The Count of Monte Cristo

by: Alexandre Dumas

Chapters 77–84

While, as we see earlier in the novel, Julie and Emmanuel Herbaut are living proof that human beings can be truly satisfied with their lives, Caderousse embodies human dissatisfaction. Caderousse illustrates one of Dumas’s major ideas in the novel: that happiness depends more on attitude than on absolute circumstances. As Caderousse is at death’s door, Monte Cristo catalogues the man’s long history of dissatisfaction. Feeling himself unfairly stricken with poverty, Caderousse contemplated crime, but then Busoni appeared with an unexpected fortune. Though this fortune seemed tremendous at first, Caderousse soon grew used to it and longed for more, so he resorted to murder in order to double his fortune. Fate then smiled on him again and saved him from prison. He could have lived a happy, comfortable life leeching off of Benedetto, but he again quickly became dissatisfied and longed for more, deciding once again to resort to theft and murder. Monte Cristo’s message is that Caderousse can never be truly satisfied with what he has and will always want more. Additionally, because he is lazy and dishonest, he will always resort to dishonorable means in order to acquire what he wants. With his persistent dissatisfaction, Caderousse is the unfortunate foil to Julie and Emmanuel.

Comparing Monte Cristo’s behavior toward the dying Caderousse to the behavior a real priest would exhibit, we see the difference between Monte Cristo’s idea of his divinely ordained mission of justice and the traditional Christian concept of justice. As Abbé Busoni confronts the dying Caderousse with his shortcomings, Caderousse murmurs, “what a strange priest you are; you drive the dying to despair instead of consoling them.” These words remind us that Christianity preaches forgiveness and condemns revenge. Just as Monte Cristo sets himself up as a force independent of and at odds with modern society, he also sets himself up as independent of and at odds with traditional Christianity. Despite this clear rift between the nature of Monte Cristo’s mission and the content of Christian doctrine, however, Dumas nonetheless makes ample use of Christian imagery and symbolism in the novel. We recall that Dantès has been transformed in a symbolic baptism, for instance, and that Monte Cristo is said to hail from the Holy Land. The very name “Monte Cristo,” meaning “mountain of Christ,” suffuses the entire novel with religious overtones. This mixture of skepticism toward and fascination with religion on Dumas’s part was quite common among Romantic writers.