What does Dickens want the reader to think about the main character?A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the employment of doubles as a major motif in A Tale of Two Cities, a discussion of the main character, then, necessitates the inclusion of his alter-ego.  As these doubles, Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay represent the darker side and the better side of a man.  The darker side, Carton, seems less mature than Darnay, frivolous of purpose, wasteful of his time, and directionless.   Allowing his legal acumen to be exploited by C. J. Stryver, who "shoulders his way" through life, Carton merely drinks up the profits of his grand efforts and keen insights, chiding himself for his dislike of Darnay.  While Carton's drinking in the Victorian Age was considered only as a character flaw, Darnay is, nevertheless, much more the refined gentleman, noble of purpose, and directed in love.  However, it is this same love for Lucie Manette in a idealistic form that lends Carton nobility.  Thus united in their love of Lucie, it is Carton's pure form that allows him to do what Darnay cannot:  He saves Darnay from execution.

By becoming the sacrificial victim, Carton saves the life of Darnay, redeems his life, and renews society.  For, as Dickens writes, the "vigorous tenacity of love [is] always so much stronger than hate."  As he goes to his death, saving his alter-ego from the sins of his father, and giving himself new life through his future namesake, Sydney Carton envisions his reincarnation of spirit,

“I see that child who lay upon her bosom‚ and who bore my name, a man‚ winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. I see the blots I threw upon it faded away. I see him foremost of just judges and honoured men, bringing a boy of my name, with a forehead that I know‚ and golden hair, to this place—then fair to look upon, with not a trace of this day’s disfigurement—and I hear him tell the child my story with a tender and a faltering voice.

Perhaps, then, Charles Dickens, the social reformer who felt that often the wretched possessed much goodness, desires that the reader think of Sydney Carton much as Lucie Manette, the consummate Victorian heroine thinks of him,

"...Mr. Carton, I am sure that the best part of it [his life] might still be; I am sure that you might be much, much, worthier of yourself."

By his heroic self-sacrifice, Carton becomes united to his alter-ego and is, thus, no longer dissipated, but worthy and made whole.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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