A Tale of Two Cities
Dickens exploits the hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies of the justice system in A Tale of Two Cities. As French citizens take to the streets, demanding justice for themselves and their families, they also construct a justice system that becomes anything but fair and impartial. To keep us from blaming the French too much, however, Dickens also gives us a good look at the justice system in England. Complete with magic mirrors and smoke-and-dagger tricks, the English can't brag about their courts, either. So how does justice get rendered? That is one of the questions this novel explores.
Questions About Justice and Judgment
- Which is more corrupt: the justice system in France or the justice system in England?
- The English court establishes that Sydney and Charles's physical similarity is reason enough to assume that it wouldn’t be just to hang Charles for treason. Does this make sense to you?
- Doctor Manette only gets his day in court when the Defarges include his letter in Darnay’s trial in France. In some ways, isn’t this actually a just thing for the Defarges to do? Why or why not?
- How does Sydney Carton develop his sense of justice (and why does he insist on working in the legal system)?
Chew on This
Dickens inserts two court cases (one French and one English) into A Tale of Two Cities in order to demonstrate the unsettling similarities between the two countries.
The English court, for all its failings, is still able to hand down good verdicts; by incorporating Darnay’s English court case into the novel, Dickens proves that the English justice system can never be corrupted in the ways that the French one will be.