A Tale of Two Cities

by: Charles Dickens

What Does the Ending Mean?

At the end of the novel, Sydney Carton is executed at the guillotine along with many other French prisoners. Although Carton does not make a farewell speech, Dickens ends the novel with imagining what he might have said. This hypothetical farewell speech allows Carton to look ahead and envision a future where those he loves go on to honor and cherish his memory: “I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants.” The visionary speech provides a sense of closure and optimism to an otherwise tragic ending. Carton has led a difficult and lonely life, and dies in much the same condition. Likewise, the French Revolution is wreaking violent havoc without showing signs of achieving much progress. By having Carton predict a future where his sacrifice will allow those “for which I lay down my life [to be] peaceful, useful, prosperous, and happy” and where France will be restored to peace and order, the novel ends with a sense of optimism rather than crushing defeat.