How Charles Dicken Makes England A Mirror Of France In A Tale Of Two Cities

Charles Dickens, in his masterpiece A Tale of Two Cities, reinforces the theme of paired opposites with juxtapositions of Charles Darnay’s and Sydney Carton’s characters. At first glance, it appears that Darnay and Carton are totally bipolar. Darnay is a model of poise and manners while Carton is unmotivated and crude. Sydney Carton turns out to be more complicated than he appeared at first. He starts to show a multifaceted personality, one of deep nobility, selflessness and unconditional love for Lucie. Sydney becomes the calm, understanding man Darnay used to be, while Darnay becomes a useless, stupefied person. A chronological analysis of A Tale of Two Cities helps to explain the differences and similarities between Darnay & Carton.

In Book Two’s beginning, Sydney Carton meets Charles Darnay for the first time. They are total opposites. Sydney is a disheveled, inept attorney who stares at the ceiling indifferently to pass time during Darnay’s trial (Dickens 75). He soon shows his intelligence and shrewdly saves his life by pointing out Darnay’s physical similarity to his (81). Sydney falls back into an idle state immediately after the trial. It is difficult to see if Sydney has any physical similarities to Darnay. Darnay says that he is rude to Sydney while they’re dining. Carton makes a fool of his self throughout the night (89), while Darnay is calm and composed. While Sydney Carton is a mirror image of Charles Darnay, Darnay shows that he’s a perfect example of what Carton could be. Carton recognizes this and bitterly compared his miserable life to Darnay’s. “…You hate this fellow” (91). Carton now knows that Lucie will never forgive him for his past mistakes. Darnay is Carton’s constant source frustration. Carton confesses that he had been a “jackal,” his whole life. He lived and worked for Stryver. “Even when I was at the Shrewsbury School, exercises were done for other boys. My own exercise was rare” (95). Carton is highly intelligent and competent, but he doesn’t have the confidence or drive to be a successful person on his own. He was no longer able to provide his own happiness or help himself, and he accepted the fact that it would consume him. Although he knows he is not in a place to marry Lucie Manette, Sydney still shows his affection for her. Charles Darnay’s son, Sydney, is similar in that he has an honest and unreserved love for Lucie. Darnay is a sincere and compassionate man, as are Carton (unlike Stryver), who only desires Lucie’s hand in marriage. Sydney, however, is not like Darnay. He doesn’t want Lucie to marry him. Instead, he only desires to make her smile, regardless of what sacrifices are made. “For your, and for all of you dear, I would have done anything.” (156). Sydney is a gentleman of great delicacy. Darnay isn’t lacking in delicacy2E Darnay acknowledges the injustices of his family and renounces his aristocratic lifestyle. In telling Doctor Manette about Lucie’s love, Darnay shows his respect. Doctor Manette, I only look to…being faithful to you until the end. Lucie’s privilege as your only child should not be divided… but it is my intention to assist her in this endeavor and to bring her closer towards you. (164). Doctor Manette approves Darnay’s marriage proposal. Darnay wed Lucie soon afterwards.

An interesting shift takes place between Darnay, Carton after the marriage of Charles Darnay & Lucie Manette. Carton visits the newlyweds after Darnay’s return from honeymoon. Carton, in an earnest and heartfelt apology, urges Darnay not to dwell on past failures in order to make friends (236). Sydney constantly criticizes Sydney throughout the conversation. Darnay replied uncaringly that he didn’t know you would “never” (237). It is evident that Sydney Carton would do anything for Lucie or Darnay. Darnay, however is dismissive of Sydney and shows that he sees the opposite side to the “mirror”. Darnay calls Sydney “a problem due to carelessness” immediately after Sydney leaves (237). It is easy to see that Darnay’s flippant attitude has been compared to Carton’s sincere intentions. Dickens has transformed the “mirror photos” of Darnay to Carton. For once, Carton appears serious and polite. Darnay doesn’t seem caring.

Book Three is a series of roles that Darnay & Carton play. At the end, they are in complete reverse. Charles Darnay immediately responds to Gabelle’s letter with a heartbreaking letter. He is admirable for his selfless and noble response to great danger. However, he thinks he can reason well with the senseless mobs. After being thrown in prison, Darnay soon discovers that he is incapable of accomplishing anything. Doctor Manette needs to help him. Doctor Manette’s power is enough to persuade Darnay to leave his tribunal. However, he can’t save Darnay another time from La Force. Darnay’s character becomes weaker and less capable of accomplishing the tasks he was assigned to. Sydney Carton is far more successful when he joins Manette/Darnay in France. Darnay, Carton and Darnay both have the same reasons to come to France: they both want to help those they care about. Darnay first comes to rescue Gabelle, while Carton arrives to help Lucie. The “mirrors”, however have turned completely. Carton has a purpose and he is determined to love the woman he loves. Carton is calm, confident and level-headed as he implements his plan. Before he leaves for the trial, he uses his knowledge to defeat Barsad’s “deck of Cards” and then visits the apothecary in order to buy the necessary materials. He bids Lucie farewell before he goes to the guillotine. Carton is now the calm, poised man Darnay was once. After spending more than a year in prison, Darnay has fallen into a stupor. Sidney Carton, who knows that he will also be resurrected, has now made the complete reversal.

Charles Dickens thought of many titles before settling upon a title. The final title, however, is the best one to describe the spirit and theme of this book. The expression “a tale from two cities” has many connotations. Most prominently, it refers to Sidney Carton’s and Charles Darnay’s paired opposites. They are two very different characters, mirroring each other in many ways. They are doubles with strikingly similar appearances and tied together by fate (Woodcock 24,). They are still two distinct entities. Darnay is, after Lucie and Lucie, the least convincing character in the whole novel. He is impossibly polite and optimistic. Carton is bitter and realistic. Darnay is a perfect gentleman. But Sydney Carton is ironically the hero.

Works Cited

Busch, Frederick. Introduction. The Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. New York: Penguin, c. 1997. ix-xv.

Dickens, Charles. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times in two cities. Frederick Busch’s Introduction. New York: Penguin, c. 1997.

Johnson, Edgar. Afterword. It was the best of times and the worst of times for two cities. Charles Dickens. New American Library published in New York. 1962. 369-376.

Woodcock, George. Introduction. The Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. New York: Penguin, c. 1970. 9-25.


  • ewanpatel

    I'm a 29-year-old educational bloger and teacher. I have been writing about education for about six years, and I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Cruz. I also have a M.A. in English from San Francisco State University. I teach high school English in the Bay Area.