A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 3, Chapter 15 : The Footsteps Die Out Forever | Summary



The tumbrils, full of prisoners, rumble through the streets, which are unusually crowded. People are constantly looking for Evrémonde, who is in the third cart, holding a girl's hand. John Barsad arrives and looks for him, too. A man in the crowd comes up and stands beside the spy, crying "Down, Evrémonde!" Barsad tells him "He is going to pay the forfeit: it will be paid in five minutes more. Let him be at peace." Sydney Carton looks intently at him as he passes. At the foot of the guillotine, The Vengeance looks in vain for Madame Defarge, crying in frustration that her friend is missing the best part.

Carton and the seamstress are lifted down from the third tumbril and wait for their turn to be beheaded. They face each other, and Carton keeps her back to the guillotine so she doesn't have to watch. As each head falls, the knitting women count the number. They talk together calmly. The seamstress asks Carton if it is better that she wasn't able to tell her only relative her fate, and Carton agrees it is. She wonders if she will have to wait long "in the better land" for her cousin, and Carton reminds her that in that better land, there is no time and no trouble either. This comforts the seamstress, and as it is her time to go, she kisses him and calmly goes to her death. Hers is the 22nd head. Carton thinks of the prayer "I am the Resurrection and the life," and everything disappears for him and the women count 23.

Later, the crowd is said to have remarked that Carton had the most peaceful face of anyone they had ever seen go to their death at the guillotine. As he goes to his death, he imagines Lucie with another child with his name, and her father at peace. He sees Darnay and Lucie laid to rest together when they are old and the son with his name making good. He sees him with his own child, telling him Carton's story. Carton's last thoughts are these: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."


Sydney Carton has grown as a heroic character and an honorable man in this final chapter, as he and the seamstress keep each other calm before they go to their deaths. For Carton, to be the force of love in this young woman's life helps him to also remember that he is the force of love in Charles Darnay's and Lucie's life and their children's lives as well. He has kept his promise to Lucie and knows that his story will live on in the tales they pass down through their family. Carton may have thought that he could never improve himself, but he has gone above and beyond to do just that. It may seem like a terrible end, and it is extremely sad that Carton has to lose his life in order to save Darnay. There is nothing joyful about the terror and the destruction of life that plagued France like an illness during that time. But the man who could never find peace and was always held down by his own darkness is at his most peaceful just as he loses his life, because he has given the gift of it to those that he loves.

The resurrection prayer that Carton recites in his head before he dies brings back all of the ways in which he has resurrected others. He saved Lucie and her father and daughter from certain death by warning them of the dangers headed their way, and he snatched Darnay from the jaws of death not once, but twice.

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