Resurection and Martyrdom: Dr. Manette and Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities The title of the first chapter of A Tale of Two Cities, in fact the first words anyone reads after the title, are the words “Recalled to Life” (Dickens, 1). The meaning of these words are not immediately apparent – Dickens moves on immediately to a digression about the times surrounding the novel, the throws of France and the Insecurity of Britain…
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Furthermore, this theme of resurrection makes the deaths and sacrifices of the work stand out all the more starkly. The first direct reference that Dickson makes to being “recalled to life” occurs in Chapter three, and references the character who is perhaps most obviously “recalled to life,” Dr. Manette. The conversation is worth a close evaluation: “Buried how long?’ The answer was always the same: ‘almost eighteen years.’ You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?’ ‘Long ago.’ ‘You know that you are recalled to life?’ ‘they tell me so.’ ‘I hope you care to live?’ ‘I can’t say” (Dickens, 19). The reader later learns what the two people are talking about – Dr. Manette had been wrongfully imprisoned, and after eighteen years was finally being released. The first important point of this conversation is the fact that life can be taken away from someone in a wide variety of ways. Though society usually draws a significant disctinction between the death penalty and imprisonment, Dr. Manette’s conversation reveals that they are in fact very similar situations: the language of burial, being ”dug out” and “recalled to life” all indicate that prison is essentially a state of death. This connects to one of the most important themes throughout the work – the ruling’s willingness to put others to death wrongfully or with little care. The novel contains countless instances of those in power being willing to do this through a variety of methods – Manette was put in prison wrongfully, as were many other people presumably, the King of France was only all too willing to execute peasants (76), and during the reign of terror many innocent people were executed as well (185). So the discussion of being “recalled to life” draws attention to the fact that governments everywhere end the lives of their citizens through imprisonment, and more permanently, execution Another important aspect of this conversation is the fact that being recalled to life, being resurrected, does not necessarily mean you can live again. Dr. Manette’s clipped language, and direct statement that he is not even sure he cares to live both show that there is something very wrong with him from his resurrection process. This shows the reader that the ‘deaths’ caused by those in power – even the less permanent ones that are caused by imprisonment, for instance, are not without extreme harm even when they may not be permanent. So the process of dying may be as powerful as the process of resurrection – or possibly even more powerful. People who have gone through both death and resurrection seem to bear the scars of death more than the joys of resurrection. Dr. Manette eventually does recover, however, becoming a doctor again, as well as a loving and caring father (173). This process shows that the scars that can be had by the resurrected may not be completely permanent, and thus separates deaths with a chance of resurrection – such as imprisonment, from the deaths that those in power cause by wantonly executing their citizens. Dr. Manette’s eventual recovery draws attention to the permanence of bodily death, and this serves an important purpose in A Tale of Two Cities. It makes Sydney Carton’s death at the end of the work, where he sacrifices himself for another, even more powerfu
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