The Greatest Hero

“It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” That is both the last words of Sydney Carton and the conclusion of A Tale of Two Cities. This classic could be called A Tale of Two Men, for it revolves around two men, Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. Carton was an English drunk, brilliant, but entirely without motivation to do anything with his life. Darnay, a French nobleman, turned his back on his corrupt ancestry and moved to England, determined to forge an honest life. Carton saved Darnay from the wrath of the French, and in the process, they realized they are mirror images of each other. Although Darnay was a constant reminder of both his wasted life and the opportunities he missed, Carton remained close to Darnay’s family. Darnay stood as an example of the type of man Carton could have been, with his own face in the mirror reminding him of the bitter truth. However, despite his half-resentment of Darnay, he was there when Darnay’s past caught up to him in the turmoil of the French Revolution. Darnay was condemned as a haughty aristocrat and sentenced to the guillotine. It was then that Carton faced the greatest decision of his life: would he sacrifice himself for Darnay, or walk away?

He had every reason to ignore his conscience and leave. As an Englishman, he was safe from the wrath of the French people. He had spent his entire life doing whatever pleased him, only caring about himself and now was a perfect, justifiable time to exercise self-preservation. Not even related to the Manettes and Darnay, he was merely a family friend. Even if he wished to show kindness to his friend, the world would have considered it more than enough if he merely promised his friend that he would take care of the family Darnay left behind. This would have also fulfilled his own deepest desire of having a family, and he knew that they would have accepted him.

However, these reasons were not good enough. Even though he knew he would be justified in the world’s eyes by walking away from this decision, his principles would not let him. He knew that he had wasted his life. He recognized that he had never tried to accomplish anything, be loved by anyone, or even be missed when he was gone. But this family had welcomed him in, and he knew that even though he had never deserved their affection, he was loved, and he would be missed. This knowledge gave him the courage to sacrifice himself. He made his decision. He would take Darnay’s place and die, secure in the knowledge that he had saved his friend, protected the heart of the girl he loved, and kept a beautiful family from being ripped apart. By sacrificing himself, he realized he could both show his love to the Manette family and redeem his life. His past failures and mistakes would be covered in the overwhelming beauty of his sacrifice.

The night before Darnay’s execution, Carton came to the prison armed with pen and paper, a sleeping drug, and a hardened resolve. Without telling Darnay his plans, he exchanged clothes with Darnay, drugged him, and had him taken out of the prison unconscious. Preparing himself to die, he was taken to the guillotine and remained silent, resisting the temptation of saving his life by revealing his identity. He died, alone, for something he was not even a part of, surrounded by a mob that hated someone else. But I believe that he died with a smile on his face and peace in his heart. He died secure in the knowledge that with this difficult decision, he had done the right thing.

With this difficult decision, Carton made the right choice. By choosing to sacrifice himself, he revealed his true character, one of love and bravery. He is my favorite character in a book full of wonderful ones because he shows both the beauty and the redemption of sacrifice. If he had refused, he would have not been a character worthy of note. Without this sacrifice, he is just another drunken, selfish ruin of a man. With this sacrifice, he is one of the greatest heroes in all of Dickens’ works.

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