Please, Liberals: Stop Abusing 'A Tale of Two Cities' (2023)

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It was the best of lines, it was the worst of lines

Please, Liberals: Stop Abusing 'A Tale of Two Cities' (1)

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Wednesday was a big day for Charles Dickens, the beloved novelist who died 143 years ago. At the inaugural ceremonies for Mayor Bill de Blasio, singer and activist Harry Belafonte called the justice system under Mike Bloomberg “deeply Dickensian.” The new mayor himself followed suit: “When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it,” he said. “And we will do it.” Decrying inequality by invoking the 1859 classic—the title was capitalized in his prepared remarks—is certainly nothing new for de Blasio and his supporters. Neither is the more ballistic phrasing, “taking dead aim at A Tale of Two Cities,” which echoes Senator Joe Manchin's words beforeliterally shooting the cap-and-trade bill.

I get what the mayor is saying about the yawning gap between the rich and poor in New York, and I’m among those who are glad we’re having a public conversation about it. I acknowledge that using the book title is a convenient shorthand with the appealing ring of familiarity, and that there are worse things for public discourse than to have literary references thrown around. But this one is getting unmanageable: A friend at a liberal nonprofit in the city reported that her colleagues, who’d used the title for one of their own initiatives, actually griped that de Blasio was pilfering their line. Enough! I’d like to stand up for Dickens enthusiasts and high school English students everywhere and declare that A Tale of Two Cities is a novel, not a demographic condition. It’s a wonderful read and a timeless achievement of narrative, and it never deserved the scorn that lately has been heaped upon its title.

The main thing that bothers me, apart from one of my favorite books being made into a public enemy, is that the popular usage is a misappropriation of the title’s wording. A Tale of Two Cities is called A Tale of Two Cities because it is a tale about two cities. Specifically, it’s about London and Paris, and the intertwined lives of people living in those two cities during the upheaval of the French Revolution. Looking at the world around us, it is more than valid to make the point that a struggling family in the South Bronx, where the poverty level stands at 32 percent, is functionally living in a different city than their neighbors in the glittering high-rises across the river. But if we are going to use A Tale of Two Cities to illustrate that point—and there is a case to be made that we actually should—we’re going to have to move beyond glib thievery of the title and into the actual elements of the story.

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It happens that A Tale of Two Cities is in fact deeply concerned with poverty and inequality (just not as a comparison between the cities). Much of the action takes place in the years before the outbreak of the Revolution and centers around the hideousness that sparked the bloodshed. It is Dickens at his best and most familiar, which is to say the descriptions and plot are riveting, the minor players and bad guys are wonderful, and the main characters are a bit lame and forgettable. But for someone like me who was never a very good history student, the scenes of privation in the Parisian slums are almost source texts in forming an understanding of what the uprising was all about. If you’ll allow a fan to quote liberally:

Samples of a people that had undergone a terrible grinding and regrinding in the mill, and certainly not in the fabulous mill which ground old people young, shivered at every corner, passed in and out at every doorway, looked from every window, fluttered in every vestige of a garment that the wind shook. The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sign, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere. Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses, in the wretched clothing that hung upon poles and lines; Hunger was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that the man sawed off; Hunger stared down from the smokeless chimneys, and started up from the filthy street that had no offal, among its refuse, of anything to eat…Depressed and slinking though they were, eyes of fire were not wanting among them; nor compressed lips, white with what they suppressed; nor foreheads knitted into the likeness of the gallows-rope they mused about enduring, or inflicting.

It goes on, and gets more purple, and more delightful, for thousands of words; suffice it to say that eventually the sensible English protagonists wander into this hellscape at precisely the wrong time, and things get really bad. The vividness of the masses’ destitution is matched by the vileness of the heedless nobility, one of whom literally rolls over a penniless child in his gilded carriage. From there we plunge into the gore and hysteria of the Reign of Terror, from which our heroes must escape by dint of self-sacrifice and many a Dickensian plot twist. Heads fly off, the streets gush with blood, man turns on man, and the populace is left in just as sorry a state as it was before. This summer I reread my dog-eared copy from Mrs. Imhoff’s English class, and the margins are crammed with loop-lettered notations like FORESHADOWING, *BLOOD*, and REVENGE!!!, which actually annotate the book pretty nicely. Anyway, the point is that A Tale of Two Cities, for all of its cartoonishness, is satisfyingly agnostic, even torn, in its treatment of the idea of vengeance on the rich.

