Study Guide

A Tale of Two Cities Morals and Ethics

By Charles Dickens

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Morals and Ethics

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Things aren’t always what they seem. Disreputable, lazy, good-for-nothing people turn out to be saviors. Righteous, justice-seeking people turn out to be bloodthirsty thugs. In other words, war tends to confound most people’s expectations. Once blood starts spilling in the streets, telling the difference between right and wrong becomes extremely difficult.

When the world turns upside-down, how do you decide what to believe? More important, whom can you trust? A Tale of Two Cities explores the agonizing consequences of revolution, such as how "freedom" can too easily become another word for fanaticism. Sure, revolution can bring freedom—but at what cost?

Questions About Morals and Ethics

  1. Dickens tends to discuss entire populations as if they were single characters: "Monseigneur" stands for the aristocracy, "Saint Antoine" for the poor. How does this affect the way that we read about the different sides of the revolution?
  2. Is it fair that Darnay should go back to France? Why or why not?
  3. How effective are Tellson’s ethics? Why does Mr. Lorry deviate from them so often?
  4. What do you think of Mr. Cruncher’s rationalization of his "profession" as a grave-digger?

Chew on This

Because Charles Darnay’s sense of morality is fully formed (and never troubled) at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities, he never becomes a truly interesting character.

In the turmoil of political upheaval, characters whose morals remain constant become the only ones we can rely on. That’s why we like Charles Darnay so much.

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