A Tale of Two Cities


Book 1, Chapter 1

This first chapter of the book establishes the background for the entire novel.  As a historical novel, it is crucial for the reader to know when the novel is set in order to understand the background to the story.  The novel open in 1775 and is clearly set in two different cities, as evidenced by the famous introductory sentence.  The two cities are London and Paris.  In England, the nation is experiencing a period of relative comfort, while life in France is growing increasingly uncomfortable for members of the lower class.  In both countries, the aristocracy is seeing an increase in quality of life that is being supported by an increasing decline in quality of life for members of the lower class.  The contrast between the living situations of the poor and the rich is one of the reasons why it is both the best and worst of times.  However, while the aristocracy is benefiting in both locations, there are tremendous differences in living situations between countries.  In France, the increasingly repressive social system is leading the lower classes toward rebellion, while the aristocracy appears to be oblivious to increasing unrest.  In England, the lower classes are more comfortable and are not really considering any type of rebellion, despite the fact that the American colonists have declared their own Revolution.  This first chapter provides a broad background and does not introduce the reader to any significant movement or characters in the novel.  However, without understanding the backdrop of the Revolution, the novel would not otherwise make much sense. 

Of course, the first paragraph of the novel, which contains one of the most recognizable first sentences in all of literature, sets up one of the major themes of the novel: duality.  Throughout the novel, Dickens introduces things that are similar yet very different, and he extends the comparisons and contrasts until the novel’s end.  The first chapter of the first book also introduces other aspects of duality that recur throughout the...

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