Dantès manages to cut himself loose from the shroud and swims in the direction of an uninhabited island he remembers from his sailing days. When he feels that he cannot swim any longer, he washes up on the jagged rocks of the island. A storm erupts, and Dantès watches helplessly as a small boat crashes against the rocks, killing all the men on board. He then sees a Genoese ship in the distance and realizes that this ship is his one chance to finalize his escape. He takes the cap of one of the dead sailors off the point of a rock and makes his way to the ship, using a piece of driftwood from the destroyed boat as a float. Dantès tells the men on the ship that he was the lone survivor among the sailors who crashed on the rocks during the storm. His long hair and beard arouse the men’s suspicion, but Dantès passes his shagginess off as a religious pledge made to God in a time of danger. The men believe his story and offer to take him on as one of their crew.
Dantès quickly realizes that the men on the ship are smugglers, but he makes himself useful to them, and they all grow to love him. He patiently waits for a chance to land on the island of Monte Cristo. This chance finally presents itself when the ship’s captain decides to use the deserted island as the site for an illegal transaction.
While on the island, Dantès pretends to injure himself and claims that he cannot be moved. He urges the men to leave him behind and return for him after a week. Dantès’s best friend among the crew, Jacopo, offers to stay behind, forgoing his share of the profits from the smuggling operation. Dantès is moved by this selfless display, but refuses the offer.
Once the men are gone, Dantès begins searching for Faria’s treasure. He uses his enormous ingenuity to uncover the fortune, which is even greater than he had imagined. Dantès falls on his knees and utters a prayer to God, to whom he attributes this windfall.
Dantès fills his pockets with a few precious stones from his trove and waits for the sailors to return. He then sails with them to Leghorn, where he sells the four smallest diamonds for five thousand francs each. The following day, Dantès buys a small ship and crew for Jacopo in order to reward his friend’s kindness. His one condition for the gift is that Jacopo sail to Marseilles and ask for news of a man named Louis Dantès and a woman named Mercédès.
Dantès takes his leave of the smugglers and buys a yacht with a secret compartment. He sails the yacht back to Monte Cristo and transfers the remainder of the treasure to the secret compartment of the yacht. Jacopo arrives on the island several days later with sad news: Louis Dantès is dead and Mercédès has disappeared. Dantès tries to hide his extreme emotion and sails for Marseilles.
Just as Dantès’s imprisonment is portrayed as a sort of death, his escape is cast as a sort of rebirth. Dantès emerges into the free world by way of water, clearly a symbolic reference to the Christian tradition of baptism, in which a newborn baby is doused with water in order to dedicate its soul to God. Dantès is reborn as a man with a single mission—to avenge the wrongs done to him. His baptismal pledge, then, can be seen as a pledge to carry out this vengeance, which he believes is God’s will. Signs of Dantès’s transformation emerge immediately, as we see when he boards the smugglers’ ship bearing falsehoods about his identity. The Dantès of the early chapters is a compulsively honest man, yet he now lies easily and skillfully about his identity. His constructs his first lie without a second thought, and he follows with a barrage of other untruths. Dantès’s radically different behavior indicates that he is a new man, born during his imprisonment and baptized during his watery escape.
Dumas challenges the rigid and judgmental expectations of French society in portraying the smugglers as good, even admirable men. The smugglers’ actions have little to do with justice in an ethical sense. Indeed, though The Count of Monte Cristo is a novel about justice, the concept of justice in the novel is deep and complex, based on fundamental ethical rights rather than societal law. Indeed, Dantès’s concept of justice does not at all match up with civil society’s concept of justice. The distinction between Dantès’s concept of justice and society’s concept of justice is further underscored by the fact that the public prosecutor, Villefort—who, we see later, is portrayed as the human arbiter of societal law—is cast as a vile and unjust character. Dumas’s message is clear: societal justice is really no justice at all, as it punishes moral and good people for petty crimes that have nothing to do with real justice, while rewarding the vile and unethical with wealth and power.
In Chapter 24, Dumas begins to explore an important difference between lives filled with hope and lives filled with hopelessness. Preparing himself for the disappointment of not finding the treasure, Dantès reflects that “[t]he heart breaks when, after having been elated by flattering hopes, it sees all these illusions destroyed.” He thus acknowledges that hope is what keeps a human being going and that hopelessness is the only thing that destroys the human spirit. Dantès begins to understand that happiness and despair stem from expectations, not from what one actually has or does not have. With all his desires now pinned on enacting his revenge, Dantès realizes that he faces the possibility of falling into despair once again if he finds no treasure and thus cannot hope to carry out his revenge. He attempts to dim his hopes in order to save himself the crippling pain that would result if he finds these hopes thwarted.
When Dantès locates the treasure, he considers the event both “joyous and terrible,” because he knows that with this wealth, he must now begin the obsessive, dark endeavor that will consume him for the next decade. He must sever ties to normal human life and devote himself to destroying his enemies. This daunting task is made possible by his fortune alone, and so the fortune itself frightens him. Only when Dantès prays is he able to feel the day is at all “joyous.” His prayer calms the feelings of horror and revulsion that the sight of his treasure stirs up and convinces him that God supports his mission of revenge. Dantès convinces himself that only God could have orchestrated the successful discovery of such an enormous treasure, and that the treasure exists for the very purpose of carrying out a terrible punishment on Dantès’s enemies.
As we see later, Dantès’s conviction that God is using him as an instrument to carry out divine will continues to buoy his determination throughout the novel. Given Dantès’s religious interpretation of his mission, it is significant that the island where he finds his treasure is called “Monte Cristo,” which in Italian means “the mountain of Christ.” This religious conception of his mission and Dantès’s certainty about its legitimacy allow him to overlook the “terrible” aspect of his discovery and bask in its “joyous” aspect.