The Count of Monte Cristo | Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

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The Count of Monte Cristo | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How does the author reveal the character of Edmond Dantès in multiple ways in Chapter 1 of The Count of Monte Cristo?

Authors reveal characters by describing their physical characteristics, what they do, what they say, and how other characters respond to them. In Chapter 1 of The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès is described as "alert and sharp-eyed" and "possessed of the calm and resolve peculiar to men who have been accustomed ... to wrestle with danger." The author's use of positive adjectives in this description suggests that Dantès is intelligent, a good leader, strong, and competent. Despite his youth, as acting captain he shows great self-assurance in giving orders to the crew, confident that his orders will be followed exactly. His boss, Monsieur Morrel, who seems to have a genuine liking for Dantès, says that he's skilled and self-confident, he's a good son, and he's honest. Dantès's actions in going out of his way to carry out Captain Leclère's last wishes show that he's kind, responsible, and trustworthy. His emotional response to being appointed captain—"the most secret of [his] heart's desires"—shows that he's ambitious and happy in his work. His cagey response to Morrel's first question about Danglars suggests that there are personal difficulties between the two of them and indicates that Dantès has tact; in addition, his statement of willingness to work with Danglars, if that is Morrel's wish, indicates proper deference to authority.

In Chapter 4 of The Count of Monte Cristo, how does the theme of betrayal and vengeance relate to each of the three characters involved with writing the anonymous letter?

Caderousse, Fernand, and Danglars are the three characters involved with writing the anonymous letter that falsely betrays Edmond Dantès as a spy. Danglars, the master manipulator of the three, advises that the letter should be anonymous because he fears the vengeance that Dantès will extract if their roles in the betrayal become known. Of the three, Caderousse is something of an unwitting betrayer because he's so drunk that Danglars easily misleads him into thinking they've written the letter "simply in jest." Nevertheless, Caderousse for all his protestations of friendship with Dantès, shares with Danglars and Fernand a resentment of Dantès's success and general good fortune. That makes betraying Dantès more palatable to him. For Danglars and Fernand, writing the anonymous letter can be viewed as an act of vengeance for what they believe Dantès took from them. Danglars had expected the promotion to ship's captain that was given to Dantès, and Fernand had hoped to marry Mercédès, who is in love with Dantès. Fernand would like to kill Dantès, but Mercédès has threatened suicide if anything happens to him. Plotting Dantès's arrest is a good alternative, Fernand believes, because it will remove Dantès from the scene and open the way for him to marry Mercédès.

How does comparing and contrasting the two wedding feasts in Chapters 5 and 6 of The Count of Monte Cristo help the reader understand the conflict in the story?

The contrasts between the two betrothal feasts help to delineate the political and class conflicts in the story. Both potential bridegrooms are handsome, happy, and on the verge of career advancement, but the feasts differ significantly in setting, in the social class of the participants, and in the outcome. Dantès holds his wedding feast at La Reserve Inn, outside Marseille, and his guests are sailors, soldiers, merchants, and neighbors dressed in their Sunday best. Monsieur Morrel, the shipowner, is the most prestigious guest, and the prevailing mood is one of noisy merriment. These are common working people who are focused on the here and now; they aren't concerned with politics or power. But the world of politics and power rudely interrupts their feast when the commissioner of police and four armed soldiers arrest Dantès. He is forcibly removed from his wedding feast and taken to meet an unknown fate. His friends are powerless to help him. At the other end of the social spectrum, Villefort's betrothal feast is held in an architecturally impressive building in Marseille. The guests are "the cream of Marseillais society," Dumas says. They include magistrates, military officers, aristocrats, and Royalists. The mood is one of thankfulness for the recent restoration of King Louis XVIII to the throne. Conversation centers more on politics, particularly on condemnation of Bonapartist conspirators who want to overthrow the king than on the upcoming wedding. The feast is interrupted by a valet who whispers into Villefort's ear that he is needed to hear the case of a Bonapartist who has just been arrested. Villefort leaves his wedding feast in order to exercise his power as a magistrate. The description of this wedding feast provides background about the political conflict that will affect the characters' actions and fortunes throughout the story.

