Using Epistolary Forms as Historical/Social Context in Understanding Seminal Texts: Thomas Jefferson’s Letters from Paris, France as a Preclude to Charles Dicken’s, Tale of Two Cities.

Duration: 120-150 min

This is a Lesson that is part of a six part Unit that serves as the precursor to reading Charles Dickens’ seminal text on social commentary, A Tale of Two Cities. The other components of the Unit address how language (both written and oral communication) determines culture and class spatially (particularly in Britain during this epoch) as well as further introducing students to the use of Biblical references and allusions in a seminal text.  We will also review the four universals (as well as the sub-universals that appear in this text specifically).  We will discuss the use of literary devices used throughout the text. Generally the four literary universals are considered to be; life, death, beauty and uncertainty. (Dickens refers to the sub-universals in Chapter Five of his text entitled, “The Wine Shop”, when he states that ‘the Lords of cold, sickness, ignorance and want (Hunger) were present in San Antoine’.)

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Grade Level

High School

Type of Lesson

Document Analysis

Common Core Standards

The Common Core Standards for both ELA and American History are paralleled in this Lesson and thus the entire Unit:

English/Language Arts Standards:
Reading Literature Standards

11-12.1 - Citing Strong Textual Evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferentially including determining where matters remain uncertain in the text.
11-12.2 - Developing two or more central themes of a text.

11-12.3 – Analyze how the choice of how an author (Charles Dickens) uses space and epoch to develop his characters, plot and constructed environment.

11-12.4 - Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone.

11-12.9 - Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

History/Social Studies Standards:

Reading History Standards:

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH. 11-12.2 - Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.3 - Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.4 - Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.5 - Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6 - Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.

Author Info

Name: Ruth Terry Walden, Esq.
School: Westhill High School
City: Stamford
State: Connecticut