In The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes finds himself imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, owing to the cowardice of four men: his jealous colleagues, Danglars, Fernand, and Caderousse, and the corrupt crown prosecutor Villefort, who falsifies Dantes’ case to save his own career. Dantes’ false imprisonment is devastating, because it steals from him all that he loves: his career success, his beloved fiancée, and even his kindness toward others, since he becomes vengeful in prison, vowing to ruin those who wronged him. However, while Dantes initially believes that his quest for vengeance is both just and aligned with God’s will, he comes to realize—in some cases too late—that vengeance has unexpected consequences, including harming innocent people. Through following Dantes’ complex revenge and the evolution of his thoughts on fate and morality, Dumas suggests that justice and revenge are not synonymous. A man who respects justice will not systematically seek retribution—instead, he will leave others to their fates, allowing God to decide their punishment.
To exact his revenge, Dantes creates the character of the Count of Monte Cristo, whom numerous figures in the novel refer to as an “Avenging Angel” or as “Lord Ruthwen,” a Dracula-like character. The avenging angel characterization suggests the righteous nature of his vengeance; Dantes’ enemies committed an abhorrent sin against him and have, so far, lived unpunished. In this light, it seems justified that Dantes would seek retribution. Dantes himself justifies his revenge as simply taking “an eye for an eye” (ruining their lives as they’ve ruined his), which is a standard of justice found both in the Bible and in ancient Mesopotamian legal codes. Dantes’ near-fatalistic assurance that he will achieve his goal of revenge imbues his vengeance with a sense of inevitability, as though he really were an “angel” carrying out a punishment that is divinely ordained.
However, describing Dantes as Dracula-like suggests the darker side of his quest for revenge, complicating the notion that revenge is synonymous with justice and that it can be considered God’s will. While the Count is meticulous and effective in his revenge plots, leading him to successfully ruin his enemies’ lives, he comes to realize that his vengeance has unintended consequences. For example, his plot to destroy the Villefort family leads Mme de Villefort to murder the innocent Edouard, ostensibly to protect her son from further harm. And Mercedes, his beloved fiancée from his youth, is hurt by the Count’s revenge on her husband, Fernand, who was one of the men who sent the Count to prison. The Count, who believes that he must render “the shame of the father ... upon the son” (1018), intends to kill Fernand’s son Albert as part of his vengeance, but Mercedes intervenes. When the Count realizes that, since Albert is also Mercedes’ son, he would hurt the innocent Mercedes by killing Albert, the Count relents and leaves Albert to his own fate. Mercedes’ intervention suggests that vengeance can never be tidy or just, because people are interconnected. Ruining any one man also devastates all those who love and depend on him, which only creates further wrongs to avenge.
Thus, the Count’s attitude toward revenge and justice changes substantially by the close of the novel. At the beginning of chapter 113, “The Past,” the narrator announces that, “since the death of little Edouard, a great change had overtaken Monte Cristo. Having reached the summit of his vengeance by the slow and tortuous route that he had followed, he had looked over the far side of the mountain and into the abyss of doubt.” He remembers his love for Mercedes, the difficulties of his escape from prison, and all that he has worked for, and gained, via his wealth over the preceding ten years, including access to the world’s cities and highest social strata. Later in that chapter, the Count returns to the prison at the Chateau D’If, where he was forced to live in the darkness of the dungeon for fourteen years, and there, having seen again evidence of some of the Abbe Faria’s tools and ingenuity, he is reminded of that man’s goodwill—the aid he provided young Dantes when he was on the verge of suicidal despair at the thought of his unjust imprisonment.
The Count therefore devotes the remainder of his life to two aims, believing that his desire for vengeance has run its course, and that instead he must do what he can to help those close to him to achieve their own fates, in accordance with the will of a God for whom, the Count realizes, he can no longer be an avenging angel. He tells young Morrel, son of his former boss (Old Morrel), that he will provide him with hope on the fifth of October—and on that day, he guarantees Morrel’s fortune, making him inheritor of his enormous wealth, and reveals that he has spirited Valentine de Villefort away from her family and from her stepmother, who wished to poison and kill her. This, coupled with the Count’s realization, in ch. 117, that he has for some time loved devotedly his former “slave” Haydee, produces a recalibration of his sense of justice, vengeance, and God’s will. Here, what is just is not whatever squares the ledgers of the past. Instead, the Count, sailing off into the sunset with Haydee, looks to his own future happiness and to Morrel’s happiness with Valentine. He has done what he can to insure both, in accordance with a will he hopes to be divine. But he recognizes that fate and justice will be served not by his human intervention, but by a future, ordered by God, which he cannot foretell.
Justice, Revenge, and God’s Will ThemeTracker
Justice, Revenge, and God’s Will Quotes in The Count of Monte Cristo
Come, now ... I have a better opinion than you of women in general, and Mercedes in particular, and I am persuaded that, whether I were a captain or not, she would remain faithful to me.
The king! I thought him enough of a philosopher to realize that there is no such thing as murder in politics. You know as well as I do, my dear boy, that in politics there are no people, only ideas; no feelings, only interests. In politics, you don’t kill a man, you remove an obstacle, that’s all.
