A Tale of Two Cities, a la Shmoop: It was
the best of videos, it was the worst of videos. Even if you haven’t read Dickens’ immortal
classic A Tale of Two Cities… …you’re no doubt familiar with that opening
line: “It was the best of times, it was the worst
of times…” Man… talk about “fickle,” right?
How could it be the best of times and the worst of times… at the same time? What was Dickens trying to say here… or
was he just trying to cover his butt? Okay, considering that Dickens is one of the
greatest writers who has ever lived… …and taking into account that his opener
is a pretty famous one… …let’s give him the benefit of the doubt
and say that… he was likely trying to make an important point here.
But what? Is
he saying that it was the best of times for
some, and the worst of times for others? Dickens paints a picture with a pretty clear
divide between the upper and lower classes. One half of the population was the upper crust… ..while the other half had to settle for the
upper crust’s… crumbs. Or is he insinuating that it’s a matter
of perception? Some of the characters in this novel live
in poverty, but are courageous, loyal, or strong of heart. Others… members of the aristocracy… live
lavish existences, but are corrupt, unkind or inhumane. Were the folks Dickens writes about experiencing
both the best of times and the worst of times… simultaneously?
Were their hearts full, but their stomachs empty… …or vice versa? And why exactly were there so many empty stomachs…
had these people never heard of Ramen noodles? All right, so the line might be referring
to a divide between the classes… …or it could have to do with a sort of…
duality of man… …but consider a third option. Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with
people’s lives at all. Perhaps Dickens was commenting on the state
of the world as a whole. It was the worst of times, because the French
Revolution was raging on, and evils such as self-indulgence and brutality reared their
nasty heads… …but it was the best of times, because the
human spirit rose up when faced with such adversity and hardship… …and remained strong even in the face of
death. And trust us… it’s tough to be strong
in the face of death. That is one ugly mug. So… which way are you leaning? Does Dickens’ famous first line relate to
the highs of the rich and the lows of the poor… …the differing perceptions of happiness
that existed within each character in the story… …or to an all-encompassing assessment of
the state of humankind? Shmoop among yourselves.