Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The constant changing of characters’ names in The Count of Monte Cristo signifies deeper changes within the characters themselves. Like the God of the Old Testament, Dantès assumes a host of different names, each associated with a different role in his schemes as the agent of Providence. He calls himself Abbé Busoni when standing in judgment, Lord Wilmore when engaging in acts of excessive generosity, and Monte Cristo when assuming the role of avenging angel. That Dantès possesses so many identities suggests that he lacks a true center.
Villefort also changes his name, though for different reasons: he refuses to adopt his father’s title of Noirtier, a name closely associated with the despised Bonapartist party. Villefort’s choice of names signifies both his political opportunism and his willingness to sacrifice ruthlessly those close to him for his own personal gain. Fernand Mondego’s change of name to Count de Morcerf is, on one level, merely a sign of his ascent into the realm of power and prestige. Yet, since Mondego pretends that Morcerf is an old family name rather than merely a title he has purchased, the name-change is also a symbol of his fundamental dishonesty. Mercédès also undergoes a change of name, becoming Countess de Morcerf. This change in name, however, as we learn when Mercédès proves her enduring goodness, does not accompany a fundamental change in character. Instead, her name-change merely emphasizes her connection to her husband, Dantès’s rival, and, by association, her disloyalty to Dantès. Only Benedetto’s change of name, to Andrea Cavalcanti, seems to signify nothing deeper than the fact that he is assuming a false identity. All of the other name changes in the novel are external signals of internal changes of character or role.
Many characters in The Count of Monte Cristo—Dantès, Monsieur Morrel, Maximilian Morrel, Haydée, Fernand Mondego, Madame d’Villefort, and Albert de Morcerf—contemplate or even carry out suicide during the course of the novel. Dumas presents the act of suicide as an honorable and reasonable response to any devastating situation. As in much Romantic literature, suicide in The Count of Monte Cristo is most closely linked with failed romantic relationships.
In fact, eagerness to take one’s own life for the sake of a beloved is held up as one of the only sure signs of absolute devotion. Monte Cristo is convinced that Maximilian loves Valentine, for instance, only when he sees that Maximilian sincerely wants to die when confronted with her loss. Likewise, Monte Cristo believes that Haydée loves him only when she swears that she would take her life if he abandoned her. The frequency with which suicide is mentioned or contemplated by characters might seem to reflect a cavalier attitude toward this most serious of acts. However, suicide is clearly regarded as a serious action: Dantès gravely warns Maximilian not to take his life if there is anything in the world that he regrets leaving. The characters in the novel are not arrogant about life—they simply live it melodramatically, finding the world devoid of hope and meaning on a fairly regular basis.
The Count of Monte Cristo is a historical novel, with key plot elements drawn from real historic events. Politics, therefore, play a significant role in the novel, particularly in branding certain characters good or bad. All of the major sympathetic characters are somehow connected to the democratic ideals of the Bonapartist party, from Morrel and Noirtier, who were once ardent fighters in the Bonapartist cause, to Dantès, who emerges as a champion for individual rights. Likewise, in his wooing of Valentine, Maximilian fights for social equality, another Bonapartist ideal. Many of the major unsympathetic characters, by contrast, are overwhelmingly associated with the oppressive, aristocratic royalists, such as Morcerf and Villefort. Others are simply self-serving capitalist opportunists, such as Danglars, responsible for ushering in the soul-deadening age of the Industrial Revolution. In this sense, Dumas does not assign political allegiances arbitrarily, but uses them as windows into the souls of his characters.
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