Finally, do you realize that I thought my labors were at an end, that I felt I had just enough strength to complete the task, and that God has now not only set back my goal but removed it, I know not where? Oh, let me tell you, and repeat it: I shall not take another step to try and regain my freedom, since God’s will is for me to have lost it for ever.
I regret having helped you in your investigation and said what I did to you ...
Why is that?
Because I have insinuated a feeling into your heart that was not previously there: the desire for revenge ...
Let us change the subject.
Die! No, no! It was not worth living so long, and suffering so much, to die now. Death was welcome previously, when I made a resolution to meet it ... But now it would truly be conceding too much to my miserable fate. No, I want to live, I want to struggle to the end.
Then he began to count his fortune. There were a thousand gold ingots, each of two or three pounds. Next to these, he piled 25,000 gold ecus, each worth perhaps twenty-four francs in today’s money ... Finally, he measured ten times the capacity of his joined hands in pearls, precious stones and diamonds ...
Monsieur ... they had both made me drink until I was almost senseless. Everything was blurred. I protested as much as a man can in such a state, but they assured me it was a joke they were playing and that nothing would come of it.
And now ... farewell, goodness, humanity, gratitude ... Farewell all those feelings that nourish and illuminate the heart! I have taken the place of Providence to reward the good; now let the avenging God make way for me to punish the wrongdoer!
What country does the Count come from? What is his language? What are his means of support? Where does his huge fortune come from? What was the first half of this mysterious and unknown life, that it has cast over the second half such a dark and misanthropic shadow?
Come away, Monsieur! Come away, I beg you. You are on the very spot!
What spot is that?
The spot where he fell.
But everything that you know, with respect to the French legal system, I know, not only with respect to that, but also to the laws of every country: the laws of the English, the Turks, the Japanese and the Hindus are as familiar to me as those of the French ... relative to all that I have done, you have very little to do, and relative to what I have learned, you still have very much to learn.
A drop of that elixir sufficed to bring the child back to life when he was dying, but three drops would have driven the blood into his lungs in such a way as to give him palpitations of the heart. Six would have interrupted his breathing and caused him a much more serious fit than the one he was already suffering. Ten would have killed him.
You mean, I didn’t kill him?
Come, come ...
But he isn’t dead?
No, he isn’t, as you can very well see. Instead of striking him between the sixth and seventh left rib, as your compatriots usually do, you must have struck higher or lower; and these lawyers, you know, are not easy to kill off.
How can you live like that, with nothing attaching you to life?
It is not my fault, Madame. In Malta I loved a girl and was going to marry her, when the war came and swept me away from her like a whirlwind. I thought that she loved me enough to wait for me, even to remain faithful to my tomb. When I came back, she was married.
I was taken to the bazaar. A rich Armenian bought me, educated me, gave me teachers and, when I was thirteen, sold me to Sultan Mahmoud.
And from him, I bought her, as I told you, Albert, for that stone equal to the one in which I keep my lozenges of hashish.
Oh, my lord, how good and great you are ... How fortunate I am to belong to you!
How odd it was! For all the confused feelings that he experienced on seeing [Valentine’s] tears, he also managed to observe Mme de Villefort; and it seemed to him that a faint, dark smile passed briefly across her thin lips, like one of those sinister meteors that can be glimpsed as they fall between two clouds against a stormy day.
Oh, God. Oh, God, forgive me for denying You. You do indeed exist, You are the father of men in heaven and their judge on earth. Oh, my Lord, I have long mistaken You! My Lord God, forgive me! My god, my Lord, receive my soul!
What would you say if you knew the extent of the sacrifice I am making for you? Suppose that the Lord God, after creating the world, after fertilizing the void, had stopped one-third of the way through His creation to spare an angel the tears that our crimes would one day bring to His immortal eyes. Suppose that ... God had extinguished the sun and with His foot dashed the world into eternal night ...
Yes, I share your hope: the wrath of heaven will not pursue us, you who are so pure and I so innocent. But since we are resolved, let us act promptly. Monsieur de Morcerf left the house around half an hour ago; so, as you see, we have a good opportunity to avoid scandal or explanations.
But in the end, since I myself failed and was found wanting—more profoundly perhaps than other men; well, since that time I have shaken out their clothes to discover a blemish, and I have always found it; I will say more: I have found it with joy, this evidence of human weakness and perversity.
You see, the angel for whom you longed has left this earth. She no longer needs the adoration of men – she, who, at this moment, is adoring the Lord. So say your farewells, Monsieur, to these sad remains that she has left behind among us.
Oh, yes, now. That’s where the trying times will begin. You know what is agreed?
Have we agreed something?
Yes, it is agreed that you will live in Marseille and I shall leave for Africa. There, instead of the name I have given up, I shall make for myself the name I have adopted.
Yes, he is gone. Farewell, my friend! Farewell, my sister!
Who knows if we shall ever see them again?
My dearest ... has the Count not just told us that all human wisdom was contained in these two words – ‘wait’ and ‘hope’?