The Count of Monte Cristo

by: Alexandre Dumas

Symbols

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Sea

When Dantès escapes from prison, he plunges into the ocean, experiencing a second baptism and a renewed dedication of his soul to God. He has suffered a metaphorical death while in prison: the death of his innocent, loving self. Dantès emerges as a bitter and hateful man, bent on carrying out revenge on his enemies. He is washed in the waters that lead him to freedom, and his rebirth as a man transformed is complete. The sea continues to figure prominently in the novel even after this symbolic baptism. Considering himself a citizen of no land, Dantès spends much of his time on the ocean, traveling the world in his yacht. The sea seems to beckon constantly to Dantès, a skilled sailor, offering him perpetual escape and solitude.

The Red Silk Purse

First used by Monsieur Morrel in his attempt to save the life of Dantès’s father, Dantès later uses the red silk purse when he is saving Morrel’s life. The red purse becomes the physical symbol of the connection between good deed and reward. Morrel recognizes the purse and deduces the connection between the good deed performed on his behalf and the good deed he once performed himself. Morrel concludes that Dantès must be his savior, surmising that he is working from beyond the grave. Morrel’s daughter, Julie, then emphasizes the symbolic power of the purse by keeping it constantly on display as a relic of her father’s miraculous salvation.

The Elixir

Dantès’s potent potion seems to have the power both to kill and to bring to life, a power that Dantès comes to believe in too strongly. His overestimation of the elixir’s power reflects his overestimation of his own power, his delusion that he is almost godlike, and his assertion that he has the right and capacity to act as the agent of Providence. It is significant that, when faced with Edward’s corpse, Dantès thinks first to use his elixir to bring the boy to life. Of course, the elixir is not powerful enough to bring the dead to life, just as Dantès himself is not capable of accomplishing divine feats. The power to grant life—like the power to carry out ultimate retribution and justice—lies solely in God’s province. It is when Dantès acknowledges the limits of his elixir that he realizes his own limitations as a human being.


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