At the moment, none of our elected leaders are talking about actual armed overthrow. The revolution brewing in 2014 is likely to be far less bloody, and involve a lot more press releases, than the one in 1789: From the looks of it, the potential for a serious, Tea Party-style insurrection within the political left seems to be increasing by the day, pitting revenue-raising populists against business-friendly centrists. Noam Scheiber highlighted this nicely in a piece about the emerging Hillary Clinton-Elizabeth Warren polarity. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed from the heads of the center-left think tank Third Way warned that “Economic Populism is a Dead End for Democrats” and specifically brushed back Warren and de Blasio, igniting a major contretemps. DailyKos called Third Way “a corporatist Wall Street front group” and announced that its community would no longer support any candidate who considers aligning with the organization. Meanwhile, some of Third Way’s own co-chairs distanced themselves from the column. (Here is where I will make the convenient disclosure that one of Third Way’s founders is a family member, and I have worked with and for several of de Blasio’s campaign advisers—so you see, I couldn’t possibly take a position on this myself.)

The stage thus set, Mayor-elect de Blasio took the stage on Wednesday and left no doubt whether he’d be softening his class-warrior rhetoric now that he’s moving into Gracie Mansion. He described his ideological opponents as “some on the far right”—a polite sidestepping of their location within his own party—and set up their belief system as a defense of “rugged individualism,” which he rebutted (in Dickensian terms) by quoting former mayor Fiorello La Guardia: “No ‘rugged individual’ can survive in the midst of collective starvation,” he said. De Blasio enumerated once again the unapologetically liberal policies that helped his campaign catch fire. Foremost among them, of course, is universal pre-kindergarten and after-school care for middle schoolers, paid for by a tax hike on wealthy earners. De Blasio measured the daily impact of such an increase in terms the rich would be sure to understand: “About the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks.” Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith characterized the strategy this way: “de Blasio, in showing a willingness to make and keep enemies, revealed a political priority: Keeping his friends.”

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“We do not ask more of the wealthy to punish success,” de Blasio said, by way of dismissing antagonism. “We do it to create more success stories.” He ended on an inclusive note, pledging that “working together, we will make this One City.” One of the core insights of his campaign was that you don’t need the support of the wealthy and well-connected to win. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to have—and if the mayor wants the people on Park to take him at his word, he might do well to change up his literary references. It would strain credibility to liken the One Percent—a term he used in his remarks—to the abusive French aristocracy, just as it would strain credibility to liken a tax increase to guillotinings in the public square. The problem is that the fixation on A Tale of Two Cities suggests both. If progressives think that’s the wrong analogy, then they should pick a different book. And for Mrs. Imhoff’s sake, I hope they do.

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What is a quote from A Tale of Two Cities? ›

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” “You have been the last dream of my soul.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” “A day wasted on others is not wasted on one's self.”

What is the moral lesson of A Tale of Two Cities? ›

One of the morals in A Tale of Two Cities is that things are not always as they seem. Somebody who appears to be no-good and disreputable could become the most righteous person in the world. Individuals who appear to seek justice may be bloodthirsty in the end.

What are the issues in A Tale of Two Cities? ›

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, deals with the major themes of duality, revolution, and resurrection. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times in London and Paris, as economic and political unrest lead to the American and French Revolutions.

How A Tale of Two Cities is a critique of English society? ›

In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens uses his critique of both the conditions leading up to the Revolution, and the Revolution itself as a warning to his English audience. He connects the cold and selfish behavior of the aristocracy to the revolutionaries' violent demands for justice.

