. Dickens and the Psychology of Repetition. Victorian Studies, Spring 2000, 399-426.