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Tale of Two Cities

Sydney Carton is one of the main characters in Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities. He is a complex character throughout the book and can be viewed in a positive or negative light and can also be compared similarly to Dickens himself. At the end of the novel, Sydney Carton dies on the guillotine to spare Charles Darnay. How would you interpret Carton's sacrifice? Your answer, positively or negatively, will affect your judgment of his character, and of Dickens' entire work.
Some readers take the positive view that Carton's act is a triumph of individual love over the mob hatred of the Revolution. Carton and the seamstress he comforts meet their deaths with great dignity. In fulfilling his old promise to Lucie, Carton attains peace; those watching see "the peacefullest man's face ever beheld" at the guillotine. In a grand vision, he glimpses to a better world rising out of the ashes of revolution, and long life for Lucie and her family made possible by his sacrifice. This argument also links Carton's death with Christian sacrifice and love. When Carton makes his decision to die, the New Testament verse beginning "I am the Resurrection and the Life" nearly becomes his theme. The words are repeated a last time at the moment Carton dies. In what sense may we see Carton's dying in Darnay's place as Christ-like? It wipes away his sin, just as Christ's death washed clean all of man's sins.
For readers who choose the negative view, the death of Carton seems an act of giving up. These readers point out that Stryver's jackal has little to lose. Never useful or happy, Carton has already succumbed to the depression eating away at him. In the midst of a promising youth, Carton had "followed his father to the grave"- that is, he is already dead in spirit. For such a man, physical death would seem no sacrifice, but a welcome relief. Some readers even go so far as to claim that Carton's happy vision of the future at the no...

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