Sydney Carton in Tale of Two Cities: Character Analysis & Overview

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari

Debbie Notari received her Bachelor’s degree in English and M.S. in Education Literacy and Learning for Grades 6-12. Debbie has over 28 years of teaching experience, teaching a variety of grades for courses like English, Reading, Music, and more.

In Charles Dicken's novel, 'A Tale of Two Cities,' we meet the character Sydney Carton. At first, this character appears to be limited, but as the story unfolds, he demonstrates the greatest acts of sacrifice and love.

Sydney Carton

In A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton is the opposite of Charles Darnay, the protagonist in the story, although the two are uncannily close in appearance. Carton is a lawyer and a hard drinker, and Charles Dickens, the book's author, introduces him as 'the idlest and most unpromising of men.' If you have seen the movie, Star Wars, try and think of Sydney Carton as the Han Solo of the 1800s. He bucks the system and is likable in spite of his social flaws.

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  • 0:02 Sydney Carton
  • 0:29 Character
  • 1:31 Relationship with Lucie
  • 2:48 Ultimate Sacrifice
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Carton is single and seems to be seeking meaning and purpose in life. Sydney Carton works for Mr. Stryver, an ambitious lawyer. Dickens says that '…although Sydney Carton would never be a lion, he was an amazingly good jackal…,' meaning that he does the grunt work for Stryver but does not take the lead.

In Chapter Five of Book Two, Stryver and Carton are drinking together and talking about the events of the day, as they often do. Here, Stryver gives us some insight into Carton's character, when he says that Carton is up one minute, and down the next and prone to mood swings. Then Carton himself mentions that when he was in school, he would do his friends' homework, but not his own -- that was 'just his way.' To this, Stryver replies, 'Your way is, and always was, a lame way. You summon no energy and purpose.'

It surprises us to see that people were called 'lame' even in the 19th century! But it is that last sentence that gives us the most insight about Carton: he has no purpose in life.

Relationship with Lucie

Sydney Carton needs a purpose in life, which he finds through his relationship with Lucie Manette. When he first sees Lucie in court, Carton resists her innocent beauty, but her purity strikes something in his soul that he thought was long dead. When he returns home after drinking with Stryver, he feels empty and says:

Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone.

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