Le meilleur des mondes

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Aldous Leonard Huxley

Sydney Carton is probably the most surprising character in the entire novel and, for most readers, is the true protagonist of the novel.  When the reader is first introduced to Carton, he is an alcoholic who appears angry and seems to lack any redeeming qualities.  Even the fact that he reveals himself to look very similar to Charles Darnay does not reflect positively on his character, but merely seems like the actions of a lawyer doing his job.   However, the reader begins to see indications that Carton is not the useless and worthless man that he describes himself to be.  Instead, even in his initial sarcastic marks about Lucie, one begins to see a man with a great capacity for love and tenderness, even if he never realizes the ability to allow himself to receive that type of love. 

While Dickens gives substantial background about the other characters in the novel, he does not really describe why Carton is so depressed.  One understands that Carton was orphaned at a young age, but the circumstances of his parents’ death and the impact of those deaths on Carton are not really explored.  Carton obviously had access to some amount of financial resources, as he was able to attend schools and reach the point of practicing law.  Moreover, while Carton works with Stryver, there is no indication that Stryver is actually more talented than Carton.  Instead, Carton makes it clear that he could have seen the same degree of success as Stryver.  However, what prevented him from taking those opportunities is never explained.  Instead, Carton remains a mystery.  This mysterious past serves as a foil to Darnay’s mysterious past, which unfolds as the novel progresses.  The more one understands about Darnay’s past, the more one understands why Darnay is motivated to be so good.  The reader simply never gets this insight into Carton’s life. 

Perhaps the most important thing about Carton’s life is its end.  Carton is in love with Lucie.  Darnay has been convicted and sentenced to death.  An opportunistic man could have seized the opportunity as a way to get into Lucie’s life.  However, Carton once told Lucie that he would die to keep someone she loved by her side.  He chooses to do just that.  Moreover, he does so in a way that does not taint Darnay with his choice.  Carton could have gone into the prison, explained his plan to Darnay, and gotten Darnay’s cooperation.  However, then Darnay would have been somewhat responsible for Carton’s death, which would have tainted Darnay.  Instead, Carton manages to have Darnay smuggled out of the prison without Darnay’s participation.  By the time Darnay and the Manettes realize what is occurring, it is too late to save Carton. 

Carton’s self-sacrifice is noteworthy.  Some may even go so far as to compare Carton’s character to a Christ-like figure.  This comparison seems strained because Carton does not live a sin-free life, which is, of course, a critical component to the Jesus story.  However, Carton’s sacrifice is of a mythical level; he plays the role of a sacrificial hero.  Carton chooses to die in order to protect something he believes in.  Moreover, Carton’s thoughts at the end of the novel demonstrate that he is not dying simply for Lucie, but because he believes that Lucie and Darnay are symbolic of the type of society he wants to see in the future.

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