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Foreshadowing in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Updated on January 22, 2019
A picture of Charles Dickens
A picture of Charles Dickens | Source

Charles Dickens was increasingly the most popular author of his time, he wrote pieces that reflected the social and economic inequality of British society, focusing on the gap between the terrible living conditions of the people in poverty and the negligence the ruling class gave to these people. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” are some of the most historically recognized lines in literature, displayed in the opening paragraph of a book by Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. The lines defined that it was the best of times for England’s wealthy class and the worst for the opposite end of the social class spectrum.

This historical fiction involves the events leading up to the French Revolution during the Jacobin Reign of Terror. In summary, this novel deals with the touching story of a love triangle between Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay; two men that look very similar yet are foils in character, and the lovely Lucie Manette. In the end one will privale as victorious and live a happy life with his loving family, while the other sacrifices everything for the happiness of his love. They’re many plot twists and cliffhangers throughout the novel, one way Dickens adds suspense and dramatics to enhance the experience of the reader is by adding events that foreshadow upcoming occurrences in the book; Charles Dickens was known for not believing in coincidences and his writing presented just that idea. Two major affairs that were foreshadowed in the literature was the French Revolution and the heroically tragic ending to the whole writing.

The Foreshadowing of the Coming Revolution

Picture of the French Revolution
Picture of the French Revolution | Source

Key events in the novel took place just before the French Revolution began; however, there were many instances that vouched that the revolution was closer than the civilians thought it was.

One of these occurrences was in Book the First, Chapter 5, a wine cask shatters and all the wine spills onto the floor, everyone around stops what they were doing and immediately run to drink the wine off the ground. The behavior of the residents show how their lifestyle is full of dread and misery, the poverty is so high that everyone struggled to even get a small drink for their children. When the wine cask broke, everyone took it as the only opportunity to relive any thirst they had, probably the only opportunity that would come in a long time. The phrase, “the time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there,” (Dickens 41) foreshadows that these people living in misery would soon rebel and go against the wealthy to claim equality and a better life. The wine that was referred to in the quote represents the blood of the people in battle or the blood of the aristocrats spilling at the guillotine when the revolution comes. Furthermore, this event enhances the reader's understanding of the themes of greed and exploitation because it gives the point of view of the people suffering from the upper classes’ negligence, this point of view also urges the reader to feel sympathy for the poor.

Another instance that foreshadows the upcoming revolution is in Book the Second, Chapter 6. In the place where Lucie and her father live there’s a corner where the echoing of footsteps are very apparent. Lucie liked to imagine what these footsteps could symbolize; when she was talking to Carton and Darnay one night, she states that “I have sometimes sat alone here of an evening, listening, until I have made the echoes out to be the echoes of all the footsteps that are coming by-and-bye into our lives” (Dickens 143). Soon after she describes that “the footsteps were incessant, and the hurry of them became more and more rapid” (Dickens 143), the footsteps symbolize the soldiers coming for war and as the footsteps become faster, it indicates that the revolution is very near. Also, this experience draws attention to the fact that the war is about to begin, the closer the revolution comes, the closer there’s going to be the resurrection of a new society, a society where the wealthy aren’t as wealthy and the poor aren’t aren’t as poor. Overall, resurrection has been a major theme throughout the book and these events add suspense for the revolution to come.

Alluding to the Ending

Ending lines of A Tale of Two Cities
Ending lines of A Tale of Two Cities | Source

Secondly, Dickens uses foreshadowing to predict the tragic ending of the novel which soon after leads to the ending of the revolution. In the end of A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton makes the ultimate sacrifice and takes the place of Charles Darnay in the guillotine and gives up his life for the happiness of his love, Lucie.

This heroically tragic ending could be foreshadowed from the very first trial. Darnay is found innocent in the first trial because Carton was brought up to the stand and “ they were sufficiently like each other to surprise, not only the witness, but everybody present, when they were thus brought into comparison” (Dickens 104). Since the witnesses couldn’t tell them apart, Darnay was set free. This event foreshadows that in the future, the appearances of the gentleman will matter, Dickens indirectly showed that there was an important reason why Darnay and Carton look alike. This enhanced the reading because it rises suspicion with the reader as to why the two are similar. Coincidence? The reader shouldn’t take this event as a coincidence but a clue as to the ending of the story. Clearly, the fact that the men are basically twins plays an immense part. This is even furthered by Madame Defarge because even she confused Cartoon as Darney at one point in the story. This event leads to the theme of love in the novel because of the soon coming love triangle with Lucie.

In addition, the quote that clearly foreshadows the future of the novel is when Carton is confessing his love for Lucie in Book the Second, Chapter 13 and he gets rejected, he still claims that “for you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything. If my career were of that better kind that there was any opportunity or capacity of sacrifice in it, I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you” (Dickens 217). Carton basically confirmed that he would die and sacrifice himself for the happiness of Lucie and her loved ones. This foreshadows that Carton will have to sacrifice something for the happiness for Lucie, and in the end, it’s his life. Furthermore, it entices the reader to keep on reading to find out what the sacrifice is. Obviously, the themes practiced are love and self-sacrifice; Carton was willing to do an honorable act that would cost him his life just to believe that it will bring joy to Lucie and her family.


A Tale of Two Cities brought the impactful historical story of a unattainable romance that eventually led to the self-sacrifice of a man for love. The foreshadowing in the novel made the reader want to keep on reading and it also brought suspense.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Planet Ebook, 1859.


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