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The Count of Monte Cristo | Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

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The Count of Monte Cristo | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In The Count of Monte Cristo, in what ways is the count a heroic figure, and in what ways is he not heroic?

The Count of Monte Cristo has the character of the dark Byronic hero popular in Romantic literature. He is mysterious, brooding, and austere as well as elegant, mannered, and cultured. In his looks and his carriage, he is impressive if a bit forbidding. These characteristics, combined with his great knowledge and skill in many activities, make him heroic in the sense of being larger than life. He is also generous to people whom he judges to be virtuous and worthy of his aid. His intense focus on revenge may be understandable, given how much he suffered and given that the conspirators enjoyed great success. However, qualities that make him less than heroic are his lack of mercy or contrition for the suffering of innocents (at least until Edouard's death) and the ruthless way he uses people.

How is the scientific knowledge that Dantès acquires from Abbé Faría inThe Count of Monte Cristo important to him?

The Count of Monte Cristo sees the scientific knowledge that he gains from Abbé Faría in the same way that he sees the fortune unearthed from the island of Monte Cristo—as a means to carry out his plans for revenge. The scientific knowledge that he values is the ability to concoct and use medicines and poisons. He makes a sleeping pill for himself, but he chiefly applies his scientific knowledge to his mission. Using the Elixir, he revives young Edouard when he loses consciousness after the incident with the runaway horse carriage. This ingratiates him to Madame de Villefort and helps him meet her husband. Aware of the evil in Madame de Villefort, he gives her information about different poisons, which she uses on members of her household. Monte Cristo uses his knowledge to protect Valentine by giving her a drug that makes her appear to be dead. This gives him a chance to move her to a safe place.

In Chapter 41 of The Count of Monte Cristo, what does the portrait of Mercédès in Albert's apartment reveal about her relationship with Fernand?

Mercédès commissioned the portrait only six or seven years before Monte Cristo sees it. In the portrait she's wearing the peasant Catalan costume she would have worn when she was the fiancée of young Dantès. She's looking out to sea, as if waiting for his return. The sea is a recurring motif associated with Dantès, a skilled navigator. The subject matter of the painting was chosen by Mercédès. This and the fact that Fernand dislikes the painting suggests that Mercédès isn't happy with Fernand and still thinks about Dantès, perhaps longing for the life she might have had with him. Fernand might also dislike the portrait because it's a reminder of their peasant origins, which he'd rather not advertise to his aristocratic associates.

How does Dumas use the real historical setting, with its government power shifts, to propel the fictional events of the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo?

The story is set in France in the early 1800s. Dumas choreographs his characters' motivations, actions, and reactions around actual historical events related to the political struggles of the time. When the story opens in 1815, Edmond Dantès, in doing a simple favor for his dying captain, becomes unwittingly caught up in the struggle between Bonapartists and monarchists. Accused of treason against the monarchy, Dantès is thrown in prison. Dantès's innocence is clear, and it should be a simple matter for the prosecutor, Villefort, to release him. However, doing so would reveal that Villefort's father, Noirtier, is involved in treason, and this would thwart Villefort's ambition to gain a position of power in the monarchy. Soon after Dantès is imprisoned, Napoleon overthrows the monarchy, an event that might be expected to lead to Dantès's release, but Villefort manages to maintain his position and power under Napoleon. He believes—correctly, as it turns out—that the monarchy will be restored, so he can't risk releasing Dantès. The shifts in power between the Bonapartists and the monarchists provide Villefort with the motivation to keep Dantès hidden away in prison. Noirtier's actions as a Bonapartist, linking him to the death of General Quesnel, have a later effect on his granddaughter Valentine, causing her engagement to Franz d'Epinay to be called off. Several characters are also affected by the wars France fought in the early 1800s. While Caderousse and Maximilien serve as soldiers in France's army, the character most influenced by these wars is Fernand. He rises in the ranks, albeit due to duplicity, which puts him in a position to serve Ali Pasha.

In Chapter 30 of The Count of Monte Cristo, why does Edmond Dantès say, "farewell, goodness, humanity, gratitude ... Farewell all those feelings that nourish and illuminate the heart!"?

Just before making this statement in Chapter 30, Dantès rewards Monsieur Morrel and his family, saving the faithful and good Morrel from financial ruin. With that accomplished, Dantès is leaving Marseille to begin to carry out his plan of vengeance against the enemies who conspired against him and caused his false imprisonment. He will be plunging into the world of his enemies, which he sees as devoid of goodness, humanity, and gratitude. In order to carry out his revenge, he believes he will have to harden his heart and turn off his warmer emotions. He is about to transform himself into the dark, mysterious Count of Monte Cristo.

In Chapter 60 of The Count of Monte Cristo, why does Monte Cristo visit the telegraph office, and what do the details of that visit reveal about his character?

