The Count of Monte Cristo

by: Alexandre Dumas

Justice

1

Sometimes I amuse myself by carrying off from human justice some bandit it had its eye on, some criminal whom it pursues. Then I have my mode of dispensing justice, silent and sure, without respite or appeal, which condemns or pardons, and which no one sees.

Dantès as Monte Cristo explains to Franz how he entertains himself. As a friend to smugglers and bandits, whose behavior he does not see as truly immoral, he feels free to help out those caught up in the justice system. Yet he also punishes when he judges punishment is warranted. Monte Cristo sees himself as the arbiter of a truer justice, above the law and given his task by God. The immense fortune he has been given supports both his self-identity as God’s agent and his ability to carry out his plans.

2

[S]ociety, attacked by the death of a person, avenges death by death. But are there not a thousand tortures by which a man may be made to suffer without society taking the smallest note of them, or offering him even the insufficient means of vengeance of which we have just spoken?

Dantès as Monte Cristo explains to Franz and Albert that he does not consider death to be the worst punishment, because dying only constitutes “a few moments of physical pain.” He adds that some crimes, while torture for the victim, have no legal means of punishment. Monte Cristo goes on to imply that, as a hugely wealthy person, he stands above the law and therefore possesses the freedom to pursue vengeance as he deems appropriate. He frames his ideas as philosophical observations, and his listeners do not realize he describes plans already underway.

3

[A]n all-wise Providence does not permit sinners to escape so easily from the punishment they have merited on earth, but reserves them to aid its own designs, using them as instruments whereby to work its vengeance on the guilty.

Dantès as Monte Cristo warns his servant, Bertuccio, that his wicked adopted son Benedetto has not died, despite Bertuccio’s wishes. In fact, Monte Cristo knows Benedetto lives. The “all-wise Providence” he refers to in this quote represents both God and himself. Monte Cristo admits to playing God with people’s lives, including Benedetto’s, as he literally reserved Benedetto’s life in order to work vengeance on Villefort. At this point in the story, Monte Cristo believes himself to be God’s instrument of justice and therefore infallible. Later, when the vengeance on the guilty spreads to the innocent, however, he begins to question his position as justice giver.

4

[I]t is with the criminal procedure of all nations that I have compared natural justice, and I must say, sir, that it is the law of primitive nations, that is, the law of retaliation that I have most frequently found to be according to the law of God.

Dantès as Monte Cristo explains his philosophy of justice to Villefort, the state prosecutor for France. It seems like a natural subject to discuss with such a person, but unknown to Villefort, Monte Cristo’s remarks describe exactly what kind of justice Villefort will start experiencing soon. In order to adequately punish Villefort for falsely imprisoning him for fourteen years, Monte Cristo has begun an elaborate scheme which will result in the deaths of many of Villefort’s family members and his eventual public shaming. Once again, Monte Cristo asserts that God approves of his form of justice.

5

[H]e could not help reflecting that the same house had recently received two women, one of whom, justly dishonoured, had left with 1,500,000 francs under her coat, while the other, unjustly stricken, but sublime in her misfortune, was yet rich with a mite.

Debray gives his ex-lover, Madame Danglars, the profits of their financial speculations, and then encounters Albert and Madame de Morcerf, now financially ruined by the public shaming of Count de Morcerf. Debray feels impressed by Madame de Morcerf’s dignity as she faces poverty: She did not have to give up her part of de Morcerf’s fortune, but she did so to separate herself from her husband’s dishonor. Debray recognizes the injustice of Madame de Morcerf’s situation, especially in comparison to Madame Danglars’s. Monte Cristo recognizes this injustice too, and the situation makes him doubt the justice of his own vengeance scheme.