In these chapters, Mercédès demonstrates that she remains unchanged from the young woman she was in Marseilles, proving to Monte Cristo that he has been misjudging her all along. When Mercédès initially approaches Monte Cristo to beg for her son’s life, she tries to win his sympathy by reminding him that she is still the same woman he once loved. With his response that “Mercédès is dead,” Monte Cristo means to suggest that the innocent and good woman whom he once loved does not exist now as the wife of Fernand Mondego and perhaps never existed. Yet Mercédès proves wrong Monte Cristo’s estimation of her, revealing her monumental strength of character when she tells Albert about his father’s sins against Dantès. Her act requires incredible strength and courage, as it ensures that any last vestige of respect and love Albert bears his father will be destroyed. It would be understandable for Mercédès to allow Monte Cristo to die rather than harm her son’s psyche any further, yet she unselfishly chooses to spare Monte Cristo’s life.
Mercédès is often portrayed as the most intelligent character in the novel. Dumas notes that she is renowned all over Paris for her intelligence, and she is the only character able to unravel the mystery of Monte Cristo’s identity immediately. When Mercédès saves Monte Cristo’s life, she also proves herself the most noble character, the only one capable of forgiving those who may have done her wrong. She evokes even more sympathy by abandoning her wealth and comfortable life, refusing to live off of a fortune tainted by evil deeds. Convinced of Mercédès’s enduring goodness and innocence, Monte Cristo forgives her completely and attempts to amend for the fact that he is effectively depriving her of her husband and her wealth. Monte Cristo is now fully convinced, just as we are, that Mercédès is as virtuous as ever.
The initial exchange between Monte Cristo and Mercédès highlights an important motif in the novel: the significance of names. Upon entering Monte Cristo’s room, Mercédès addresses him as “Edmond,” causing him to stumble in alarm. She then insists that he call her “Mercédès” and not “Madame de Morcerf,” boldly defying Monte Cristo’s assertion that Mercédès is dead. What they actually argue about here is whether or not they remain, on any level, the good and innocent people that they once were. In calling Monte Cristo “Edmond,” Mercédès is proclaiming her belief that the kind and decent sailor she once knew still exists somewhere within the vengeful and mysterious Monte Cristo. By insisting that “Mercédès” is still alive, she is also trying to persuade Dantès that she remains the good woman whom he once loved—that despite his opinion, she has not become a greedy, haughty, and disloyal aristocrat.
The argument between Mercédès and Monte Cristo takes on an added layer of meaning when we consider the fact that their old names are the names of commoners while their new names are aristocratic titles. This detail links goodness with poverty and humility, as Dumas highlights a contrast between sincere, good, common folk and aristocrats who have become corrupted by wealth and power. Ultimately, both prove their enduring goodness: Monte Cristo by offering to die for Albert’s sake, and Mercédès by saving Monte Cristo’s life. They are both worthy of the identities that their old names connote. At their next meeting, they address each other by these names, reinforcing their essential goodness.