LEARNING GUIDE TO:
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
SUBJECTS — Literature/England; World/France & England;1958 Version: Age: 12+; Drama; 1958; 117 minutes; B & W. Available from Amazon.com.
1989 Version (TV Miniseries): Age: 12+; Drama; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Description: Through a story about romance, family loyalty, revenge and self-sacrifice, these films recount much of Charles Dickens' classic novel set in the time of the Jacobin Terror during the French Revolution (1794). The novel and the films depict the negative aspects of the French Revolution while illustrating the period's important contributions to the cause of democracy and freedom.
Rationale for Using the Movie: A Tale of Two Cities contrasts the political situations in France and England, revealing how each nation struggled on its road to modern representative government. The films remain true to the action and themes presented in Dickens' novel thus serving as a bridge between study of the book and the comprehension and writing assignments students will subsequently address.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Through research and writing assignments, students can gain valuable insight into the lasting effects of revolutionary historical events and analyze their impact on modern society. Set in a context that focuses on relationships between characters, students begin to understand how all historical events have a human context, communication of which is largely due to Dickens' skill as a storyteller.
Possible Problems: None.
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SUGGESTIONS FOR USING TALE OF TWO CITIES IN THE CLASSROOM
After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.
1. Which problems in the story seem to foreshadow those faced by citizens of various nations today? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Some students will express the idea that inequality between upper and lower classes still causes problems in several nations, including the U.S. Others may see uprisings against unjust leadership in the Middle East as examples of conflicts similar to those in Dickens's story. The economic problems facing European nations may be expressed as examples as well.
2. Sydney Carlton is seen as the character who is redeemed in the film. What aspects of his personality or behavior need redemption and how is it achieved? Suggested Response: Carlton is a cynical alcoholic who has cared little for the lives of others. Carlton is redeemed when, in the name of love, he sacrifices his life by exchanging places with Darnay at the film's end.
3. Do you think A Tale of Two Cities is dominated by the love story that runs throughout the film or by the destructive forces of injustice? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. All well supported opinions are acceptable. Students may determine that the elements of the film, the political struggles and the love relationships, are inseparable.
For eight additional discussion questions, click here.
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:
1. "It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It's a far, far greater rest I go to than I have ever known." These words are spoken by Sydney Canton as he is heading toward his death at the story's end. Write an essay in which you explain why, for him, these words are true. Be sure to cite examples of action and dialogue to support your ideas.
2. In a formal essay, propose at least three changes in policy that the French government may have put into effect in order to avoid both the revolution and its aftermath. Look carefully at the causes of the French Revolution and at the lust for revenge that followed. Propose remedies that may have been satisfactory, or at least tolerable, to both the aristocracy and to the lower classes.
3. Write an essay in which you analyze the motives, values and personal traits of one character in the film that you see as a positive force in the story and one that you see as negative. These characters do not have to play the roles of protagonist and antagonist; they can be ancillary to the main story line.
4. Research and write an expository essay about the influence of the French Revolution on the history of the 19th and 20th centuries.
See also Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction and TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Other movies on this site based on novels by Charles Dickens and which show something of the social conditions of England in the early 19th Century are: A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Oliver! (a musical), Great Expectations and The Old Curiosity Shop.
Select questions that are appropriate for your students.
Parenting Points: Should your child be viewing the film as part of an assignment in school, be sure he or she is not using it as a substitute for the required reading.
BUILDING VOCABULARY: Bastille, nobleman, aristocrat, feudalism, serf.
This Learning Guide written by James Frieden and Mary RedClay. Last updated August 25, 2012.
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