What is the famous last line of A Tale of Two Cities? ›

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” The final line of A Tale Of Two Cities is one of the most celebrated in literature.

What is the famous first line of A Tale of Two Cities? ›

Even people with only the most cursory knowledge of the writings of Charles Dickens usually know about the fantastic start to A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

What is the main message of the story? ›

Theme is the main or central idea in a literary work. It is the unifying element of a story. A theme is not a summary of characters or events.

What is the basic message of the story? ›

The term theme can be defined as the underlying meaning of a story. It is the message the writer is trying to convey through the story. Often the theme of a story is a broad message about life. The theme of a story is important because a story's theme is part of the reason why the author wrote the story.

What was the purpose of a tale of two cities? ›

A Tale of Two Cities was partly an attempt to show his readers the dangers of a possible revolution. This idea was not the first time a simple — and incorrect — conviction became the occasion for a serious and powerful work of art.

What are the three forms of literary conflict in A Tale of Two Cities? ›

A Tale of Two Cities dramatizes various layers of conflict including social, personal, and internal.

What are the main problems in a story? ›

Many stories contain multiple types of conflict, but there is usually one that is the main focus.
  • Character vs. Self. ...
  • Character vs. Character. ...
  • Character vs. Nature. ...
  • Character vs. Supernatural. ...
  • Character vs. Technology. ...
  • Character vs. Society.
Sep 29, 2021

What is social injustice in A Tale of Two Cities? ›

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens criticizes the social injustice that occurs during the French Revolution through excessive mortality, a clear distinction between classes, and the irrationality of the government system.

What is the most read book in the world of all time? ›

The Holy Bible is the most read book in the world. In the past 50 years, the Bible has sold over 3.9 billion copies. It is the most recognizable and famous book that has ever been published. The Bible is a collective book with many different preachings based on God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the theme of sacrifice in A Tale of Two Cities? ›

Manette sacrifices his freedom in order to preserve his integrity. Charles sacrifices his family wealth and heritage in order to live a life free of guilt for his family's awful behavior. The French people are willing to sacrifice their own lives to free themselves from tyranny.

What is the political background of A Tale of Two Cities? ›

A Tale of Two Cities has many political elements in it, as the novel discusses the different monarchies in France and England. During this time period, which is set in 1775, France is under aristocratic rule and England was under a stable monarchy. France is beneath the rule of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

What is the most famous line? ›

A jury consisting of 1,500 film artists, critics, and historians selected "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", spoken by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in the 1939 American Civil War epic Gone with the Wind, as the most memorable American movie quotation of all time.

What is the golden thread quotes A Tale of Two Cities? ›

She was the golden thread that united him to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery: and the sound of her voice, the light of her face, the touch of her hand, had a strong beneficial influence with him almost always.

What is the most famous opening line in literature? ›

1. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813) It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Who is the most memorable character in A Tale of Two Cities? ›

Sydney Carton proves the most dynamic character in A Tale of Two Cities. He first appears as a lazy, alcoholic attorney who cannot muster even the smallest amount of interest in his own life.

How does A Tale of Two Cities end? ›

A Tale of Two Cities ends with the execution of Sydney Carton by guillotine. Carton has switched places with Charles Darnay not long before he was to be executed.

Is tale of Two Cities hard to read? ›

Sarah A Tale of Two Cities is definitely a challenging novel, so please don't feel discouraged if you're not getting as much out of it as you hoped! It is true that the novel takes a bit of thought and, for lack of a better word, work to get through.

What lesson the Devan story taught you? ›

Moral: One who is wise can win any challenge.

What is the theme vs moral of the story? ›

Theme is the central idea of a text that is implied by the author several times in a book or a story while moral is the message or the lesson that the author wants readers to get from the story.

Who is the hero of A Tale of Two Cities? ›

Sydney Carton is one of the most dynamic and poignant characters in Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Readers, critics, and Dickens fans offer a multitude of words on the subject of Sydney Carton. Some view him as the most heroic of heroes.

