A Tale of Two Cities Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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Who is the hero of A Tale of Two Cities?

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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That Sydney Carton is certainly one of the great sentimental favorites in literature is indubitable.  However, that Sydney is heroic in the true sense of word is somewhat questionable.  For, there is something of self-interest in his act of self-sacrifice so that Charles Darnay can be saved. At the conclusion of A Tale of Two Cities while he mounts the scaffold, Carton contemplates his own redemption as he imagines how there will be a child of his name who has lain upon her bosom [where he fain would have put his head many a time]

"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. 

Sacrificial victim who gains redemption, Sydney is.  A man of exceptional courage he is.  And, there is something in his romantic and idealistic love of Lucie that endears him to the reader (Does anyone finish this novel without tears?). Still, he lacks the nobility and strength of character that defines a hero.  For, all throughout his life, he has allowed Stryver to prey upon him; he has given way to Darnay without any competitive struggle. And, his thoughts as he dies of how his life will be resurrected and redeemed through his namesake do not bespeak altruism.

It is a fact that A Tale of Two Cities has often been criticized for it underdevelopment of characters. Certainly, Lucie is the typical Victorian heroine, but she is very undeveloped and flat.  Likewise, Charles Darnay has short heroic moments, such as his rushing to save Gabelle in France, but he falls quite short of being a fully developed and dynamic character. His most malignant character, Madame Defarge, even falls short of becoming a real character for the readers. The main character of Dickens's novel seems more to be the author's fear of revolutionary hysteria than any personage.

And, it is this revolutionary hysteria that is the greatest threat in the novel from the opening lines, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." to the chapters entitled "Echoing Footsteps"and "The Footsteps Die Out For Ever."  As Madame Defarge and the Vengeance represent this threatening hysteria, Mme. Defarge. "imbued from childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, and an inveterate hatred of a class," has become a tigress that charges into the apartments of Lucie, demanding of Miss Pross that she speak to Lucie.  But, Miss Pross is " a determined woman":

"You might, from your appearance, be the wife of Lucifer," said Miss Pross in her breathing.  "Nevertheless, you shall not get the better of me.  I'm an Englishwoman.....You wicked foreign woman; I am your match."

Who is the hero needed to quell the hysteria of the revolution in the person of Madame Defarge?  It is Miss Pross, the Englishwoman, possessed of the English qualities that alway vanquish the enemy:  love for country and family, tenacity, fearlessness, and pirde.  

"I am Briton. I am desperate,"said Miss Pross. "I don't care a Twopence for myself.  I know that the longer I keep you here, the greater hope there is for my Ladybird. I'll not leave a handful of that dark hair upon your head if you lay a finger on me."

Miss Pross, the loyal, unselfish, adoring servant of Lucie--the Briton who does not "care a Twopence for herself," quells the sweep of the revolution. It is Miss Pross who kills the malevolent Madame Defarge. It is Miss Pross, "the Briton," who is the true hero of A Tale of Two Cities, fighting with patriotic duty to defend herself against the malevolent forces,

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In all of literature, Sydney Carton is my hero.  Whatever Dickens intended, Carton is clearly the hero of A Tale of Two Cities.  Lucie, though very kind and good and brave, is not particularly heroic in any major way.  Charles is a really noble man, and he does so many right and good things.  Again, though, he is good, not epically heroic.  Sydney is heroic in several ways.  First, he loved Lucie in a profound way and was able to be near her without a hint of it to anyone else.  Her children sensed it and had a special sympathy for him, but he maintained a proper relationship despite the depth of his feelings.  Not an easy thing to do.  Second, he didn't hate Charles for capturing the heart of the woman he, Sydney, loved.  Again, that takes a strength of character not often found.  Finally, of course, he is willing to give his life not for the woman he loved, but to ensure the woman he loved would be happy.  He did so without being asked and almost without regret (he is human, after all).  That's what makes Sidney's actions and motives and heart heroic.   

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accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I agree with all other comments on this issue. What makes Carton the hero is that, in spite of his unpromising and rather reckless life previous to this Chapter, he, when faced with this one opportunity to do something truly good, steps up to the challenge, willingly sacrificing himself for the benefit of others. Paradoxically, by doing this he ensures himself a future in a way that he would never have had if he had not made the exchange with Darnay. For, through his sacrifice, he ensures that he lives on in Lucie and Darnay and their relationship, and of course he lives on vicariously through the life of their son who bears his name. By acting profoundly against his character, Carton shows that love truly can conquer all, and he does to a "far better thing" than he has ever done with his life.

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Adeline Parris eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Carton is not only the hero, he is also the figure Dickens intendes to liken to Christ himself. Similar to how Christ gives up his life in exchange for all of humanity, or all those he loves, Carton also gives his life for the people he loves. The final words of the book are some of the most popular in literature, for this reason. He also finds value in his otherwise wasted existence in this sacrifice. The other comment made here is the question of fate vs. destiny. Did Carton alter fate by taking the place of Charles at the guillotine? Or was it his fate to die in this way all along? This is a much debated topic.

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linda-allen eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Most definitely Carton is the hero. Who would willingly take the place of a man who is about to be executed? There is no indication in the rest of the story that he is suicidal or has a death wish. He truly means it when he says, "Tis a far, far better thing I do...." I don't think I could do it!

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dramaluvr72 | Student

i'd say carton is definitely the hero. i would have to agree that charles and lucie are very boring characters. I think carton is not only an interesting character, but he is a hero for giving up his life to save charles.