During his first six years in prison, Dantès initially turns to God, immersing himself in prayer. As he contemplates his bad luck, his despair increasingly turns to wrath. Dantès does not yet know that envious men are responsible for his unfortunate imprisonment. He is so sick with grief and hopelessness that he finally decides to kill himself by means of starvation. Just when he feels that he is about to die, however, he hears a scratching sound coming from the other side of his cell.
When the jailer comes to give him his dinner, Dantès cleverly places his dish in a spot where the jailer will be sure to step on it. The dish shatters and the jailer leaves the entire pot for Dantès. Dantès is thus able to use the handle of the pot to begin scraping at the wall from his side. After hours of scraping he hears the voice of his neighbor. Later, they break through, and his neighbor emerges through the hole in the wall.
Dantès’s neighbor tells him that his name is Abbé Faria and that he has been imprisoned for his political beliefs, as he is an agitator for a unified Italy. Dantès realizes that Abbé Faria is the mad priest that the jailer once mentioned. Dantès is overjoyed to have a companion. The abbé is less happy to see Dantès, however, as he had mistakenly believed he had been digging a tunnel to freedom.
[I]t has installed a new passion in your heart—that of vengeance.See Important Quotations Explained
Faria, rather than being insane, proves to be a brilliant and resourceful man. He has managed to fashion paper, ink, pens, a knife, a needle, a lamp, and various other necessities while imprisoned, and has used these to write a political treatise and dig the fifty-foot tunnel that connects his cell to Dantès’s. When Dantès tells Faria his life story, Faria quickly discerns that Dantès has been framed by Danglars and Fernand. Faria is aware of the connection between Villefort and Noirtier, so he is able to explain that part of the mystery. Stunned by the discovery, Dantès turns his thoughts toward revenge.
Over the course of the next two years, the well-educated abbé teaches Dantès everything he knows. Dantès has a wonderful memory and a quick mind, and he is able to advance quickly in the study of mathematics, philosophy, history, and several languages. Faria develops another plot to escape, and the two men plan meticulously. Days before they are going to put the plan into action, however, Faria suffers a fit. His right arm and leg become paralyzed, leaving him unable to attempt escape. Dantès declares that he will not leave either, swearing to remain with Faria so long as the old man lives.
The next day, Faria begins to talk about a hidden treasure, and Dantès becomes worried, thinking that his friend is insane after all. Faria convinces Dantès that the treasure truly exists by telling him the story behind it. The treasure once belonged to the Spada family, the wealthiest family in Italy. In the fifteenth century, Caesar Spada hid the treasure on the uninhabited island of Monte Cristo, hoping to keep it out of the hands of a murderous, thieving pope. Due to a mishap, however, the location of the treasure remained a secret even from the family.
During his employment as the private secretary to the last living member of the Spada family, Faria stumbled onto the secret message, written in a mysterious ink. Faria explains that Spada left all he had to Faria, so the treasure actually belongs to him. Faria says that the treasure also belongs to Dantès, who has become his spiritual son over the course of the past two years. Faria shows Dantès the piece of paper that reveals the treasure’s location.
Faria forces Dantès to commit the directions to the treasure to memory. Several nights later, Faria has another attack and dies.
Dantès is thrown into utter despair as he sits with his friend’s shrouded corpse. Suddenly, however, he hits upon a brilliant escape plan. He cuts open the shroud, removes Faria’s corpse to his own cell, and then sews himself inside the shroud. Later that night, when the guards come to bury the corpse, it is Dantès they remove. Dantès, believing that dead prisoners are buried in a nearby cemetery, plans to dig his way out with a knife. Minutes after he is carried out of the cell, he discovers he is mistaken. The guards tie a cannonball around his legs and cast him into the sea.
The title of Chapter 15, “Number 34 and Number 27,” indicates yet another crime of society against the individual. As prisoners, Dantès and Faria are reduced to numbers and are no longer addressed by their names. The disposal of Dantès’s name is the final affront to his rights as an individual; it amounts to a loss of his self. As an individual, Dantès is deemed worthless when Villefort sacrifices him for his own political ambitions; this denial of his worth is made official with the loss of even his own name. Abbé Faria, who is also known merely as a number, saves Dantès’s life and sanity by giving him back his sense of self. Once again treated as a human being and engaged in reciprocal conversation, Dantès rises out of his depression and finds new intellectual pursuits for which to live. Faria is able to counteract the harm that oppressive society has wreaked on Dantès by treating him as a human being.
Abbé Faria represents the eighteenth-century philosopher archetype that was prominent in literature of Dumas’s day and that would have been familiar to Dumas’s contemporary audience. The philosopher is a well-educated, well-read man who believes strongly in the power of human reason and closely studies human nature and human societies. Like the other sympathetic characters of the novel, Faria is a great admirer of Napoleon and a firm believer in the inevitability of national and personal freedom. By thoroughly educating Dantès, Faria gives him the potential to reach the highest aspirations that his individual nature permits. This emphasis on maximizing human potential was an obsession shared by the Revolution-influenced Romantics and the more rational philosophers represented by Faria. The fact that Dumas casts a rational, intellectual man like Faria in one of the most sympathetic roles in the novel demonstrates that Dumas does not rigidly adhere to the scorn of intellectualism that was typical of the Romantic movement.
Faria’s deduction about the truth behind Dantès’s downfall is the first major turning point in Dantès’s development, as it is in this moment that Dantès begins his transformation from a happy, innocent, and loving man into a vengeful and miserable one. That Dantès is unable to fathom his enemies’ treachery himself indicates the extent of his initial innocence. When he enters the prison, he is a person without malice; it never occurs to him that people could act as cruelly and selfishly as his enemies have. When Faria reveals the true cause of Dantès’s imprisonment, Dantès’s blinding naïveté is destroyed. Faria immediately apologizes to Dantès for telling him the truth about his history, knowing that he has infected him with vengeance and thus irrevocably transformed him. Dantès initially does not understand why Faria is apologizing to him, for he is happy to finally have the truth revealed. However, he soon realizes the oppressive weight of his newfound knowledge. Coupled with the knowledge of an enormous treasure that may soon be his own, Dantès, much to his horror, finds himself thinking only of the amount of harm he could wreak with such a fortune instead of the pleasure it could bring him. Now aware of the evil deeds committed against him, he has become overwhelmed with the desire for vengeance and has thus lost his capacity to enjoy life with the innocence of his past.
Dumas compares Dantès’s imprisonment to death, which casts Dantès’s later actions and circumstances as a rebirth or resurrection. In Chapter 14, the narrator tells us that Dantès “looked upon himself as dead,” while in Chapter 17, Dantès himself refers to prison as “a living grave.” This morbid language signifies a metaphorical death: the happy, innocent Dantès of the early chapters dies and is replaced by the vengeful, bitter man of the remainder of the novel. This death is not merely one of innocence, but perhaps also one of humanity. The Dantès who emerges from prison is not simply vengeful: he is nearly superhuman in his mental and physical capabilities, while subhuman in his emotional capacity. He is something both greater and less than a human being.