Important Quotes & Themes in "A Tale of Two Cities"

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The novel “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens contains a myriad of themes and important quotes that illuminate their essence. Students who struggle with the dense language in this book will be helped by focusing on key quotes and thinking about which themes they feel best summarize the lessons of the novel.

Theme of the Continuity of Life

“A Tale of Two Cities” is a novel that delves into the concept that life will go on no matter how dire the circumstance. This book helps teens learn that people throughout the ages have experienced severe tragedies and found a way to survive and rebuild a new life.

This theme explores the resiliency of humans to endure unspeakable events and nonetheless go on to find a path back to a life of normalcy and even eventually happiness.

The following quotes illustrate the theme of continuity of life no matter what tragedies befall a land:

“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…”

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out…”

Theme of Man’s Struggle to Remain Good in Times of Crisis

The conflict between good and evil in human nature is well explored in the novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” The behavior of humans during times of crisis and tragedy illustrates the core character of a soul. Dickens is a master of showing how events beyond one’s control show humans at their worst and at their best as they struggle through and seek survival.

The following quotes illustrate how humankind acts in crisis and eventually finds a way to stay true to who they are no matter what the circumstances.

“Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him and resigning him-self to let it eat him away.”

“As mere human knowledge can split a ray of light and analyze the manner of its composition, so, sublimer intelligences may read in the feeble shining of this earth of ours, every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every responsible creature on it.”

Theme of Self Determination

“A Tale of Two Cities” is a novel with vivid characters. Each character struggles to find and maintain a self identity that they are comfortable with and that is not open to negotiation from others. The fight for self determination is fierce in most humans.

The following quotes illustrate the force of self determination in a character:

“Tell wind and fire where to stop, returned Madame, but don’t tell me.”

“If you remember the words that passed between us, long ago, you will readily comprehend this when you see it. You do remember them, I know. It is not in your nature to forget them. I am thankful that the time has come when I can prove them.”

Theme of the Scope of Eternity

Eternity is a concept some teens find hard to grasp. They are wrapped up in the details of every day life. The following quotes helps readers think about the concept of eternity:

“Chateau and hut, stone face and dangling figure, the red stain on the stone floor, and the pure water in the village well-thousands of acres of land—a whole province of France—all of France itself—lay under the night sky, concentrated into a faint hairbreadth line. So does a whole world, with all its greatnesses and littlenesses, lie in a twinkling star.”


  • “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, Project Gutenberg Online Book, January 1, 1994.