The visit to the telegraph office is part of Monte Cristo's revenge against Danglars. Madame Danglars gets insider information about the stock market from her lover, Debray, who works for the minister of the interior. Madame Danglars uses this information to gamble on the stock market, using her husband's money. Knowing this, and knowing that Debray gets his information from the news that comes in over the telegraph, the count feeds some false news to Debray that will cause Madame Danglars to lose a lot of money in the stock market. Danglars values his wealth above all else, and losing it will cause him great suffering. The episode reveals the depth of knowledge that the count has accumulated about the conspirators, and his willingness to inflict collateral damage in order to exact his revenge. His plan will bring Madame Danglars to ruin, and may hurt Debray as well. In bribing the telegraph operator, the count puts the man's job, home, and lifestyle at risk. The event shows the count's disregard for anyone other than himself and the few people he cares for.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, how does Monte Cristo's use of Haydée and Benedetto in gaining his vengeance differ?

Monte Cristo uses both Haydée and Benedetto to carry out his plans for vengeance, but his use of them differs. He cares for Haydée and is protective of her. She is a willing participant in exposing the treachery of Fernand Mondego, who betrayed her father and sold her and her mother into slavery. She does not know that Monte Cristo is behind the initial revelation that leads to her dramatic testimony. She gains vengeance of her own in speaking out against Fernand. In that way, Monte Cristo helps to free her by being instrumental in helping her gain closure on the past injustices she suffered. Benedetto is an unwitting tool in Monte Cristo's plan for vengeance against Villefort. Benedetto, like Haydée, has no idea that the count deliberately brought him to Paris in order to carry out a plan of revenge. Benedetto takes a certain grim satisfaction in seeing his revelation lead to the ruin of Villefort. But Benedetto is a hardened individual, and closure means less to him than Morcerf's fall means to Haydée. In contrast to Haydée, Benedetto's role in the count's vengeance plan leads him to prison.

How does the resolution of The Count of Monte Cristo address the novel's theme of retribution?

Monte Cristo achieves retribution on all of the conspirators who were responsible for his imprisonment on false charges, carefully tailoring each conspirator's punishment to fit his particular transgression. Monte Cristo justifies his vigilante-like pursuit of vengeance by convincing himself that he is acting according to the will of God; at times, he compares himself to an angel of the Lord and comes to believe that he's been given superior powers to bring his betrayers to justice. However, the unforeseen death of the innocent Edouard causes Monte Cristo to question whether God really did choose him, as he had believed, to punish the wrongdoers. He revisits his past, even traveling to Château d'If, to reassure himself that his grievances against the conspirators deserved retribution. In the end, Monte Cristo seems to satisfy his conscience, but the very fact that questions were raised conveys the message that retribution is best left to Providence.

What purpose does Dumas achieve by comparing Madame Danglars and Mercédès in Chapter 106 of The Count of Monte Cristo?

Chapter 106 is part of the resolution of the story lines of Madame Danglars and Mercédès. Both women have lost their husbands, their wealth, and their social status, but they respond to their situations in different ways. The comparison reveals the weak character and lack of values of Madame Danglars and the strength and nobility of Mercédès. Madame Danglars—shallow, greedy, and adulterous—feels unable to face the future alone. She goes to Debray, hoping that he will declare his love and support for her. Instead, he gives her advice about how to save face in society, and he doles out her share of the considerable wealth they've accumulated by playing the stock market with her husband's money. She had been an unfaithful wife, ruthless about using her husband's assets to accumulate wealth for herself—and in the end, in spite of her wealth, she feels shocked and helpless when she finds herself alone. Mercédès—thoughtful, generous, and faithful—faces her changed future with the love and support of her son, Albert. They have little wealth between them, but Mercédès tries to be stoical and thinks she might go to a convent to live out her days. Albert will join the military, so she faces her future essentially alone, hoping only for Albert's happiness. Comparing the two women suggests that Madame Danglars's bleak future is her punishment for being faithless and duplicitous. Mercédès, although faithful to her husband, wasn't faithful to Dantès in the sense that she didn't wait for him, so she, too, faces a bleak future. Perhaps as a reward for her nobility and strength of character, Mercédès at least has the hope of achieving peace and contentment.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, is the murder of Caderousse—the least guilty of the conspirators—part of his retribution? Why or why not?

Caderousse had a passive role in the conspiracy against Monte Cristo: he was guilty due to his cowardice, drunkenness, and laziness in not exposing Danglars's and Fernand's lies. It's likely that his murder was not part of Monte Cristo's retribution for him because if Caderousse hadn't been so greedy, he would have ended up with the reward of a diamond from Monte Cristo. But the diamond wasn't enough for him; his greed led him to murder his wife, sending him to prison. After his escape from prison, he blackmailed Andrea Cavalcanti and once again suffered retribution for his greed—this time, by losing his life. Monte Cristo doesn't manipulate Caderousse into robbing his house; Caderousse's greed brings about his own downfall.

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