The Count of Monte Cristo | Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

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The Count of Monte Cristo | Chapters 14–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 14

About a year after the restoration of the monarchy, the inspector general of prisons visits Château d'If. Dantès takes the opportunity to eloquently tell his story to the inspector, appealing to him for a judge and a trial. The inspector promises to review Villefort's notes on the case. Dantès is relieved, still thinking that Villefort is on his side. Next, the inspector and the governor go to the cell of Abbé Faría next door. The abbé tells them about his treasure and offers them a share if they will set him free. This offer confirms for the inspector that the abbé is mad. Later, the inspector checks Dantès's record and sees Villeforte's note that Dantès should be kept "under the closest supervision." Having been assured by Dantès that he could rely on Villefort's notes, the inspector decides to take no action. A year later, a new governor is appointed to the prison. Instead of learning the names of the prisoners, he refers to them by their cell numbers; Dantès is number 34.

Chapter 15

Dantès suffers from the solitary confinement in the dungeon. He asks to share a cell with someone and is denied. He prays, with no results. He isn't allowed to have books. With nothing to occupy his mind, he rages against his enemies. He decides that death would be too kind a punishment for them; they must suffer as he is suffering. Dantès has been imprisoned for more than six years when he decides to stop eating. Feeling weak and near death, he hears a scratching sound. The sound interests him so much that he decides to start eating again so he can figure out what's causing it. He carries out a test and surmises that it's another prisoner, who is probably digging an escape tunnel. Dantès breaks his earthenware pitcher and uses pieces of it to dig at the wall behind his bed. Using the metal handle from his soup pot, he removes a stone from the wall and continues to dig for days. But he encounters a beam that blocks his way, and exclaims over his bad luck. Suddenly, he hears the voice of the other prisoner, who introduces himself as number 27. He tells Dantès he'd been trying to tunnel to the outside wall, but he miscalculated. The next day, number 27 comes through the tunnel to visit Dantès in his cell.

Chapter 16

The other prisoner is about 50 years old, white-haired, with a long black beard. Dantès greets him enthusiastically and learns that the man has spent three years digging a tunnel 50 feet long. Abbé Faría introduces himself. He, too, was jailed for political reasons. They discuss the possibilities of escaping from Dantès's cell and Dantès suggests that if they tunnel to the outer wall, they can kill the sentry on the outer gallery and then jump into the sea and swim for land. But the abbé refuses to kill a man to obtain freedom. Instead he prefers to wait for an opportunity and then take advantage of it. The abbé tells Dantès he's written a book of meditations on his life using paper and ink that he made from materials in his cell. He has also spent his time reviewing, from memory, as many as 150 books by the most important authors. Impressed by the industriousness of the abbé and eager to see the results of his labors, Dantès follows the abbé through the tunnel to his cell.

Analysis

In Chapter 14 when Dantès speaks to the inspector general, he still thinks that Villefort has been trying to help him. His honest and trusting nature makes it difficult for him to understand why anyone would want him to be imprisoned. Eventually though, the years he spends alone in the dungeon take their toll on Dantès's personality. The happy, loving, confident, hopeful young fiancé becomes angry, doubtful, and despairing. The fact that he's now known only as "number 34" further emphasizes his dehumanization. The grim determination he reaches in Chapter 15 to punish those who subjected him to the hell of the prison saves his sanity and lays the foundation for the main action of the novel.

In Chapter 15, the possibility of making contact with the other prisoner is enough to deter Dantès from completing his suicidal plan. Digging through the wall gives him a sense of purpose. Meeting Abbé Faría inspires Dantès and seems to restore him to a more positive outlook. His plan to kill the guard in order to escape may be understandable under the circumstances, but it further suggests how hardened he's become.

The abbé's conversation with the first prison inspector introduces the treasure that will become the key to Dantès's eventual success in gaining revenge. Of course the reader cannot know at this point that the treasure is real and the abbé is not mad. His conversations with Dantès when the two finally meet suggest that he is perfectly sane, however. Indeed he seems learned and wise, a virtuous intellectual as Morrel is a virtuous man of business. His refusal to kill a guard in order to achieve escape is a stark contrast to the murderous actions that the Count of Monte Cristo later takes.

The prison inspector's dismissal of the abbé is indicative of the corruption of French society that is rampant in the novel. The inspector tells the governor that the abbé cannot be rich, as he claims to be, for had he "really been rich, he would not be in prison." Money buys freedom in the unjust world of the novel; there is no system of justice that does so.

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