How historically accurate is A Tale of Two Cities? ›

Answer and Explanation: Most historians agree that A Tale of Two Cities is historically accurate. Dickens did a great deal of research prior to and during his writing of the novel. However, Dickens did not write a factual history of the French Revolution; he wrote a fictional novel set against that time frame.

What are the two worlds represented in A Tale of Two Cities? ›

The book is a work of historical fiction and is set in the years 1775-1792, before and during the French Revolution. This happened several decades before the book was published in 1859. The two cities of the title are Paris and London.

What is the main conflict of the story *? ›

A central conflict and climax refers to a story's inciting incident, its central conflict that advances the plot's points, and how the story's climax is resolved. Here, the central conflict is defined as when a main character's strongest desire is met by an equally strong internal or external obstacle.

What are the 4 main conflicts in most stories? ›

The opposing force created, the conflict within the story generally comes in four basic types: Conflict with the self, Conflict with others, Conflict with the environment and Conflict with the supernatural. Conflict with the self, the internal battle a lead character has within, is often the most powerful.

What is the style of Dickens in Tale of Two Cities? ›

A Tale of Two Cities is written in a grandiose style. The omniscient narrator can see both into the past and the future, and uses this perspective to make sweeping pronouncements about human nature and what lies ahead.

What are the 2 kinds of conflict in the story? ›

There are two kinds of conflict in the story : between humans and nature, and between humands themselves .

What are good character flaws? ›

Here are some common character flaws – and some less obvious ones – you might consider:
  • Arrogant or vain.
  • Conceited or self righteous.
  • Narcissistic or self centered.
  • Libidinous or having excessive desire.
  • Predatory.
  • Excessive pride.
  • Deluded.
  • Boastful.
Jun 27, 2021

What is the solution in the story? ›

In Steadfast stories, the Solution Element represents the nature of the things that would resolve the Overall Story Problem. Again it is the "flip side" of the problem, but it has exclusively to do with the Overall Story since the Main Character does not, in these cases, share the same problem as the Overall Story.

What are the 3 social injustice? ›

Social injustice refers to wrongful actions against individuals within society. This occurs when the unequal get treated equally while equals get treated unequally. Homophobia, ageism, and discrimination are three common social injustice examples.

What are the 4 principles of social injustice? ›

There are four interrelated principles of social justice; equity, access, participation and rights.

How does Dickens show social injustice? ›

Instead of creating a community in which life can be enjoyed by all, Dickens highlights the injustice of wealth distribution. Dickens uses two wretched children, called Ignorance and Want, to represent the poor. a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds.

What's the most stolen book? ›

The Bible. Apparently, thieves missed the "Thou shalt not steal" part of the Ten Commandments. According to experts, the Bible is the most commonly stolen book. The Holy Bible is available for free at many places of worship, so perhaps there's less guilt associated with pilfering a copy.

Which book no one can read? ›

The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated codex hand-written in an otherwise unknown script, referred to as 'Voynichese'.

What is the best book that has ever been written? ›

12 Novels Considered the “Greatest Book Ever Written”
  • Anna Karenina. Greta Garbo in Anna Karenina Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. ...
  • To Kill a Mockingbird. To Kill a Mockingbird Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group. ...
  • The Great Gatsby. F. ...
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude. ...
  • A Passage to India. ...
  • Invisible Man. ...
  • Don Quixote. ...
  • Beloved.

What is the moral of the story the great sacrifice? ›

Nothing can equal a mother's love. A mother brings up her child with all the affection and love. In times of difficulty she is even ready to sacrifice everything she has for the sake of her child She does not care for her own comforts. Sometimes she sacrifices her own life.

What is the deeper meaning of sacrifice? ›

: to suffer loss of, give up, renounce, injure, or destroy especially for an ideal, belief, or end. 3. : to sell at a loss. 4. : to advance (a base runner) by means of a sacrifice bunt.

