In what sense is Abbé Faria Dantès’s second father?
Of all the people Edmond Dantès encounters in The Count of Monte Cristo, his fellow prisoner in Château d’If, the Italian priest Abbé Faria, exerts perhaps the strongest influence on him. When Faria first meets Dantès, he finds a man full of despair and wrath who has been practically left for dead. Yet in the space of a few chapters (which span several years), Faria revives Dantès, giving him a renewed interest in life as well as a love of knowledge, a commitment to action, and a thirst for revenge. Faria not only revives the younger man, he also transmits his thoughts, beliefs, and even his experiences to Dantès, and in so doing, becomes a kind of father to Dantès.
Faria is most like a father to Dantès in that he gives the younger man symbolic life by instilling him with hope. His dramatic effect on Dantès is exemplified in the earliest moments of their relationship. Simply hearing Faria scratching from the adjoining cell makes Dantès abandon his morose, passive resolution to starve himself to death, which he quickly replaces with a vibrant, resourceful willfulness. Dantès becomes figuratively reborn through his contact with Faria, a metaphor Dumas emphasizes by having Faria emerge headlong from a hole the two men dig in the wall. Dantès begins to behave like a newborn animal, watching Faria closely and quickly adopting the old priest’s behavior. He shows his willingness to establish filial ties with the older man implicitly, by rushing at him with love and gratitude, as well as explicitly, by declaring that he shall love Faria as he loves his father.
Faria extends his paternal role by leaving Dantès both material and spiritual legacies. He bequeaths Dantès the treasure of Monte Cristo, as a father might will the family fortune to an eldest son. He also transfers to Dantès his love of learning and philosophy, giving the younger man lessons in languages, sciences, and behavior just as a parent instructs a child. Dantès reinforces this parent-child dynamic by aping Faria’s every movement and mannerism with the “imitative powers bestowed on him by nature.” Years spent in solitary confinement have turned the broken, distraught Dantès into a blank slate, ready to receive Faria’s imprint, and the lessons he absorbs reflect the ways in which knowledge is traditionally transmitted from one generation to the next.
In this light, the notion that Faria epitomizes the eighteenth-century rational philosopher while Dantès embodies the Romantic spirit of the nineteenth century seems especially apt. Just as the eighteenth-century belief in the power of science, reason, and social organization gave birth to the nineteenth-century spirit of Romanticism, which valued subjective experience and spirited heroes, the rational and understated Faria gives birth to the exotic and extravagant Count of Monte Cristo, who in his new incarnation seems almost like a superhero.
In addition to giving Dantès new life and providing him with the mental and material resources to prosper, Faria becomes Dantès’s father by giving the younger man a guiding purpose in life: vengeance. Dantès’s life gains a new meaning and sense of direction once he can focus his actions and talents in the quest of a single goal. By revealing the conspirators’ plot to sabotage Dantès, the worldly Faria resembles a father introducing his naïve, innocent son to the harsh truths of the real world. This revelation acts as a socializing force on Dantès, as he begins to realize that he doesn’t exist in a vacuum and therefore cannot pursue his goals without considering that other people’s goals might conflict with his, causing them to take measures against him. Unfortunately, this viewpoint causes the value of human life to diminish in Dantès’s eyes, and as a result he becomes willing to sacrifice others in the service of own goals—a practice reflected in his growing insistence on killing their prison guard to achieve their freedom.
Whether for good or bad, Faria becomes a father to Dantès due to the fact that, through his influence, he is the primary author of the young man’s actions. In some ways, Faria may be a truer father to Dantès than his biological one. After all, rather than try to hide the unpleasantries of the world from his son—as Louis Dantès does when he downplays the way he has starved himself to pay his son’s debt to Caderousse—Faria casts a bright light on the darker side of humanity. And though he immediately regrets having revealed Danglars’s scheme against Dantès, Faria ultimately helps Dantès grow and ascertain the truly good by understanding the nature of evil.