What do Chapters 10, 11, and 12 of The Count of Monte Cristo reveal about the father–son relationship between Villefort and Noirtier?

Three early chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo show the relationship of Villefort and his father, Noirtier, to be cold and mutually disapproving on the surface, but to reflect some affection or regard underneath. In Chapter 10 of The Count of Monte Cristo, when the king's courtier questions the advisability of taking advice from Villefort, whose father is a Bonapartist, the king replies, "To make his way, Villefort will sacrifice everything, even his father." Later, the king deliberately asks Villefort if he's staying with his father while in Paris or if he'll see his father while he's there. Villefort emphatically responds that he won't be seeing his father, seeming to confirm the king's earlier assessment of his willingness to distance himself from his parent. When Noirtier turns up unexpectedly at Villefort's rooms, he chides his son about not being thrilled to see him. Villefort, in turn, reprimands Noirtier for his activities with the Bonapartists. He tells his father he burned a letter that could have been a death warrant for Noirtier, and Noirtier responds coldly, "And a death-knell to your future career!"—a statement that reveals Noirtier has no illusions about his son's priorities. While their relationship is contentious, it's not without a certain level of caring and respect. Villefort, who is a stickler for the strict punishment of Bonapartists' crimes, warns Noirtier that the police are looking for him as the suspected murderer of a Royalist, and he even allows Noirtier to use his clothes and disguise himself. While these acts may be motivated primarily by self-preservation, they also suggest some regard for his father. Noirtier, for his part, gives his son some advice about how to protect his political position if the Bonapartists succeed (as is likely) in overthrowing the monarchy.

In Chapter 14 of The Count of Monte Cristo, after the inspector says Dantès will suffer less if he goes mad, what is the effect of the narrator's subsequent comment?

Referring to Dantès, the inspector of prisons says, "When he is altogether mad, he will suffer less." The narrator then interjects: "As you can see, this inspector was a man of the utmost humanity and altogether worthy of the philanthropic office with which he had been entrusted." In a clear case of verbal irony, the narrator means just the opposite of what he says here. The inspector's comment is callous and unfeeling and reflects the inhumane way in which prisoners are treated. The effect of the narrator's comment is to reinforce the injustice of the prison system—which treats prisoners like animals—by seeming to celebrate its humanity.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, how does Abbé Faría's vast knowledge help to keep him sane in prison, and how does it inspire Dantès to improve his education?

Abbé Faría keeps his sanity in prison by using his education and his ingenuity, and by working on an escape plan. In Chapters 16 and 17, the abbé tells Dantès that he "studies" by recalling and reviewing the 150 books that he memorized before he was imprisoned. He wrote a scholarly work on the monarchy in Italy. He made paper from old shirts and a pen from a fish bone saved from dinner. He also made a knife from an old candlestick, ink from fireplace soot, a candle from meat fat, a needle and thread, and a rope ladder from a bed sheet. Faría has also spent three years digging an escape tunnel only to have it come to a dead end. Dantès is impressed that the abbé has made such productive use of his time, and is inspired to put his own time in prison to better use. He will be better off, he knows, if he focuses on improving his mind and skills instead of allowing himself to sink into despair and anger. He persuades the abbé to teach him everything he knows and to work on an escape plan with him.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, in what way is Dantès's time in prison like a death?

Dantès's time in prison is like a death both physically and psychologically. The physical aspects of Dantès's cell at Château d'If are similar to a tomb: the dungeon is underground, it's damp and dank, and it cuts off Dantès from all contact with his loved ones and the outside world. In Chapter 14, the narrator says of Dantès that "he had lived so long in the tomb that he might justifiably have considered himself dead." In Chapter 15, the narrator uses the phrase entombed in prison and refers to the time Dantès had spent "buried" in the dungeon. Imprisonment causes a kind of psychological death for Dantès; he becomes a different person. He becomes bitter and angry, to the point that he'd consider murdering a guard to escape.

