What Time Is It for You?: Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities — and Two Times
“It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever. …those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures — the creatures of this chronicle among the rest — along the roads that lay before them” (Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities. “The Period”).
Perhaps these words present themselves to my soul in a powerful way at this particular “Period” of history. Dickens got it, the juxtaposition of human responses to the workings of the energies of life, particularly in relationship to governments and society. We are social creatures; the formation of government develops naturally and necessarily if we are to live according to our social natures.
What do I see in these words? How do the words act as a lens for me? Dickens capitalized two words in the series: Light and Darkness. He then proceeds to equate the state of the energy of the world in 1775 by linking light and darkness with the unjust, dictatorial reigns of the monarchies of Great Britain and France over disenfranchised subjects.
Of course, not all were trampled. Those who benefitted from powerful control freaks welcomed and supported policies that disempowered most people by denying “certain unalienable rights.” Therefore, for some, that period represented “the best of times,” while others experienced “the worst of times” — “Light” and “Darkness.”
Shakespeare — great minds in accord — understands the dichotomy of the two responses: Hamlet tells his friends that “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Of course, those early Romantic writers and philosophers welcomed the revolutions against authoritarianism, so they viewed them as favorable at the outset.
Maybe so, but death and destruction that results from inhumane dictators, no matter who initiates the war, wreaks havoc and sorrow for generations. Do we not yet understand that?
Dickens provides a lens that helps me think about today’s widening chasm not only in the United States but also in a number of other nations bent on electing fascist-leaning governments, ones that will lead to revolutions of one sort or another.
A government that favors a relatively select few at the expense of masses, that discriminates against people because of their human traits, that denies genders, minorities, and cultures basic rights — those rights named and not named as “certain unalienable rights” — such a government oppresses and can expect an unpleasant demise.
In this period, I hope we will learn to respect one another, valuing our diversities and allowing for varied cultural expressions. Fear prevents that from happening, and it should if any — and I mean any, whether they be minority, religious, gender, sexual orientation, or other factors — mean to suppress, eradicate, or disenfranchise others. True freedom and liberty root themselves in mutual respect and desire for all to not only survive but also thrive, including all elements of Nature.
How do such contraries as foolishness and wisdom, belief and incredulity, hope and despair, heaven and hell mark our world today?
To me, life and its varied expressions hold me in awe. I despise narrow-minded bigotry, expressions of super-nationalistic superiority, and the greedy desire that destroys Nature under the guise of a good economy, but I still marvel at the dynamics.
However, I hope for change, for spiritual awakening to the abundance, beauty, and harmony that is ours. I suppose that characterizes me as a true Gemini, one who sees, feels, and holds the contraries that Dickens masterfully displays in his introduction to A Tale of Two Cities.