“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” – Explain

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A Tale of Two Cities is a notable literary work by Charles Dickens. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of A Tale of Two Cities.


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.

The above famous quote is derived from Charles Dickens’s (1812- 1870) novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” It highlights the stark contrasts and contradictions in society and the characters’ lives during the turbulent times of the French Revolution.

In these lines, by “The best of times,” Dickens means to say that the time of stability, peace, and prosperity in London was a place of order, civility, and comfort in Paris. Besides, “best of times” refers to Charles Darnay’s peaceful life in London. On the other hand, “The worst of times” means the French Revolution in Paris, a period of extreme social and political upheaval. It refers to great suffering, brutality, and chaos. The phrase “The worst of times” refers to particularly alarming times of the Evrémonde family among the many characters.

Through this paradoxical statement, Dickens conveys both the best and the worst of times because there’s great prosperity and progress besides immense suffering and injustice. It mirrors the stark divide between the rich and the poor, struggling to survive. The mention of “the age of wisdom” and “the age of foolishness” describes human nature’s duality. Some people in this era display great wisdom and insight. They try to positive change. While others act foolishly, perpetuating the cycle of violence and oppression. The “epoch of belief” and “epoch of incredulity” highlight the conflicting ideologies of the time. Many believe in the possibility of a better life in the future, while others believe it is very difficult to gain a better life in harsh realities. The references to “the season of light” and “the season of darkness” describe contrasting imagery. “Light” represents hope and aspiration, while “darkness” symbolizes despair, melancholy and death. The “spring of hope” expresses the possibility of good times. On the other hand, the “winter of despair” expresses unstable emotions and long-lasting unbearable situations and circumstances throughout the story.

In short, this opening quote describes the novel’s central theme of duality. Dickens explores the human real condition in London and Paris through these paradoxes. It also refers to the impact of societal upheaval on individuals.