What elements of 19th-century Romantic literature are reflected in The Count of Monte Cristo?

The Count of Monte Cristo has several elements of 19th-century Romantic literature, from the character of the protagonist to some of the settings and events of the book. Monte Cristo, driven by anger and the desire for vengeance, represents the dark, brooding hero of the 19th-century Romantic movement. As is typical of Romantic literature, the main characters can easily be divided into "good" and "evil" categories; for example, Danglars is evil and Maximilien is good. The story events are sometimes a little too coincidental to be believable, and causal connections may be left to the imagination. For example, Monte Cristo somehow discovers Benedetto's history and tracks him down so he can use the young man in his plot for vengeance on Villefort. He is also able to locate Haydée, making her available for use in his plan against Fernand Mondego. Romantic literature's emphasis on travel and on experiencing other cultures is shown in the visit to Rome, including the colorful description of the carnival, the horrific spectacle of the public execution, and the scene in the Colosseum at night. The Romantic fascination with the exotic is represented in the character and life story of Haydée, as well as in the count's Oriental tastes. The comparison of the count to a vampire, as well as the mysterious red elixir that seems to hold the power of life and death and the poisoning deaths in the Villefort household, provide dark, mysterious, Gothic elements that were also often seen in 19th-century Romantic literature.

In Chapter 105 of The Count of Monte Cristo, what is the significance of the Count of Monte Cristo's advice to Maximilien to wait and hope?

While imprisoned in Château d'If Dantès, filled with loneliness and despair he tries to starve himself to death before he meets Abbé Faría. In Chapter 15, he marvels at Abbé Faría's ability to stay sane. Realizing how close he came to missing out on this new friendship, he tells the abbé, "You were able to wait ... consoled by hope." Later, in Chapter 105, when Maximilien is suicidal because he thinks Valentine is dead, Monte Cristo tries to persuade him to hope. After telling Maximilien about his own attempt at suicide, he reminds him that Monsieur Morrel had a happy life after nearly ending it over his business woes. He advises Maximilien that "grief is like life and ... there is always something unknown beyond it." Maximilien agrees to wait, at least until they meet at Monte Cristo Island on October 5. In Chapter 117, when they do meet, Maximilien, having suffered greatly while he waited, is finally rewarded when he is reunited with Valentine. In his farewell letter to Maximilien and Valentine, Monte Cristo advises them to remember that "all human wisdom is contained in these two words: 'wait' and 'hope'!" This could be interpreted to mean that Monte Cristo has adopted the philosophy that it's best to leave decisions about retribution, as well as decisions about life and death, to Providence.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, how does comparing Valentine and Eugénie illustrate attitudes about the role of women in 19th-century France?

Both Valentine and Eugénie are the daughters of powerful, wealthy men, and both will inherit large fortunes. Both of their fathers want to marry them off to men the young women don't love. The alternative to such a marriage is to be sent to the convent. Valentine represents the traditional, accepted role of women in 19th-century French society. She's beautiful, innocent, admired by all, and passive. She feels that she's not strong enough to stand up against her father. Only after a considerable amount of persuasion does she agree to run away with Maximilien, but when that plan collapses, it's the count who saves her life and arranges for her and Maximilien to be together. Eugénie, who has more in common with modern-day women, serves as a foil for Valentine. She is beautiful, adventurous, quite independent, and controversial. She has no qualms about telling her father and everyone else that she intends never to marry because she values her freedom above all else. A talented musician, Eugénie is confident that she will be able to support herself, and she makes her own plans to run away with her music teacher and best friend, Louise d'Armilly. Eugénie is often described as having "masculine" qualities, suggesting that independence and self-reliance were not qualities that were admired in 19th-century French women.

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