An Analysis of the Roles of Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens’s Novel A Tale of Two Cities

Last Updated: 26 Jun 2023
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Government has been an essential part to any civilization for as long as human kind has existed. People who disagree with the government have also existed for just as long. Whether the government was so simple that the leader was the strongest in the tribe, or whether the government was so complex that it involved thousands of people to make one decision, it always was challenged and eventually changed. The means of change are quite diverse. Assassination, protests, war, petitions, and more are amongst the large list of means for governmental reform. Revolution has also been a frequent method to try to achieve the desired change. Revolutions have made profound impacts in history, for both the better and for the worse.

Charles Dickens is among those who believe revolution is not an efficient means for change of government, or social reform. His classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, clearly and profoundly shows the negative impacts of revolting against the government to the reader. He also shows the reader that there is a better way to improve the government. That better way is illustrated through Sydney Carton. He not only becomes an unexpected hero in A Tale of Two Cities, but he also symbolizes Charles Dickens solution to achieving social reform.

Sydney Carton first entered the story as a lonely man. Appearing rather insecure and having low self esteem, his role in the story was unknown to the reader. He seemed to only be focused on helping others. One late night with his colleague, Mr. Stryver, Cartons basically pathetic demeanor was confronted, "Carton, addressed his friend... "your way is, and always was, a lame way. You summon no energy and purpose. (Dickens, a Tale of Two Cities, 95).

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Then later that night, climbing into a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears (97). Both are examples of Cartons character. Most view him as a loser. Mr. Stryver, with the assistance of a little alcohol, clearly made that point, and sadly enough Carton realized it. At that moment he finally realized who he was becoming, and it depressed him beyond words. At that moment a new Carton emerged. This new Carton was someone who cared for others. He wanted people to think that his actions were motivated by simply wanting to make a difference in the lives of those he cared for. One person he deeply cared for was Lucie Manette. She eventually became his motivation to change and renew his own life.

As the story progressed Carton obviously changed, and consequently became the hero. At the beginning of the book he was angry at the world and quite lonely too. Life for him revolved around his work, and everything else did not really matter. Until Lucie Manette entered his life. Immediately after meeting Lucie his was a changed man. Thinking only of her, he made it very clear that he loved her and cared for her, For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything (156). Professing that he would do anything for her, or for those shelved, one could almost say that he was resurrected through her.

Another example of the new Carton was seen many years later. Walking through France, he begins to quote a biblical passage, I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall helve; and whosoever lived and believeth in me shall never die, (308). This not only was comfort for him in a rather dark and evil environment, but it was Dickens way of reminding the reader that one could become changed, or resurrected. In this case that one person being Carton. Dickens finally reveals the heroic Carton, and the last step of change, at the end of the story. Through Cartons love for Lucie that evolved throughout the story, he sacrifices his life to save another's. Carton trades places withdrawal, which is soon to be executed, resulting in Draney becoming free, and Carton being killed. This act was symbolic for Dickens idea on how-to achieves true reform.

In the nineteenth century, literature was a way to share your ideas. Dickens took full advantage of that. A Tale of Two Cities was his method to share with the reader his ideas about government, and social reform. He first addressed that revolution was not a way to change. Time and time again Dickens revisited the horrifying, yet true consequences of the French Revolution. The guillotine was a prime example of the horrors revolution brought. Imposed by the people to gain vengeance on the aristocracy, it became more of a symbol of death than symbol of revenge, eleven hundred defenseless prisoners of both sexes and all ages had been killed by the populace... (267). Eleven hundred innocent people killed in a revolution that was meant to punish a few, and to change at country.

Dickens saw this evil, and more in the French Revolution. However Dickens did have a better solution for governmental change, and that was seen through Sydney Carton. As problems arose, Carton solved them through self sacrifice. At the end of the book, he saw the predicament that Darnay, and his family, were in. Darnay was finally sentenced to be beheaded, and there was no more escaping it. Remembering his promise to Lucie, years before, Carton realized that sacrificing his life, in place of Darnay's, was the only solution. Revealed as Carton and Darnay were swapping places, Carton dictates a letter for Darnay to write, If you remember, the words that passed between us, long ago, you will readily comprehend this when you see it...... the time has come, when I can prove them.

That I do so ions subject for regret or grief (344) this, nonetheless, was the pure essence of what Dickens believed caused change. Dickens thought the flaw in society was their greed and selfishness. And to change this he knew that the opposite characteristics needed to be present. People needed to have so much love for something that they were willing to make sacrifices for it, just like Carton and his love for Lucie In essence Dickens wanted to share that self sacrifice for the greater good was the true solution to social and governmental reform.

Sydney Carton had many roles in A Tale of Two Cities. He first was the character that seemed to be left out, and forgotten. Then because of a variety of exterior motives, he began to change. Slowly at first, realizing who he was, and making the conscious choice to change. Then he changed unmistakable, and rather incredibly to become the indisputable hero. In the end he made the ultimate sacrifice, his life, for a better future for the ones he cared for. Dickens used Carton to show how change could be achieved. He knew that change would never be accomplished through revolution.

In the book, Dickens clearly showed that revolution only lead to more problems. Dickens knew that change would only be accomplished if those wanting change were willing sacrifice personal gain to achieve their goals. If not, change would never be fully attained, and greed and corruption would flourish placing reform into a realm where it could never be grasped.

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An Analysis of the Roles of Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens’s Novel A Tale of Two Cities. (2023, Jun 26). Retrieved from

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