Sydney Carton

Critically acclaimed and advanced stories use character transformation both as a way of advancing the plot of the story and as a way of revealing universal truths about the human condition. Death, disarray, and a disenfranchised middle class roam the streets of Paris, hungrily searching for anyone who resembles an aristocrat to guillotine. In Charles Dickens’ magnum opus, Tale of Two Cities, an intriguing roster of characters and an engrossing plot embody late 1700’s Paris.

Sydney Carton, just another orphan forgotten by the neglectful Bourbon Regime, inhabits these desolate streets without a purpose. In Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton, a depressed alcoholic lawyer, gains purpose and a new perspective on his life after experiencing the empowerment of another. As the plot of Tale of Two Cities, progresses Dickens introduces Sydney Carton, a cripplingly depressed alcoholic who spends his prime years lacking direction as he drinks his sorrows away and dreams of what could have been.

Sydney begins the story as a depressed, apathetic excuse of a man who “cares for no man on Earth,” because “no man cares for him” (Dickens 81). Years of solitude and neglect inspire feelings of depression in poor Sydney. Before experiencing an act of kindness, Sydney, perhaps rightfully, assumes that no one cares for him, and, because of this, he cares for no one in return. Sydney’s feelings reflect that of many a Frenchman during this era. After having their needs neglected for years by the Bourbon Regime, the San-Soulettes of France lose their compassion and respect for the Aristocrats who run France.

In an age of previously unseen wealth, the French people, who work tirelessly, never receive the recognition or respect that they deserve. This lack of recognition mirrors that of Sydney Carton as he works nonstop on court cases for other people. Furthermore, Sydney Carton, stunted in his growth, lives “like one that died young,” because he never meets his full potential due to his parents death (Dickens 170). Dickens uses extreme imagery to describe Carton’s feeling of mediocrity and lost potential.

Sydney Carton, despite winning a genetic lottery and inheriting natural talent, never meets his full potential due to the death of his parents and because he lacked the means to do so. Likewise, after years of bad rulers, France remains stagnant as other countries push forwards. France, despite having great potential and being one of the most powerful nations a century before, exists as a shell of what it could have become. Numerous disastrous wars have stunted France’s growth and now it appears as though France has permanently lost its way.

Dickens uses Sydney’s Carton initial state of disarray and depression to reflect the universal feeling of neglect that both depressed alcoholics, such as Sydney Carton, and that those disenfranchised with their government and society, such as the Sans Soulettes, feel. Carton begins to find his way and receive some confidence after meeting and being empowered by Lucie Manette, daughter of Doctor Alexander Manette. Lucie Mannete reminds Sydney Carton that he is “capable of good things,” after her wedding with Charles Darnay (Dickens 237).

This newly heard information acts as a catalyst within Sydney Carton. It empowers him. Carton’s realization that he alone controls his situation begins an inner revolution in his character. Similarly, whenever the Third Estate realizes that they are capable of magnificent deeds, such as Storming the Bastille, and, in turn, possessed full control of France, they begin to gain power. Both an alcoholic lawyer and an oppressed lower and middle class begin to take charge upon realizing the true power that they possessed.

After being empowered by popular opinion, the Third Esate gains influence. In addition to that, earlier in the book, whenever Sydney Carton tells Lucie Mannete of his woes, she is quick to contest, saying “you are much worthier,” (Dickens 170). Whenever Sydney loses his inferiority complex, he begins to find a concrete purpose in his life. He comes to the realization that nothing holds him back from changing the world for the better. Unfortunately, his failure to realize this from the beginning puts him in a less than ideal situation.

After years of being indoctrinated and taught that the nobility reigns superior to the common man, the Third Estate of France comes to the realization that royal titles hold no meaning when exposed to enlightenment ideals. Enlightenment writers, such as Voltaire, write pieces that uplift the middle and lower class and ridicule the absurdity of the upper class. As the common man of the France realizes that they possess as much worth as the Monarchy, they find their purpose through revolution. These enlightenment ideals help spark the revolution.

Dickens uses Lucie Mannete’s uplifting words to reflect the universal truth that uplifting ideals and words empower those whom receive them, whether the receiving party is one man, or an entire class of people. After experiencing the effects of the emotional catalyst of empowerment, Carton finds his purpose and lives up to Lucie’s expectations by sacrificing his life to ensure the wellbeing of Lucie and generations to come. After receiving Lucie’s kind words, “For you…I would do anything,” Sydney Carton Swears (Dickens 173).

Undoubtedly, Sydney gains newfound determination after Lucie’s words empower him. If Sydney Carton truly resembles one who died young, then Lucie’s empowering words revive him in an instant. He gains purpose and, despite not knowing how much it will cost him, Sydney promises that he will do anything. Carton prepares himself to make major sacrifices for the greater good. Similarly, many members of the Third Estate prepare to possibly lose their remaining rights when revolting against the government.

After being empowered, they gain the courage and determination to give anything in the name of the revolution. Carton rests assured that “it is a far better thing he does than he has ever done,” as he sacrifices his life to ensure the safety of Lucie, Charles Darnay, their child, and generations to come (Dickens 446). Despite the fact that he gains practically nothing from his heroic action, Sydney Carton happily takes Charles Darnay’s place at the guillotine and sacrifices his life, not for Charles Darnay, but for future generations of Lucie’s children.

Unfortunately, Sydney Carton does not get to immediately see the positive effects of his actions. He commits this heroic act to plant the seeds of a better future. This seed he has planted embodies itself in Lucie’s new child, Sydney. Likewise, the French Revolutionaries do not immediately gain anything from their brave and heroic actions. Instead, they risk and, for many of them, give their lives to help plant the seeds for a better future for generations to come.

Many revolutionaries, similarly to how Sydney Carton never gets to see Lucie’s second child, never get to see France improve. These seeds take hold whenever France becomes a dominant power again in European politics under the reign of Napoleon and whenever Frenchmen gain more rights. Dickens uses Sydney Carton’s seemingly unmatched determination to his purpose to reflect the same determination that appears in many who are empowered by kind words or new ideals. During this time period, people of all groups experience intellectual growth as new ideas spread across Europe.

These ideas do not only add knowledge to the human mind and soul, they unlock hidden knowledge already there. Dickens utilizes the character transformation of Sydney Carton, a man beaten down his whole life by the system, to reflect that. This universal truth applies to all, as demonstrated by the French Revolution which occurred around the same time. Dickens recognizes that every person, including those belonging to the marginalized groups or classes, holds the key to success within themselves, they just need the power to access it.