Edmond Dantes will stop at nothing to get revenge on the people that ruined his life and locked him in jail in the classic novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. Let’s jump in and see the themes that Dumas explores as Dantes quests for revenge.
The Meaning and Futility of Revenge
In the society in which Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is set, revenge is expected for slights and is almost celebrated as honorable. For person-to-person slights, revenge most often takes the form of duels, one man challenging another to a sword fight. The two sides of the political conflict that forms the background for the story get constant revenge on each other.
One side executes some spies, the other tortures some informants in revenge, and so on, forming an endless cycle.This attitude toward revenge makes the path Dantes takes much more tragic and ultimately more redemptive when he leaves that path behind at the end of the story. The reader (and many characters) see that revenge is hopeless, but Dantes is blind to this reality.
Quotes on Revenge
Take a look at these quotes on revenge from The Count of Monte Cristo:’Hatred is blind and anger deaf: the one who pours himself a cup of vengeance is likely to drink a bitter draught.’ (Chapter 35) Franz says this early on in the book. It turns out to be pretty prophetic of how the rest of the story is going to go.’I have been taken by Satan into the highest mountain in the earth, and when there he said to me, ‘Child of earth, what wouldst thou have to make thee adore me?’ I replied, ‘Listen, I wish to be Providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.
‘ (Chapter 49)’…
I, who have also been betrayed, assassinated and cast into a tomb, I have emerged from that tomb by the grace of God and I owe it to God to take my revenge. He has sent me for that purpose. Here I am.
‘ (Chapter 89)’…he felt that he had passed beyond the bounds of vengeance, and that he could no longer say, ‘God is for and with me.’ (Chapter 111)These quotes, many chapters apart, mirror the high and low points for Dantes. He wants to be ‘Providence himself’–he wants to be God. Even while claiming this, he realizes somewhat the dark nature of what he’s doing.
This finally comes full circle near the end of the book when Dantes’ revenge mission takes some unintended lives. He finally realizes that revenge is for God and God only to take. These quotes also play nicely into another theme: how man’s efforts compare to God’s power.
Humanity Compared to Divine Power
Dantes in Relation to God
For the characters in this novel, God is vengeful and all-powerful. That’s how Dantes reconciles a years-long, incredibly elaborate revenge scheme against three men while claiming a Christian faith. The characters’ ideas of God shift as the revenge scheme develops.
Eventually, they realize that it’s much better to let God pursue vengeance than to try to match his power.’You are wrong, Monsieur,’ Morrel exclaimed, rising on one knee, his heart smitten by a pain sharper than any he had yet felt. ‘You are wrong. Valentine, having died as she has, needs not only a priest, but an avenger. You send for a priest, Monsieur de Villefort; I shall be her avenger.’ (Chapter 103)
Maximilian in Relation to God
When he thinks Valentine is dead, Maximilian wants to take revenge into his own hands.
God can save her soul, he says, but God needs Max’s help to get revenge on Earth. In saving Max from himself after this moment, Dantes starts to redeem himself.’Oh, what is man!’ d’Avrigny muttered. ‘The most egoistical of all animals, the most personal of all creatures, who cannot believe otherwise than that the earth revolves, the sun shines and death reaps for him alone–an ant, cursing God from the summit of a blade of grass.’ (Chapter 80)Primarily a side character, d’Avrigny, the family doctor, drops this truth bomb on the characters in Valentine’s room when she appears dead. Man is really just an insect when compared to God, and aspiring to more (trying to match the justice of God’s revenge on sinners) is really arrogant.
Happiness, Sadness, and Everything in Between
Dantes starts the story happy: His career is taking off, and he is about to marry a beautiful woman.
He’s seemingly got it all figured out. From there, his situation takes a nose dive, to say the least. Dantes has a complicated relationship with happiness after his imprisonment: He thinks revenge will make him happy again, but in the end it doesn’t.’I cannot think that man is meant to find happiness so easily! Happiness is like one of those palaces on an enchanted island, its gates guarded by dragons. One must fight to gain it.
..’ (Chapter 5) This quote, also from early on in the book, proves similarly prophetic. Dantes doesn’t trust his early happiness (or any happiness), and it turns out he’s correct.’There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more.
He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.’ (Chapter 117)’…until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words,–‘Wait and hope.
‘ (Chapter 117)These last two quotes from a letter written by Dantes at the end of the novel, sum up his final attitude toward life, happiness, and God. He realizes that once he’s through all of his struggles, he can finally be truly happy and that it’s foolish to try to control matters that belong to God. All man can do, in the end, is ‘wait and hope.’
Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, the tale of Edmond Dantes’ years-long quest for revenge against the men who sent him to jail, explores several themes. Among these themes are the futility of revenge and its cousin, man’s efforts compared to God’s.
The book also explores the larger theme of what it means to be happy, as Dantes tries to find happiness through revenge but ultimately fails, realizing that he must instead wait on God’s favor.