Dumas often writes of Edmond Dantès’s time in prison as if it were a death. What do you think is the significance of this choice of language?
Though Dantès does not physically die in prison, he does lose nearly all of his previous character traits. He enters prison innocent, honest, kind, and loving, but leaves it bitter, vengeful, and full of hate. What really seems to die within Dantès is his basic humanity. He is left without compassion and without the capacity to experience normal human emotions, such as sadness, joy, and remorse. It is not Dantès’s experience of prison itself that causes this transformation but rather his knowledge that he is suffering this miserable fate because of evil done to him by other human beings. Dantès’s desire for vengeance acts as a poison, killing the pleasant side of him and leaving only spite.
Describe how The Count of Monte Cristo reflects the nineteenth-century Romantics’ obsession with the exotic.
Dumas was well known as a travel writer long before he began writing fiction, and we can see this talent for painting exciting portraits of exotic locales in The Count of Monte Cristo. The novel begins in Marseilles, a provincial town in the south of France, a place in itself somewhat exotic to most of Dumas’s readers. The story then moves to Italy, a favorite exotic spot for French writers to depict. Dumas’s portrait of Italy expertly combines the shocking and foreign—the bandits, the execution, and the carnival—with expected stereotypes such as the hotel owner. Though the bulk of the rest of the novel takes place in Paris, there are fantastical interludes set in both Greece and Constantinople.
It is not only the novel’s locales but also the people represented that make The Count of Monte Cristo so satisfyingly exotic. Haydée, with all her foreign beauty and mystery, is a model of the Oriental ideal the Romantics upheld. Likewise, Monte Cristo’s own associations with the East augment his mystique. On several occasions he professes to consider himself more Eastern than Western, and many of his intriguing customs, such as his refusal to eat or drink in the home of an enemy, are Eastern in origin. Even Fernand and Mercédès can be considered exotic because, as Catalans, they are actually of Spanish rather French descent.
Monte Cristo’s last words to Maximilian are “Wait and hope.” What is the significance of this statement? How does it connect to the larger narrative of the novel?
From the time that Edward de Villefort dies, Monte Cristo grapples with doubt about the justice of his mission. The death of an innocent boy is clearly not a just outcome; it casts a shadow on Monte Cristo’s entire project. Monte Cristo’s parting statement to Maximilian, then, can be seen as a final renunciation of his project, an acknowledgment that God is the only one who can act as Providence and decide people’s fates. Rather than try to carry out justice themselves, human beings should simply “[w]ait and hope” that God really does ultimately reward the evil and punish the good. Monte Cristo is not abandoning his strong belief in a person’s right to try to shape his or her own destiny, but he is giving up the belief that a person has a right to step in for God and shape the destiny of others.