The Count of Monte Cristo | Study Guide

Alexandre Dumas

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the themes in Alexandre Dumas's novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

The Count of Monte Cristo | Themes


Protagonist Edmond Dantès is unjustly imprisoned, and his struggle raises issues related to justice. The justice system fails Dantès because Villefort's wealth and power allow him to pervert the course of justice in the protection of his own interests. With no recourse available to him via human justice, Dantès turns to Divine justice—which actually turns out to be personal vengeance—to achieve retribution for the suffering his betrayers inflict on him.

Betrayal and Vengeance

In The Count of Monte Cristo, betrayals, or acts of disloyalty, aren't limited to the conspiracy against Edmond Dantès. Caderousse and his wife betray the jeweler's trust in their hospitality, and then Caderousse betrays his wife. Benedetto and Caderousse try to betray each other. Fernand betrays Ali Pasha, a man he is entrusted to protect. Danglars betrays his clients by gambling on the market with their money. Villefort betrays Valentine when he tries to force her into a marriage for his own gain. Mercédès betrays Edmond by marrying Fernand, although that act is the most forgivable of these betrayals as she has no reason to assume Edmond is still alive after a year and a half. Valentine's response to her father's betrayal is resignation, but more often, betrayal sparks a desire for retaliation, or vengeance, as it does for Dantès. Haydée expresses her satisfaction at avenging her father when she tells her story to the commission considering the case of Fernand/Morcerf.

Vengeance—punishment inflicted on a person by one who has been harmed by that person—suggests extremism and violence. Dantès feels that vengeance is his only recourse, and he justifies his actions by convincing himself he's carrying out the will of God, or Divine Providence. Vengeance takes a toll on Dantès. He is capable of noticing kindness and returning it, as shown by his actions toward the Morrel family. But he must shut down any positive emotions in order to carry out his plan of revenge.


Retribution, or punishment, in The Count of Monte Cristo is often doled out indiscriminately. Murder is typically the first choice of punishment. Villefort, at his betrothal celebration, says he believes the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for political crimes. Benedetto murders Caderousse for blackmail. Bertuccio tries to kill Villefort for not helping his brother. Monte Cristo, in contrast, tailors his retribution to fit the crimes committed against him. Fernand, who steals Mercédès from him, loses the love and respect of his family. Villefort, who prides himself on his reputation as an upholder of justice, is revealed as an adulterer and a manipulator of justice. Danglars, who cares only for wealth, loses his fortune. Caderousse, whose crime was simply cowardice and apathy, would have come out well with the reward of a diamond, but is done in by his own greed. The problem with retribution is that the person doling it out can't predict all consequences, as Monte Cristo finds out when Madame de Villefort poisons the innocent Edouard.


Abbé Faría's treasure makes Monte Cristo's vengeance possible because it gives him the power to travel wherever he needs to be and meet those in power who can be useful to his plans. His wealth helps him to manipulate people and events. Knowledge also confers power, and the knowledge Monte Cristo has acquired from Abbé Faría allows him to move about the Parisian aristocratic circle into which his enemies have risen. He also spends years gaining knowledge about the men who conspired against him, and he uses that knowledge to carry out his vengeance. His own ingenuity allows him to apply his knowledge and to quickly adapt his plans as circumstances demand.

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