Changing Impressions: A Sydney Carton Character Analysis
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They say a first impression is everything. However, I’ve found that these aren’t reliable. Some people cover their true feelings, trying to be tough. You never know what’s going on in people’s lives when you first meet them that causes them to act differently. And sometimes, we just make inaccurate assumptions. This is also true of things in literature.
In Charles Dickens’s novel “A Tale of Two Cities,” and in all his novels, he wants to confuse people to keep them reading. He creates complex characters who change over time, or rather just gives us more information influence our decisions our opinions. One of these complex characters who Dickens brings out in different light later is Sydney Carton.
In the beginning of the story, when he is first introduced to us at Charles Darnays’ trial, we only see his outward actions, and none of his feelings. All we see of the man is that he appears to be a sloppy drunk, and quite the good-for-nothing loser. He spends the entire period during the trial staring at the ceiling with his eyes glazed over, never speaking once because he’s too drunk to do so.
We later see that him after the trial, at a restaurant with Darnay. He does nothing other than drink. He orders glass after glass of wine, getting as drunk as possible. One wonders if he ever does anything else. He is rather mean to Darnay after the man thanks him profusely, and continues to drink. We see that not only is he a drunk, he’s a mean drunk. And then after Darnay leaves, Carton covers his head, lays down on the table, and tells the waitress to wake him at ten P.M. as he passes out. It almost implies he has nowhere else to go, but mostly just tells a reader that he has nothing better to do.
We also see him at his law partner Stryver’s house, working late night hours as he drinks still more. It would seem that Stryver pulls Carton’s dead weight around to help him for some reason, and a reader wonder why Stryver does this. Stryver speaks of ambition and drive, and we can clearly see by comparison that Sydney has none. IT seems has no will to live, but rather stays alive only for his next drink.
We later see him wondering around town like a vagrant, stumbling back to his house in the early morning hours. We arrives there, Dickens poetically that he cries himself to sleep. This is where one’s opinion of him first begins to chang...
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...ding to this interpretation, the bright prophecies of better times ahead are basically Dickens' way of copping out, of pleasing his audience with a hopeful ending.
If Sydney Carton's motives seem complicated to you, try stepping back and viewing him as a man, rather than an influence on the story. He's a complex, realistic character. We see him so clearly, working early morning hours on Stryver's business, padding between table and punch bowl in his headdress of sopping towels, that we're able to feel for him. Have you ever known someone who's thrown away his talent or potential, yet retains a spark of achievement, as well as people's sympathy? That's one way of looking at Sydney Carton.
However you view him, though, is how Dickens meant it. He meant for his stories to be controversial and confusing; he loved it when his characters were complex and hard to understand. He felt he himself was this way, and made his characters modeled after him. But I know that after reading this book, I will check my first impressions and not really form too much of one before I see what’s really going on. And the next time I meet someone, I’ll remember that first impressions aren’t everything.