How does Dr Manette sacrifice his freedom? ›

Manette sacrifice? Dr. Manette was offered a bribe to keep his silence about the Marquis' crimes. He refuses the bribe and in doing so he sacrifices his freedom in favor of his dignity.

What are the political and social issues in tale of two cities? ›

Generally, A Tale of Two Cities depicts the social and political issues in Paris and London before and throughout the French Revolution in the 18th century. Dickens portrays two cities, poverty, starvation, crime, punishment, and aristocracy.

What is irony in A Tale of Two Cities? ›

There is irony at the end of the novel when the drugged and sluggish Darnay, the symbol of goodness and nobility, resembles the alcoholic Carton, the symbol of a wasted life, in such a realistic manner that he gets away safely. Madame Defarge's end is also filled with irony.

How is LOTF a political allegory? ›

The Lord Of The Flies, written by William Golding, is a political allegory where the island illustrates the world while Jack and Ralph both symbolize conflicting ideologies, totalitarianism and democracy because Ralph and Jack, in a power struggle, fight for control over the island, trying to spread their respective ...

What is a famous quote from our town? ›

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings.”

What is the most quoted line? ›

A jury consisting of 1,500 film artists, critics, and historians selected "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", spoken by Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in the 1939 American Civil War epic Gone with the Wind, as the most memorable American movie quotation of all time.

What is a quote from Jack in Chapter 2? ›

We're English, and the English are best at everything. So we've got to do the right things. In Chapter 2, Jack asserts that the boys should adhere to the rules of British civilization on the island.

What is the most iconic line of all time? ›

Famous Movie Quotes
  • “ May the Force be with you.” - Star Wars, 1977.
  • “ There's no place like home.” - The Wizard of Oz, 1939.
  • “ I'm the king of the world!” - ...
  • “ Carpe diem. ...
  • “ Elementary, my dear Watson.” - ...
  • “ It's alive! ...
  • “ My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. ...
  • “ I'll be back.” -
Sep 21, 2018

What is the coolest quote ever? ›

Quotes by Famous People
  • The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. - ...
  • The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. - ...
  • Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. ...
  • If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavor. -
Jan 2, 2023

Who is the most quoted person of all time? ›

The playwright takes top place on the list of the most memorable lines ever written or spoken in the latest edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations. With 92 quotes attributed, Wilde beats his next nearest rival, another Irishman, George Bernard Shaw.

What is the main message of our town? ›

Our Town is a play that shares the idea that we live life without really appreciating what it has to offer. Once we die, and are able to see what we had, it is really too late. Major themes of the play include mortality, appreciating life, companionship and marriage, love, and the circle of life.

What was the colonists famous quote? ›

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry signaled the coming revolution when he spoke at a Virginia convention and allegedly implored: “Give me liberty, or give me death!

Is our town an allegory? ›

The play is an allegory of life structured over three days. Wilder begins the play at the crack of dawn, when the town is waking up, and concludes the play with the dead in the cemetery. The repetition of the sun's cycle parallels the life cycle, with one important distinction.

Who is the most quoted man in America? ›

Gregory F. Packer

What is Mark Twain most famous quote? ›

  • "Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it."
  • "An uneasy conscience is a hair in the mouth."
  • "When in doubt‚ tell the truth."
  • "If you tell truth you don't have to remember anything."

What was John Wayne's famous line? ›

1. "Whoa, take 'er easy there, Pilgrim." 2. "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."

How does Jack abuse his power? ›

As cheif, he gives orders constantly. Page 179 is not the first time Jack abuses his unearned power. He does it many other times, such as when he makes a fort, orders his savages around, and yells at them when they disobey him. Jack uses this power to show he is on top, and he does it unfairly.

What do Piggy's glasses symbolize? ›

The spectacles represent the boys' only means of obtaining fire through reflecting the sun's rays, and fire itself is symbolic of survival and rescue. Jack snatches the glasses off Piggy's face to create the fire, despite Piggy's protestations, and his dependence upon them.

What is the quote of Jack being savage? ›

“We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages. We're English, and the English are best at everything.”


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