Sydney Carton had a profound impression on me when I first read this book in high school. I was in 9th grade, and this was the first real piece of literature I ever read. To say that the book was a life-altering experience for me is an understatement. It is the reason I am an English teacher today. I fell in love with Sydney Carton, and I think I am still in love with him today. Like Dickens, I would like to believe in redemption. I also believe that people are not always what they seem.
My current class reading A Tale of Two Cities has postulated the theory that Sydney Carton and Charles Darney are two sides of Dickens battling for supremacy. I think they are onto something. Dickens’s public face was Darnay, but his private one was Carton. He was deeply troubled. In sacrificing Carton to save Darnay, he was making one last attempt to remake himself into his better half. In some ways, I think he was successful.
Sydney Carton is, by far, one of my favorite characters in all of literature because he is a fallen man who is redeemed by the power of love and lives it sacrificially.
True, Sidney is a dissolute and moody character when we meet him. He's not likeable, nor is he trying to be. Stryver is clearly using Carton to advance is own career; Carton is too bright not to know it, yet he doesn't really seem to care. Until he meets Lucy.
She is his motivator for change and the inspiration for his love. I really connect with Sydney here, because his love is an internal motivation rather than some blustering, mushy expression of love. His love for Lucy causes him to wish he were a better man, and eventually it causes him to be a better man. In his heart, Sidney understands Lucy will never love him; it's enough for him to love her and to have told her so. One of the most moving portions of the novel is when he tells her "you have been the last dream of my soul." Not his body, not his mind--his soul. And later, after Lucy and Charles have married and have children, Sidney receives as much blessing as he will ever get here on earth.
"No man ever really loved a woman, lost her, and knew her with a blameless though an unchanged mind when she was a wife and mother, but her children had a strange sympathy with him--an instinctive delicacy of pity for him."
Little Lucie recognized his pure love for her mother and rewarded him for it.
"Carton was the first stranger to whom little Lucie held out her chubby arms, and he kept his place with her as she grew. The little boy [spoke] of him alost at the last. 'Poor Carton! Kiss him for me!'"
His sacrifice in saving Darnay is rooted in that love. He told her someone loved her enough to die for her or someone she loved. That's actually a fairly commonly expressed sentiment, said flippantly or in the heat of a romantic moment. The difference is that Sidney meant it when he said it, and he had to work hard to make sure he could fulfill the promise he had made to her in his heart.
He was redeemed by love--not the love of another for him, as we traditionally think of, but by his selfless and sacrificial love for another.
Of all the characters in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton is probably the best developed charcter. He is a phlegmatic, dissolute, but highly intelligent man who allows himself to be manipulated by his partner, C. J. Stryver, who "shoulders his way" through life by exploiting whomever he can to advance him.
Seemingly withdrawn at the trial of Charles Darnay, Carton is startled by the striking resemblance between himself and Darnay, who becomes his double in the novel. Later, he talks to a mirror, admitting that he envies Darnay, and wishes that he were worthy of a beautiful, sweet girl like Lucie. There is an illusion of youth about Carton because of his adolescent love for Lucie, for whom he declares that he will do anything, even after she marries. In fact, his deep devotion to Lucie is his only raison d'etre in his dissipation.
In his sacrificing himself to save Darnay out of this platonic love for Lucie, Sydney Carton takes on the aspect of the cultural hero who is ritually slaughtered of his own free will so that society might renew itself, a prospect Carton entertains as he goes to the guillotine. Once critic states,
If Darnay is society's innocent victim who suffers because of the sins of the father, Carton is the sacrificial hero who redeems those sins in an imitation of Christ.
Compassionate since he saved Darnay in the end.