A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Overcoming the Monster
We see the consequences of injustice through the character of Dr. Manette. The poor are treated horribly in France.
OK, here’s the deal: there’s no actual monster in this novel. No Godzilla. Not even a Tarzan. We’re talking about symbolic monsters here. We could call the monster "Injustice." We could even call it "Revolution." Heck, maybe they’re twins…that’d actually fit quite nicely into the storyline of A Tale of Two Cities. Two cities, two men who look alike, two monsters. Pretty great, huh? The beginning of the novel foreshadows the bad stuff that we all know is coming later. Doctor Manette’s unfair imprisonment becomes a test case for all the unfair imprisonments and murders that the French Revolution will bring about. Ironically, of course, he’s also the reason for the revolution. Or one of them, at any rate.
The Manettes have a charmed life in London.
Once they’ve crossed the Channel, things start looking up for Dr. Manette and his daughter. They get a nice house, make some nice friends, and have a generally nice life. Lucie even manages to marry a really nice guy, Charles Darnay. Oh – and she befriends the not-so-nice look-alike of the nice guy, Sydney Carton. Things are almost too good to be true. And it’s far, far too early in the novel to have a happy ending….
In France, of course, things aren’t so bright. There are no happy endings anywhere; there are just lots of endings. People die of starvation, a little kid is run over by a callous aristocrat, and the whole country is going down the tubes.
Charles gets arrested when he returns to France.
Charles Darnay seemed like a really nice guy. In fact, he is a really nice guy. He also happens to be a French aristocrat. He descends from a whole line of French aristocrats, really, and none of them are nice, at all. Once he gets to France, however, he finds himself on the wrong side of the revolution. Don’t get us wrong – he doesn’t intend to be on any side of the revolution, at all. He just happens to be traveling along in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Here’s where the monster-metaphor comes into play. See, the revolution begins to be described as a voracious beast out to devour just about everyone. The mob of "patriots" becomes faceless, nameless, and terrifying in their need to exact vengeance. Sure, righting the wrongs of the past is a good thing. As Dickens makes clear, however, they’ve gone waaaay too far. There’s no justice – only violence. Charles gets snatched up in the jaws of the monstrous revolution, and no one can shake him loose.
Charles is condemned to death by a vengeance-crazed mob.
In a startling turn of events, the history of Dr. Manette’s past comes back to his future. Charles's father once sent Dr. Manette to prison. Once this information is made public at Charles's trial, no one can save him. The "patriots," dressed in their bloody costumes of death, roar for his execution.
The Thrilling Escape from Death
Sydney Carton gives his own life to save Charles's.
Hmm, this isn’t exactly an escape from death, is it? It’s more of a swap. Sydney rescues Charles, and the entire Manette family flees across the border, back into England. Dickens makes it pretty clear that there’s no stopping the jaws of the guillotine once it gets started. This is one monster that has to die on its own.
Instead of a thrilling escape, then, we get a heroic self-sacrifice. Sydney Carton recognizes that, at this particular moment, injustice will prevail. His choice to save others is nothing less than heroic.