Usually when I try to “get back” at someone for behaving rudely or badly toward me, my absolutely flimsy revenge plan falls to pieces, and my foe is left wondering why I look so embarrassed. Thus, The Count of Monte Cristo attracted me immensely because I was able to read about a fictional character’s revenge, and how it went. The whole book is packed from cover to cover with unexpected humor, perplexing plot twists, and dynamic dilemmas.
The story opens with an innocent, capable, honest young sailor named Edmond Dantes who unexpectedly has happiness showered on him: his employer wants to make him the captain of the ship and his fiancée is to be married to him within the next week. However, his good fortune excites jealousy in the supercargo of the ship and another ardent lover of his fiancée, and through false accusation, they manage to have him arrested and out of their way. To make matters worse, once the deputy prosecutor investigates his case, he at first warms to Dantes and realizes that he has committed no crime, then changes his mind and, after speaking oily and soothing words to Dantes, he quickly destroys all evidence of Dantes’ being innocent and shuts him up in a dungeon. Forsaken and with no hope of justice, Dantes is filled with ennui and despair until he miraculously escapes many years later, acquires a vast fortune that he learned about while in jail, and takes on a new identity—namely, he calls himself the Count of Monte Cristo. Thus begins a wild, unpredictable, and complicated crossfire of Dantes’ revenge which not only affects the three people that he targets, but their relatives, friends, and even all of Paris.
Throughout the whole story, the theme of revenge is always present. Not just Dantes, but also several minor characters are trying to work out their vengeance as well, and in every scene, hidden motives and mysterious figures are present. Even innocent actions such as refusing some delicious grapes have hidden meaning, and are part of someone’s revenge.
However, it is almost heartbreaking for the readers to watch an innocent, unsuspecting, trustful young Dantes transform into a grim, hardened, but fantastically clever mastermind Count of Monte Cristo. As more and more people begin to suffer from his revenge campaign, sometimes the reader detests the Count’s scheme, and sometimes he feels glad that a certain person has fallen from his or her rank. Yet amidst all the chaos, there are also a few beautiful moments, such as when Dantes rewards his former employer, or when he watches over his former employer’s son with paternal affection.
Additionally, all the suspense keeps the reader engaged. While the readers know that this “Count of Monte Cristo” is really Edmond Dantes, the three people that wronged him do not have this knowledge. Sometimes, the way that the Count’s hapless offenders condescend and scrape before him is almost comical—if they knew who he was, assuredly they would not behave so politely. Other times, such as when Dantes meets his former fiancée, Dumas masterfully keeps the exchange between them short and courteous in order not to reveal whether or not the fiancée suspects his identity. When will Dantes’ foes fall, and what in the world do his present actions have to do with his long-term goal? There is usually no rational explanation for some of the Count’s actions, but later in the story, everything makes sense, which is quite satisfying.
The Count of Monte Cristo is a truly immersing and interesting book to read, and the widespread effects of Dantes’ vengeance are sometimes devastating and sometimes refreshing to read about. It highlights the effects of revenge, but oddly enough, themes of love, obedience, and repentance range throughout it. This book truly deserves to be read.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Penguin Classics, 1844. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!