Analysis: Chapters 109–113

Chapter 111 marks the second major turning point of The Count of Monte Cristo, the moment when Monte Cristo finally begins to doubt whether he is justified in taking the place of Providence. With Edward’s death, the seeds of discomfort that are sown in Chapter 95—when Monte Cristo realizes that he could easily have caused the death of the innocent Valentine—now bloom into full-fledged torment. Understanding that he has indirectly caused the end of an innocent life, Monte Cristo no longer feels that his actions are in total alignment with God’s will. Having buoyed himself all along with the belief that his mission is ordained by God, this blow to his confidence is enormous. Some versions of the novel include a scene in which Monte Cristo returns to the Château d’If, looking for a sign that his mission of vengeance was justified. He finds this sign in the form of the Abbé Faria’s manuscript, which begins with the biblical quote “Thou shalt tear out the teeth of the dragon and trample the lion’s underfoot, thus saith the Lord.” With this scene omitted, the justification for Monte Cristo’s mission is never confirmed, leaving Monte Cristo hovering in doubt as to the morality of his mission.

The last act Monte Cristo makes before plunging headlong into doubt is his attempt to revive Edward using his elixir. This potion, with its seemingly magical ability to heal, is a symbol for Monte Cristo’s hubris—his prideful belief that he, like his elixir, is capable of any feat. His hubris reaches its height in this scene, culminating in the assertion that his elixir actually gives him the power to bring a boy back to life. Of course, Monte Cristo is incapable of granting life, and his seemingly unassailable confidence in himself and his elixir is finally shaken.

Monte Cristo’s final conversation with Mercédès pits his active approach to life against her passive resignation, and the former clearly emerges victorious. When Mercédès declares that she has “become passive in the hands of the Almighty,” Monte Cristo counters that God does not approve of such resignation. Free will, Monte Cristo contends, is the thing that makes one human. Only by exercising one’s will, asserting one’s individual desires against the opposing forces of the world, can one please God. This conversation is tinged with a slightly accusatory undertone, since it is Mercédès’s passive resignation that led her to marry Fernand Mondego against her own better judgment and her own desires. Lacking the courage to resist, she resigned herself to the fate she saw spread out before her rather than struggle for what she really wanted and knew was right. In her passivity, Mercédès stands in stark contrast to Monte Cristo, Eugénie Danglars, and her own son, Albert, all of whom try to take an individual stand against fate rather than passively resign themselves to what the world offers them.

It is worth noting that the two most passive characters in the novel, Mercédès and Valentine, are portrayed as models of femininity, while the proactive characters are primarily men. The only proactive female character is the excessively masculine Eugénie, who can be interpreted as a cross-dressing lesbian. Dumas suggests that passiveness is a female trait, noting that Valentine “could not understand that vigorous nature [of Eugénie’s] which appeared to have none of the timidities of woman.” Given that Dumas portrays an active stand against destiny as far superior to passive resignation—and his further implication that passive resignation, the cause of Mercédès’s downfall, is even sinful—we can argue that Dumas is not overly generous to his female characters.

Suicide, a common motif of the novel as well as of Romantic literature in general, is presented as an obvious response to abandonment by a beloved. Even before Valentine falls ill, Maximilian has prepared to take his own life in the event that she ever marries Franz d’Epinay. As we see in the last chapter of the novel, Haydée proves her sincere affection for Monte Cristo by declaring that she will take her life if he leaves her. Yet the act of suicide—the most dramatic means of giving up the fight against fate—seems to fly in the face of Monte Cristo’s stance against passive resignation. Maximilian provides a possible insight into this seeming inconsistency, as he explains that he wants to take his own life because “all [his] hopes are blighted.” Monte Cristo considers hope the only thing that makes life worth living; thus, it is plausible that his ultimate judgment on suicide would be that once all hope is gone—as some people think it is when they lose their beloved—suicide may be reasonable, as there is nothing left for which to fight.