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The Count of Monte Cristo | Motifs

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Ambition

Ambition isn't evil in itself; it's natural to want to improve one's life. For young Dantès, the ambition to become captain of the Pharaon motivates him to take on the duties associated with the position when Captain Leclère dies and to meet them competently and responsibly. But for Villefort, the ambition to achieve power and status motivates him to imprison an innocent man. Ambition leads many of the characters to commit a variety of misdeeds, including acts of betrayal, theft, blackmail, and murder.

Transformation

Edmond Dantès—a naive, loving, uneducated young sailor on the brink of marriage and career success—becomes transformed after his time in prison into the sophisticated, vengeful, highly educated Count of Monte Cristo. Although he presents himself as charming and eccentric, inside he's cold and seething with rage, to the extent that some of his acquaintances shudder at his touch or remark on his resemblance to a vampire. He begins to think of himself as all powerful, an agent of God who can do no wrong. After the tragic death of Edouard, he transforms himself again. Back on Monte Cristo Island, Maximilien tells him he's different than he was in Paris. When the count asks, "In what way?" Maximilien responds, "Why, here you laugh." At the end of the book, Dantès sails off with Haydée in the hope of a happier new life. The Edmond Dantès bent on vengeance had no such prospects.

Identity

The names of many characters change throughout the novel. Dantès takes the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo to carry out his elaborate plans for revenge. He also assumes various disguises, changing his name to fit the role he is playing at the time. This shifting shows his lack of true identity; he is but an instrument of revenge.

Villefort rejects his father's name to avoid the taint of his father's Bonapartist leadings and to move himself forward. Thus, he rejects his family and past for personal gain. Morcerf has purchased his name. He pretends that his family is an old noble family, but at heart he is still the dishonest fisherman who is scheming. He will be nothing more, for he can never change.

The Sea

The sea is an ever-present entity in the life of Edmond Dantès. As the young first mate on a merchant ship, he relies on the sea for his livelihood. The experience of emerging from the sea after his daring escape from Château d'If serves as a kind of baptism into his new life. His exotic home on the island of Monte Cristo is a refuge for him, isolated and surrounded by the sea. A skilled navigator, being on the sea has a restorative effect for Monte Cristo.


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