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Darkness, Light, and Various Shades of Gray: The Prison and the Outside World in Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities

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This essay deals with the psychological and narrative effects of the prison experience in Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities (1859). More specifically, by analyzing the imprisonment of Dr. Manette and Charles Darnay, I show that the Bastille and the prison of La Force serve as the novel's most important focal points at which the reciprocal connections between the narrative's binary oppositions are negotiated and restructured. The novel as a whole and its color symbolism in particular accentuate the dynamic relationship between dichotomies by merging the prisons' darkness with the brightness of the free world. Dickens's Tale thus demonstrates that, albeit to various different degrees, everyone in society oscillates between poles. And, surprisingly, sometimes prisoners can teach the free world something it has forgotten about, namely how to achieve a sense of decency, community, and respect for others.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-06-01

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  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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