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Charles Darnay, originally St. Evremonde
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.