The Count of Monte Cristo | Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

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The Count of Monte Cristo | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How does the background of the people who help the Count of Monte Cristo achieve vengeance affect readers' perceptions of him in The Count of Monte Cristo?

The Count of Monte Cristo relies on the help of several criminals in carrying out his plans. This reliance increases readers' perception of his shrewdness, the extralegality of his endeavor, his mysteriously wide reach, and his implacable nature. The time that Monte Cristo spends with smugglers after his escape from prison gives him the opportunity to develop contacts throughout the Mediterranean smuggling network. When he finds the treasure, he rewards loyalty, as with Bertuccio and Jacopo, and he gains loyalty from others by using his wealth to help smugglers and bandits such as Luigi Vampa's band of thieves escape the law. The use of these criminals is shrewd. Because they are criminals, they are unlikely to turn him over to the law. Because he relies on these people who live outside the law, his mission of revenge appears even more outside the law. The count's ability to maintain contact with people at both the highest and lowest levels of society convinces readers of his mastery of every situation. His reliance on criminal tactics underscores his conviction that God has given him permission to skirt human law as well as religious law in order to achieve vengeance.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, what is the significance, as a story device, of the 10-year gap in time between Chapters 30 and 31?

The gap of 10 years in the story takes place after Monte Cristo performs his good deed for the Morrel family. When he resurfaces, he has been transformed into the Count of Monte Cristo and is setting his vengeance plan in motion. It becomes evident, as the plan develops, that Monte Cristo has gathered a vast amount of information about his enemies and about their families. The count has also acquired and perfected a number of skills comparable to those of a modern-day action hero. He's an accomplished swordsman and target shooter, he's a skilled scientist, he has a good grasp of international finance, and he's a connoisseur of the arts. He also speaks several languages and has a deep knowledge of and affinity for Oriental philosophy. The 10-year gap is a useful story device because any unexplained details or too-convenient coincidences in the plot can be attributed to knowledge that Monte Cristo acquired during that time. It also creates an aura of mystery and magic around the Count of Monte Cristo, suggestive of a hero in Romantic literature.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, how is Villefort's retribution tailored to both his offense against Dantès and his major character flaws?

Villefort's ambition is his major character flaw; excessive pride in his reputation as a brilliant prosecutor is another flaw. Both of these flaws cause him to unjustly imprison Dantès. For his retribution, Monte Cristo exposes Villefort's hypocrisy and his flaunting of the law. Monte Cristo arranges for a public revelation, in court, of Villefort's earlier adulterous relationship and his shocking actions in burying the newborn baby thought to be stillborn. Villefort's humiliation is complete when the murderer and thief Benedetto surfaces as the son he'd tried to bury. In addition, a series of unexplained deaths in his home are strongly suspected to be the work of a poisoner in his family. Unwilling to face the bad publicity that would result from reporting the crime, he keeps quiet about it, just as he'd kept quiet about Dantès's innocence. The result of this obsession with his status is that his son is murdered by his wife, the poisoner, before she kills herself. Pushed to the breaking point, Villefort goes mad. In the end, as a result of putting himself above the law, he loses both his social status and his brilliant mind—a punishment that addresses both his ambition and his excessive pride.

In Chapter 9 of The Count of Monte Cristo, what purposes does Dumas achieve by portraying Villefort's struggle with scruples and emotions after Mercédès's visit?

In showing that Villefort has pangs of conscience, Dumas gives more depth to the prosecutor's character and also emphasizes the enormity of Villefort's wrongdoing. In Chapter 9, after Mercédès pleads with him to know whether Dantès is alive or dead, Villefort is shaken by the intensity of her grief. As a young prosecutor who takes enormous pride in his work, he has never before knowingly sentenced an innocent man to life in prison, and this is a blow to his pride. Dumas emphasizes the lasting damage that Villefort is about to inflict on himself through remorse that "intermittently chimes on the soul and sears it with the memory of some past action, an agonizing wound that lacerates, deeper and deeper until death." Villefort has met and liked Dantès; he recognizes that he's destroying the life and hopes of a young man who, like himself, is ready to embark on career success and marriage. Suspense begins to build as Villefort wavers in his decision, but his ambition overcomes his scruples and he lets his decision stand. The author uses this scene to foreshadow Villefort's later troubles, describing him as a man with a wound "that would not heal; or one that would close, only to re-open, more bloody and painful than before."

In Chapter 34 of The Count of Monte Cristo, what does the comparison of the count to a vampire add to the narrative and suggest about his character?

In Chapter 34, the Countess G– claims that Monte Cristo frightens her because he looks like a vampire, with his "black hair ... large eyes glowing with some strange light, [and] deathly pallor." Both the Countess G– and Franz feel a chill and involuntarily shudder at the sight of the count. This characterization of the count as a vampire-like figure adds a Gothic element to the narrative by injecting the suggestion of mystery and dark forces at work. While the count seems able to easily charm most people, some, like Madame G– and Franz, seem able to perceive the cold focus on vengeance that lies just under the surface. The count's extremely pallid skin, sometimes described as "livid," is attributed, in Chapter 22, to the many years he spent in the underground cell of Château d'If. The comparison of Monte Cristo to a vampire applies to him on a metaphorical, as well as on a physical, level because he has emerged from the underground prison cell in which he was entombed for so long with hatred in his heart, determined to pursue and destroy those who have wronged him.

What is significant about the ways in which Dumas shows that the Count of Monte Cristo and Gérard de Villefort are alike and different in The Count of Monte Cristo?

