What type of character is Sydney Carton (well-rounded, or flat, static or dynamic) in A Tale of Two Cities?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sydney Carton is a well-rounded, dynamic character.  He is one of the most developed characters in the novel, and he changes throughout the story from being self-loathing to having a sense of purpose.

Sydney Carton is the key to several plot points in A Tale of Two Cities.  A confirmed bachelor and alcoholic, Carton seems to have few redeeming qualities.  Yet he is also a brilliant lawyer, and as it turns out quite a martyr.

A well-rounded character is one that has a complex personality.  Carton is certainly not one-dimensional.  It is clear that he is intellectually and morally superior to his boss Mr. Stryver, but has almost no ambition at the beginning of the story.

Yet when Carton meets Lucie, we see another side of him.  He develops a softer side, one he likely did not realize he had.  Why does Carton try to drink himself to death in the beginning of the story?  It is not completely clear.  We do know that he does not respect his boss, and hates himself.  He is described as “reckless” (2:2) and the “idlest and most unpromising of men” (2:4) and does not seem to care, even in court.

[Carton] sat leaning back, with his torn gown half off him, his untidy wig put on just as it had happened to light on his head after its removal, his hands in his pockets, and his eyes on the ceiling as they had been all day. (Book 2, Ch 2, p. 49)

Yet Carton changes when he meets the Darnays.  He starts hanging around Lucie, even though he knows she loves Charles.  He just wants to be near her.  He never makes tries to pull her away or split them up.  He seems to think that he is becoming a better person just for being around her.

Some half-dozen times a year, at most, he claimed his privilege of coming in uninvited, and would sit among them through the evening, as he had once done often. He never came there heated with wine. (2:21, p. 136)

Carton’s most dynamic move also develops his character further.  He goes to Paris with the Darnays, and makes arrangements to rescue Charles Darnay.  He tells Darnay that he is doing this for Lucie.  He loves her, and the one way he can make her happy is to take Darnay’s place.  He sacrifices himself so that the girl he loves can be with the one she loves.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” (3: 15, p. 241)

His behavior at the end is even more interesting.  He comforts others, and seems to have a spiritual purpose.  In the end, he feels that he is doing more with his life by giving it up than he could have by living it.

A flat character is one dimensional, and we know little about him or her.  A static character does not change.  Therefore Carton is both round and dynamic.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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