Edmond Dantès, the young first mate of the cargo ship Pharaon, is imprisoned for 14 years on false charges. While in prison, he vows to seek revenge on those who betrayed him. Another prisoner, the learned Abbé Faría, helps him acquire a broad education in many subjects and tells him where a vast treasure is buried. He escapes from prison, finds the treasure, and spends 10 years carrying out a complicated plan of vengeance. He thinks of himself as an agent of God, punishing wrongdoers.
Abbé Faría, a political prisoner in the Château d'If, is thought to be mad because he insists that he has a huge treasure and keeps trying to bribe prison officials with it. An impressively learned man, he shares his vast knowledge of every subject with Dantès, and works on an escape plan with him. He comes to regard Dantès as his son and tells him the location of his treasure. When he dies of a stroke, Dantès escapes the prison by hiding in his shroud.
Danglars, the supercargo (or officer in charge of accounts) on the Pharaon is resentful that Dantès is to be promoted from first mate to captain. To make way for his own promotion, he manipulates two cohorts—who are envious of Dantès for other reasons—in a plot to implicate Dantès as a traitor to the government. After the plot succeeds and worried that Dantès will return and seek revenge, Danglars moves away and takes a job with a Spanish bank. He marries a banker's daughter, and after she dies, he marries a widow. He becomes a banker and makes millions gambling on the stock exchange. As a father and husband, he's cold, pretentious, and controlling. Monte Cristo's revenge causes him to lose his fortune, be kidnapped by bandits, and nearly starve to death. After repenting, he is ultimately forgiven and freed by Monte Cristo.
Gérard de Villefort is the proud, ambitious crown prosecutor who will do just about anything to further his political career. He sends Dantès to prison to hide information that could harm Villefort's father and his own career. He prides himself on making tough judicial decisions, and cares more about his work than his family. When his second wife poisons several members of his family, he refuses to report the crimes to avoid a scandal, even after he thinks the wife has murdered his daughter, Valentine. After the illegitimate son he'd thought to be dead at birth surfaces in his courtroom as a thief and a murderer, he goes insane.
Mercédès's cousin, Fernand, is a fisherman who is in love with her when she's engaged to Edmond Dantès. Hoping to prevent the marriage, Fernand delivers the anonymous letter responsible for Dantès's arrest. He joins the army and marries Mercédès about a year later. He rises to the rank of general, and enriches himself through treachery and betrayal. Monte Cristo punishes him by revealing that he betrayed and killed Ali Pasha, a man he was tasked by the government to protect. He commits suicide when the scandal erupts.
Gaspard Caderousse is a former neighbor of Dantès in Marseille. Greedy, envious, lazy, and a drunkard, he's failed at being both a tailor and an innkeeper. He's imprisoned for the murder of a jeweler and his wife. In prison, he meets Benedetto. Monte Cristo, posing as Lord Wilmore, arranges for the pair's escape. Caderousse later blackmails Benedetto, who kills him after setting him up to rob Monte Cristo's house.
Mercédès is a poor, beautiful Catalan engaged to Edmond Dantès and about to marry him when he's arrested and disappears. After waiting 18 months for his return and believing Dantès to be dead, she marries Fernand Mondego. They move to Paris, and she acquires education and social status. Dignified, honest, and religious, she never forgets Dantès. Her son, Albert, is her only source of happiness. After Fernand's suicide, she gives up the wealth that Fernand had acquired and goes back to Marseille to live in the house where Old Dantès had lived.
Maximilien first encounters Monte Cristo when he comes back to Marseille from the army to help prevent his father's suicide. The count, disguised as Lord Wilmore, saves the firm of Morrel and Sons from ruin. Later, Maximilien, who is a friend of Albert de Morcerf, meets the count in Paris. Monte Cristo develops a friendship with him and sees him as a son. Maximilien falls in love with Valentine de Villefort, but her father has arranged to marry her into an aristocratic family. After Valentine is apparently poisoned by her stepmother, Maximilien is grief stricken and suicidal at the report of her death. However, the death was feigned by Monte Cristo to protect her, and Maximilien is reunited with Valentine on Monte Cristo island.