Dumas uses Villefort as a foil to highlight certain qualities in Monte Cristo's character. The similarities between Monte Cristo and Villefort emphasize the tragic results of their interaction. As young men, both showed enormous potential for career success and happiness, but Villefort's ambition, matched against Dantès's naïveté, derailed Dantès's future and planted a seed of corruption in his own life. Both Monte Cristo and Villefort are driven men: Monte Cristo is driven by revenge and Villefort by ambition. Both are also consumed by their pursuit of justice. Monte Cristo pursues what he sees as Divine justice, while Villefort pursues human justice. Both are ruthless in their pursuit of their goals. Villefort is willing to cast aside the innocent Dantès and has no compunctions about disregarding his daughter's feelings in finding a husband for her. The count uses innocent people (like the telegraph operator) to suit his own ends and is willing to accept the deaths of the family members of his victims, until he sees the body of the poisoned Edouard. Villefort comes from an aristocratic family, and Monte Cristo comes from a poor family. Yet, both have strong feelings about their fathers: Monte Cristo has nothing but love and admiration for the memory of Old Dantès, while Villefort has a more complicated relationship with Noirtier. Monte Cristo's father dies from grief and poverty, while Villefort takes care of his father into old age. One important way in which Monte Cristo and Villefort differ is in their willingness to help others. Villefort, the reader is likely to feel, will only help someone to benefit his own position. The count helps people such as the Morrels, Albert, and Valentine because they are virtuous and he judges them worthy of help. He expects nothing in return for that help. So this difference between the two men highlights an important quality in the count.

In Chapter 95 of The Count of Monte Cristo, what does Dumas's portrayal of Danglars reveal about whether his character has improved since he betrayed Dantès?

After Danglars betrays Dantès, he is described in Chapter 9 as "one of those calculating men who are born with a pen behind their ear and an inkwell instead of a heart. To him, everything in this world was subtraction or multiplication, and a numeral was much dearer than a man." Years later, when Baron Danglars has achieved success and is the father of a grown daughter, Dumas's portrayal of him in Chapter 95 reveals that the man's character hasn't improved at all. He is described as someone who presents himself to the world as "the indulgent father and good-natured fellow," while to his family, he behaves as "a brutal husband and tyrannical father." He tells his daughter, Eugénie, that he's "indifferent to the joys of family life." He says that when he chose her husband, he wasn't thinking about her at all but was thinking only of financial considerations. His attitude toward her is cold and uncaring, and the only passion he displays is when he talks about how important his credit is to him.

In Chapter 112 of The Count of Monte Cristo, why is it significant that the count objects when Emmanuel Herbault compares him to a god?

For much of the novel, the count has viewed himself as the instrument of Divine justice, but by Chapter 112, he has been chastened by the death of young Edouard, the innocent victim of his vengeance against Villefort. This unfortunate event has shaken the count's conviction that he is doing God's will, and he senses that he has overreached. When Emmanuel compares him to a god, he realizes that he has been feeling and behaving like a god, reveling in the idea that he has power over life and death. The count tells Emmanuel, "Gods never do ill, gods stop when they want to stop. Chance is not stronger than they are and it is they, on the contrary, who dictate to chance." He had been enjoying feeling like the avenging angel, and now he knows that he isn't as powerful as he had thought. He recognizes that, in his zeal, he had—unlike a god—done "ill." He hadn't been able to control the circumstances that led to Edouard's murder, though he tried to revive him with the Elixir, and he doesn't think that outcome could have been God's will. This is a significant change of mind for the count, and it will affect his actions going forward.

In Chapter 33 of The Count of Monte Cristo, why does author include the long story-within-a-story about the Roman bandits?

The story-within-a-story about Luigi Vampa's bandits presents the bandit chief's life story and tells how he gained control of the notorious gang. In explaining how the gang operates, the tale sets up the background for the kidnapping of Albert in a later chapter. It also reveals how Monte Cristo, using the name Sinbad the Sailor, first met Vampa when Vampa was still a young shepherd. Dumas first published the novel in serial form in the newspaper. Interrupting the story line with the story-within-a-story helps to build suspense for the main story. Including the story of the Roman bandits also allows the author to give his French readers an exciting tale of action, murder, and thievery set in Italy, a country that was a popular travel destination at the time the story was published.

For what purposes does the count disguise himself as Abbé Busoni, and what does the corresponding backstory he creates in The Count of Monte Cristo reveal about his character?

The count disguises himself as Abbé Busoni, a learned, scholarly man who travels a lot, lives very simply, and donates generously to charity. He uses this disguise several times in the novel when he wants to gain someone's trust, which confirms the count's high regard for that lifestyle. Disguised as the abbé in Chapter 26, he obtains information about the conspirators from Caderousse by claiming to have been at Dantès's deathbed. In Chapter 56 as Abbé Busoni, he arranges for the impersonation of Marquis Cavalcanti. In Chapter 69, posing as the abbé, he feeds misinformation about the count to Villefort. In Chapter 103, disguised as Abbé Busoni, he helps to protect Valentine from her stepmother. Disguising himself as a clergyman engenders trust and gives the count access to places and people that he wouldn't otherwise have. The elaborate backstory that the count creates and maintains for the abbé is made possible by the count's enormous wealth. The ironic juxtaposition of the count's wealth and the abbé's simplicity, as well as the goodness of the abbé as compared to the deceit implicit in the use of the disguise, points to the complexity of the count's actions in exacting vengeance.

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