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Free Study Guide-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Free BookNotes
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Chapter Fifteen: The Footsteps Die Out Forever

Summary

The fifty-two prisoners are carried in six tumbrels that grind through the cobbled streets of Paris. Carton stands at the back of the third tumbrel with his head bent down, trying to ignore the roar of the crowd. He talks to the young and frightened seamstress while holding her hand. He notices that in front of the guillotine, seated in chairs, are a large number of women knitting. One of the most noticeable women is The Vengeance; she looks frantically around in search of Madame Defarge.

The first tumbrels arrive, and the guillotine starts crashing. The women count each head as it is held up. The third tumbrel arrives, and Carton steps down, holding the hand of the seamstress. He places her with her back to the guillotine; she looks bravely into his face and thanks him for his kindness. Carton kisses her as she heads for the guillotine. He then follows in a calm and victorious mood.

As he goes to his death, Carton has a vision that all the revolutionaries will follow him to the guillotine. He also envisions the Darnay family living happily, making the sacrifice of his wasted life very worthwhile. Carton is also pleased to think that he will always be remembered and honored by the Darnays. His last thought comes to full fruition when Lucie and Darnay name their son in honor Carton.

Notes

The title of the last chapter is significant. The echoing footsteps, symbolic of fear and heard throughout the novel by Lucie and Lorry, now die out forever. With the death of Madame Defarge, the Darnay family can now live in peace and freedom. Darnay no longer has to search for the lost sister; Dr. Manette no longer has to fear the Evremondes or his own revenge; and Lucy does not have to fear losing her husband. It is a happy ending for them, but it is bought with great tragedy.


Carton's sacrifice and Madame Defarge's death are victories of the innocents over the revolutionaries. They are prophetic signs that the Reign of Terror cannot last forever; the patriots can be defeated and a better society will emerge. Lucie and Darnay's son, named after Carton, is a symbol of hope for the future.

The final scene of Carton holding the hand of the seamstress as they ride and depart the tumbrel is quite touching, almost too sentimental. But it is the fitting visual end for Carton. He has made the ultimate sacrifice, laying down his own life, because of his love for Lucie. It is, therefore, quite appropriate that he comforts another young woman as he goes to his death. He has become the symbol of the kind Savior. Through him, Dickens implies that love is immortal because it comes from God.

Carton's resurrection, therefore, can be seen both in religious and secular terms. He will literally, in name, be reborn through the son of Lucie and Darnay. He will also go to eternal rest because of his ultimate sacrifice; he has redeemed his wasted life. Appropriately, Carton's last words end the novel: "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."

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