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The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas père

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What are the symbols and themes in The Count of Monte Cristo?

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In a chapter entitled "The Betrothal Feast," which is set on the island of If, where the old prison is located, in the midst of the wedding festivities for Dantes and Mercedes, Edmund Dantes's father makes a remark about the party being too quiet. Dantes replies that he is too happy to be joyous. He implies that happiness can oppress as much as grief. Edmond then sees Mercedes embracing her son Albert after she has promised not to leave him again. The thought arises in his mind that it would be better if Albert had never been born so that he could remain with Mercedes. Edmund goes to gaze at Mercedes'

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In the chapter entitled "The Betrothal Feast," old Dante's father remarks, "What a silent party!" and his son replies that he is too happy to be joyous because at times joy oppresses just as much as grief:

"I cannot help thinking it is not man's lot to attain happiness so...

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easily.  Good fortune is like the palaces of the enchanted isles, the gates of which were guarded by dragons.  Happiness could only be obtained by overcoming these dragons, and I, I know not how I have deserved the honour of becoming Mercedes's husband."

Besides presaging the misfortune which is to come for Edmund Dantes, there is an element of symbolism that emerges from this remark. For, the isle of If where the prison is located, and the isle of Monte Cristo figure greatly into the fate and composition of what makes Edmund Dantes. Further, in his mission of revenge, Dantes must overcome the dragons of his hatred in order to be redeemed.  For instance, in his plan to destroy de Villefort, harms innocents in his path such as Edouard, the young son of Madame de Villefort, and in disgracing Ferdinand, the Count of Monte Cristo damages the honor of Mercedes's beloved son Albert.  Recognizing the dragons of malice that accompany what he feels is his provendential retribution, Dantes then saves the love of Maxmillian and Valentine.  In so doing, he, too, is redeemed.

Thus, from the wonderful narrative of Dumas there emerge two themes, the limitations of revenge and the redeeming power of love.  In his meeting with M. de Villefort after having saved Mme. de Villefort and her son from imminent danger when the dappled greys run away with the carriage, the Count of Monte Cristo declares,

"...I have compared natural justice, and I must say, sir that it is the law of primitive ation; that is, the law of retaliation that I have most frequently found to be according to the law of God."

However, as he pursues his divine retaliation, Dantes realizes that there are limitations. Whereas he originally has felt that the Biblical notion of the sins of the father being dealt upon the children to justify the destruction of his enemies is righteous, Dantes is shocked into reassessing his notion of being the instrument of Providence when Eduoard de Villefort's life is innocently shed.  He tells Maxillian later that the gods of vengeance operate with an infallibility that is not possible for mortal man.

With his wisdom, then, comes Monte Cristo's recognition of the power of love; he is most moved by the absolute devotion of Maxmillian for Valentine, as well as the maternal love of Mercedes for her son, Albert.  Finding some peace and returning to life as a man in the love of Haydee, Dantes tells her, "...through you I again connect myself with life, through you I shall suffer, through you rejoice."

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