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Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat by birth, is the protagonist of the novel. He is a noble person in the true sense of the word and a foil to his wicked uncle, the Marquis St. Evremonde. Taught by his mother to be compassionate, Darnay abhors the system into which he was born. As a result, he migrates to England, where he renounces both his name and his inheritance. In London, he falls in love with and marries Lucie Manette. Ironically, she is the daughter of a doctor who was falsely imprisoned for years in Paris as a result of the cruelty of the Evremondes.
Lucie and Charles are happily married and have a lovely daughter little Lucie. Neither husband nor wife has any idea that Dr. Manette has a connection to or hatred of the Evremonde family. Because of his love for Lucie and his desire for her happiness, the Doctor foregoes his desire for vengeance against the Evremondes. In fact, he tries to bury his past and never plans to reveal the reason for his imprisonment. The revolution, however, changes that plan, for it draws Darnay back to France.
He had promised his mother to redress the wrongs done by his family, and during the course of the novel he goes back to France and vainly tries to fulfill that promise; but he lacks both the power and the ability to be effective. When the revolution breaks out, one of the Evremonde servants is imprisoned and writes to Darnay, seeking help. The young nobleman remembers his promise to his mother and goes to Paris, without discussing it with anyone. As a result, he puts his life and the life of his family in grave danger. In the end he is imprisoned, not once, but twice. The first time Dr. Manette is successful in obtaining his son-in-law’s acquittal and release. The second time, Sydney Carton must sacrifice his own life to save Darnay. Ironically, throughout the book, Darnay has scorned Carton and judged him to be a useless drunk; little does Darnay realize that the person he scorns will be his savior. Fortunately, Darnay learns the errors of his judgement; to honor Carton, he names his son Sydney, in honor of the man who twice saved his life.
Although he is the protagonist of the novel, Darnay is a relatively flat character, changing very little in the course of the novel. At the beginning of the plot, he is depicted as a noble character, despising the behavior of his aristocratic relatives, fleeing to England, and renouncing his heritage and inheritance. During the course of the book, he is a loving husband, a kind and generous son-in-law, a devoted father, and a considerate friend. He returns to France during the revolution in an effort to help an old family servant. It is a noble, but naïve, gesture. Because he is an Evremonde, his return to his homeland endangers the lives of his family and himself. He is imprisoned for his aristocratic background and is helpless to save himself. Because he has proven his worth to others, especially to his wife and father-in-law, he is saved by the actions of Dr. Manette and Carton. In his typically noble manner, Darnay shows his appreciation and honors his father-in-law with gratitude and Carton by naming his son after him.
Carton resembles Charles Darnay physically, but he is very different in character. Carton is a heavy drinker, an idler, and an unrecognized lawyer. His friend Stryver, dubs him as a man without energy or purpose, and yet Stryver’s success is wholly dependent on the astute legal efforts of Carton. Carton recognizes that he lacks ambition and is wasting his life. In fact, he confesses to Lucie that he is a profligate and cannot change.
At Darnay’s first trial, Carton acts not out of conviction but good-natured impulse and saves Darnay’s life. As a result of that trial, he is attracted to Lucie Manette, who served as a witness. He cares for her deeply, with a love that is pure and chaste. He also accepts that he is not good enough to win her love and is content to place her on a pedestal, the dream of his soul. He promises that for her, or anyone dear to her, he would do anything or make any sacrifice. He lives up to that promise when he takes Darnay’s place at the guillotine. When the time comes, Carton, with his typical astuteness, carefully plans every step to save Darnay and ensure Lucie’s happiness. He blackmails Barsad into helping him, visits the wine-shop so that people know that there is a person who looks like Darnay, arranges for the family’s passage out of Paris, buys drugs at the chemist to give Darnay, and tricks the prisoner into complying with his plan. Because of his ingenuity and careful organization, Carton’s plan is executed with perfection. Darnay is a free man, and he is a prisoner headed to the guillotine. Standing in the tumbrel, holding the hand of a poor seamstress who recognizes that he is not Darnay, Carton has redeemed himself. In death, he has finally found a purpose in life. He has become the noble sacrificial hero who chooses to die so that others can live.
