Renaissance writers such as Shakespeare, relied on coincidences in order to move and enhance the plot; although, this practice was common in Renaissance time, it is criticized by modern literary critics for making a story unrealistic. Although he is not a Renaissance writer, Charles Dickens uses these same coincidences to bring together the troubled times of two cities and the people that inhabit them in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Contrary to what some critics might say, Dickens weaves each situation into the plot in a way that maintains verisimilitude and adds to the book. Believability is maintained because the reader is too invested in the plot to realize that the situation is unrealistic. Also, his attachment toward each character distorts his view of reality. Without these coincidences the theme of love in the story would be far less powerful.
In reading A Tale of Two Cities, the reader is to engrossed in the plot to even notice that the situation is pretty unlikely. For example, The discovery of the resemblance between Darnay and Sydney as shown in this passage “… the likeness became much more remarkable”(79), happens very early in the book and the reader learns to accept the likeness by the time it becomes important to the plot. By placing the recognition early on, the reader has become so absorbed in other areas of the plot that he forgets how strange this resemblance is. By the time Sydney chooses to change places with Darnay the reader barely questions Darnay’s fate. The reader’s willingness to believe the situation is compounded by the fact that he is so happy at Darnay’s chance of survival that he does not worry about how possible the situation may be in real life. Another strange coincidence is that the man that Lucie married is the son and nephew to the men who caused Madame Defarge’s sister and brother to die. Much earlier Madame Defarge shows hatred toward Lucie, who she previously had compassion for. When the reader finds out about Madame Defarge’s past, it explains the anger and the hatred displayed toward Lucie, and is not so much a random, unbelievable coincidence. Relating to the incident of Roger Cly’s faked death, it is surprising that Jerry happens to be the one who digs up Roger Cly’s body. When Jerry Cruncher follows the funeral precession and later that night digs up a body, the reader is to absorbed in wonder about his job and too worried about little Jerry’s frightened state to notice how strange the incident is. There is no reason for the reader to doubt the possibility that Jerry was there at that time and therefore it is not such a insurmountable leap to believing that Jerry digs up Roger Cly. The plot of Dicken’s novel is so absorbing that the reader hardly notices any coincidences.
Shortly after beginning the book the reader is already attached to the characters in the story and is willing to believe any circumstance if it means the person he has become attached to lives. In the instance of Sydney being able to die successfully for Darnay, it is explained by the uncaring of the French people. In Lucie’s encounter with the Road mender he says lightly, “Now a child…and off its head comes. All the family” (282). It does not matter to the revolutionaries who dies, as long as many people do. Anyone reading the book or who knows anything about the Reign of Terror will fully believe that no one recognizes Darnay simply because they really do not care who dies. Not only does the reader want to hate the French people for only wanting more deaths, but he also wants to see Darnay live. He can accomplish both of these by accepting that Sydney switched places with Darnay successfully, and therefore is eager to believe the situation. Sydney would not of had a chance at switching places with Darnay if it were not for Jerry Cruncher, he would never have had an effective bargaining tool against John Barsad. Jerry being in France at the correct time was critical to this happening. But his placement does not seem so much like a coincidence as much as it does normal plot reading. Before Jarvis Lorry went to France Jerry did a few jobs for him and agreed to accompany him to Paris because he was old and could use some protection in the dangerous area. At this point the reader is too busy being worried about Lorry’s safety to even think about the practicality of Jerry accompanying him and consequently is not surprised by the placement. Another major coincidence is that Darnay and Lucie, whose parents have an entwined history unbeknownst to them, meet and fall in love. From the moment the reader is introduced to Darnay his feelings for Lucie are obvious. From that moment on the only thing the reader cares about is that they come together and get married. He is too focused on their love to question the believability of the situation. When the reader does find out how their pasts intertwine it only helps to explain some of Dr. Manette’s odd behavior. Dickens makes his characters so real the no one can stay emotionally detached from them; their emotion toward the character blinds them to any unrealistic situations
The coincidences in this story are also important because they lend themselves to some of the important themes of the story, more specifically to the theme of love. For instance, it may seem unlikely that the one person who may have noticed Sydney and Darnay’s switch, Madame Defarge, is mysteriously absent; however, this is explained by her death in a skirmish with Mrs. Pross. Mrs. Pross stands as a motherly figure who the reader respects and loves for her unconditional devotion toward Lucie. It only adds to her personality that she risks her life for Lucie, and ultimately defeats her enemy. Her compassion for Lucie adds to the plots underlying theme of love. Also helping embody the power of love, is the instance of Sydney Carton’s willingness to die for Charles Darnay, Dickens casts Sydney from the very beginning as a man who thinks, in his own words, “I shall never be better than I am. I shall sink lower, and be worse” (153). After a book full of Sydney’s self deprecation the reader is easily able to believe that Sydney does not value his life as much as he cares for Darnay’s and the pleasure his survival will bring to Lucie. Out of love for Lucie and her well being Sydney willingly dies in place of Darnay. In Sydney the love and bravery everyone wishes he could experience is personified. Lucie is not always on the receiving end of the love in this story. In the beginning of the novel Lucie’s love for Dr. Mantte helps guide him back into society after being locked away for such a long time. While it may seem slightly coincidental that Lorry is able to find Lucie after partly abandoning her so many years before, his being able to meet up with Lucie is not only critical to the plot, but also critical to the theme of resurrection empowered by love. The theme of love is ubiquitous in this story, but it would be far less powerful without the coincidences utilized by Charles Dickens.All of the events in A Tale of Two Cities may not be completely realistic, but they only add to the plot, not detract. The reader is willing to trust these instances because he wants to. He believes it partly because he wishes for his favorite characters survival and somewhat because he is too caught up in the plot to notice the improbable circumstances. Without these coincidences some of the main themes in the story would have been less powerful and the story would not still be a literary classic today.