The latest book I had to read for English was A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I was excited to dive into this incredibly famous book, and in no way was I disappointed. If you haven't read it, please do. Not only does it give incredible insight into Revolutionary France, but it provides even greater insight into the hearts of men and the characters that make up our world. I found the tale to be both depressing and inspiring; it brought out my emotional highs as well as lows.
For a final project I decided to re-read the famous introductory paragraph, then do a comparison to today's world. I received 100% on my paper (yes!) and I really do think it's one of the better things I've written in High School. I wanted to post my paper not for self-glorification, but to share my thoughts. Feel free to comment and share your opinion. And, most importantly, enjoy!Colin
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
This opening paragraph to A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most famous to ever be written. Certainly this is partially because A Tale of Two Cities is an amazing book written by Charles Dickens – one of the best and most celebrated authors; but I would submit there’s more to this opening then mere pen on paper. When words reach through the book and the barrier of time that separates us from the writer’s hand, and we feel those words tug at our hearts and our emotions, and we relate to the feeling of what’s being communicated, this indeed is more than simple etchings in ink. The opening paragraph to A Tale of Two Cities is a perfect example of something that speaks anew to every generation – if they listen. Undoubtedly everyone will read this beautiful arrangement of words with their own opinions, experiences, and belief systems in mind, and they will glean certain truths about today’s world because of this. In general, however, there are two main categories that this passage speaks to that can be related to today’s world: morals and beliefs. Examining each of these separate and looking at how they play into today’s world, and how they are presented from Dicken’s writing will provide clarity to both understanding today’s world, and understanding the passage.
Nearly everybody in today’s world has some kind of set of morals. Some may cringe to admit it, but history has shown humans to be beings who draw certain lines in their metaphorical sand, and say “this far, but no further.” Some base their morals on religion, while others prefer to base them from experiences, and still others prefer neither and fall to the morals of immorality. All people, however, have some kind of moral code. “…it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” The masses of today flock to the widely popular philosophy of simply “being a good person.” They are sorely let down when they realize the narcissism of such a belief has inversely showed them that they are, in fact, the opposite: foolish people. Then there are the Mother Theresa’s and the Ghandi’s of the world: people who sacrifice of themselves and find true happiness. The few that follow these people tread on a narrow road and seek true wisdom. “…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…” “…we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” The newspaper and news channels of today’s world reveal how full of Darkness our society is. Murder, theft, drugs, pornography, adultery, bombings, terrorism; the list is ever-increasing and never ending. Drug busts are a common occurrence in even the smallest of cities, and one need only look at Las Vegas or Atlantic City to realize how enamored and addicted our culture is with sexual deviance. Through everything that is Dark and grows ever Darker, however, there is Light. Organizations, groups, and people step up and make a difference in our world every day. Disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti reveal how prone many people are to helping those in need. Morals in today’s society truly reveal that, if one was to create a spectrum, there is no middle ground.
In many ways, a person’s morals are tied closely to their beliefs, or their belief system. Like morals, everyone carries some kind of belief system; whether it be based on their upbringing, their experiences, their wins, or their losses. Most people’s beliefs are continuously in process; they change through experience and periods of time. “…it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…” In today’s society, seeing is believing. One need only sit in on a public high school Physics class to realize that if you can’t prove it using a formula, postulate, or experimental analysis, then our culture screams “it is not true!” We place personal menu requests on mathematics and science for this very reason, with side orders of debate and logic. The winners in our society are those who are smart, and can show you just how smart they are. Then, there are the pastors, the priests, the rabbis, and the prophets: those who choose faith above their mind, and who know that they can’t trust their eyes to show them the real truth of this world. The scientists and scholars of today’s society at the very least disregard the words of even the most esteemed in this camp, and at the worst mock them for not having the facts to back up their beliefs. “…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” The highly regarded people of today’s culture (the lawyers, the doctors, the scientists, and even the politicians) all have their own voices and opinions on the happenings in the world. If one were to take all of their voices and combine them in to one shout and uproar, the result would be depressing: global warming, failing economies, and warring nations to only name a few of the loud and piercing cries. Despair creeps through every crack and every floorboard – it turns the strong to weak, and the weak to nothing. And yet, just as with every winter, there is inevitably a spring on the other side. Even above the naysayers and pessimists that rule our upper-class society, there are those that lead revolutions in technology, which in turn leads to solving issues such as water crises in other countries. There are also those that lead in the study of medicine, that rather than simply screaming the common cry of “there is no hope!” they help solve global issues like HIV/AIDS, and provide medical assistance all around the world. These people show the world that mankind truly does not exist merely to continue its existence until the end of the world; that we really do have everything before us.
Morals and beliefs: these are the two main categories that I would distil everything into from Charles Dickens’ opening words in A Tale of Two Cities. They reveal that, although the circumstances were very different and the quality of life was not nearly the same in Revolutionary France, the very same wise words can be applied to today’s world. The words reach through space and time and grab our society by its collar; they show us how similar people of yesterday are to people of today. More than that, they grab you and me and present a choice. We can heed the words and choose what kind of person we can become, or we can leave the words and fall into the same winter of despair, epoch of incredulity, and season of Darkness that so many have fallen into: both yesterday, and today. So many people today are split on this choice that in many ways it truly is the best of times, and the worst of times.