Dr. Alexandre Manette
Dr. Manette is a French physician. He was thrown in prison and left to die there for eighteen years, because he witnessed a crime committed by the Evremonde brothers and had tried to report it to the authorities. His imprisonment and release are the hub around which the story revolves. Dr. Manette’s long solitary confinement leads to loss of memory, temporary insanity, and premature aging. At the time of his release, he can only call himself by his cell number, one hundred and five, and occupies himself by cobbling shoes.
The love and care of his daughter Lucie nurture Dr. Manette back to health and normality. However, there are times when he lapses into his earlier state, usually caused by some terrible memory or association related to his imprisonment. In truth, Dr. Manette struggles between a normal life style and a desire for vengeance against the Evremonde. When his loving daughter marries an Evremonde, Dr. Manette is a torn man. He decides, however, to put aside his vengeful feelings in order to ensure the happiness of Lucie. When Darnay is arrested in France, he does everything in his power to save his son-in-law. He is proud when he accomplishes his release during the first trial; when he fails to save Darnay after his second arrest, he looks for his old cobbler’s bench, seeking an escape from his failure.
Dr. Manette is one of the truly dynamic characters in the book. His changes during the course of the novel are total and complete. At the beginning of the plot, he is isolated and demented due to his long, solitary imprisonment. He changes into a bright, kind and loving man, thanks to the affections and care of his daughter Lucie. Throughout the first part of the novel, Dr. Manette is also plagued by his unstated desire for revenge against the Evremondes. By the end of the novel, he has destroyed all thoughts of vengeance and tries everything in his power to save an Evremonde, his son-in-law Darnay. Manette is a much happier man when he is ruled by love instead of hatred.
Lucie is a typical Victorian heroine who is beautiful, gentle, frail, and given to fainting under stress; but she has a remarkable inner strength that is derived from practicing Christian virtues. She shows love and compassion for all mankind; in return, she is very admired and loved. Although she is only seventeen when she hears that her father is alive, she goes to Paris to meet him, brings him back to London, and successfully nurses him back to health and happiness. She is a reluctant witness at Darnay’s trial and emphasizes the way he helped her. She does not scorn or reject Carton when he declares his love for her; while admitting that she cannot reciprocate his feelings, she implores him to change his wasteful ways, assuring him that he has value. Lucie is so pure and noble that everyone who encounters her seems transformed.
Lucie is also a pillar of strength and patience, accepting her tribulations and sorrows. She sympathizes with the plight of her demented father and never gives up on him. When she learns that her husband has been arrested in France, she heads to Paris in spite of the revolution. When Darnay is headed to the guillotine, she never sheds a tear in his presence, not wanting to add to his misery. She keeps both family and friends together through her strength and love. Lucie is truly the “golden thread” that unites, in a benevolent way, the various characters in the story.
Defarge is a victim of aristocratic tyranny and rages against the upper class. Good-humored by nature, Defarge becomes secretive, angry, and dangerous due to his hatred of the nobility and his strong desire for revenge. Because of his passion and spurred on by his evil wife, he becomes the leader of the revolutionary cause. He, however, is a moderate compared to Madame Defarge. He even pleads with his wife for Darnay’s life, but to no avail.
Madame Defarge, with her strong body, strong face, and strong features, likens herself to the wind, to fire, and to an earthquake. Like these natural force that are violent and cannot be stopped, Madame Defarge is ruthless and unstoppable. She is the “watchful eye” of the revolution, always observant and aware of what is going on, although she often appears to be aloof and unconcerned. She is usually seen knitting on her “register” that lists the names of aristocratic families that must perish in the revolution. During the course of the novel, Madame Defarge actually become the symbol of the revolution, with all of its hatred and desire for vengeance.
Under her calm exterior, Madame Defarge hides a passionate anger that will not be satisfied until she gets her revenge on the aristocracy, especially the Evremonde family, who is responsible for the deaths of her brother and sister. She is determined that Darnay will be executed for being an Evremonde by birth and determines his wife and child must also perish. When she finds out they have escaped, she is beside herself with anger. Wanting proof that Lucie is indeed not hiding in her room, she struggles with Miss Pross. Ironically, during the struggle her own gun falls to the floor and discharges, killing Madame Defarge immediately.