(Novels for Students)

The Limitations of Human Justice
When Dantès escapes from prison, he is obsessed with gaining revenge against those who betrayed him, as well as rewarding those who remained loyal to him. The revenge theme drives the entire narrative, and Dantès, as Monte Cristo, pursues it patiently and ruthlessly. He believes he is one of those “extraordinary beings” who act as agents of divine Providence. He brings punishment when it is deserved and when it is due. Monte Cristo states this quite explicitly to Villefort when they first meet in Paris and engage in a philosophical discussion (Chapter 48, “Ideology”). Monte Cristo takes Villefort to task for thinking about justice only in terms of human law and society. He, on the other hand, is aware of a more profound reality. He tells the astonished Villefort of an encounter he had with Satan, in which he declared that “the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world is to recompense and punish.” Dantès requested that he become Providence itself. Satan told him that the most he could aspire to was to be an agent of Providence.

Eventually, Monte Cristo comes to see the limitations that attend a human being who seeks to appropriate to himself a function of the divine. Having previously used the Biblical notion that the sins of the father are visited on the children to justify the devastation he was prepared to wreak on whole families, he is brought up in shock at the death of the innocent nine-year-old Edouard. He realizes that even though Edouard is the son of Villefort, one of the guilty men, Edouard does not deserve the death he receives. For the first time, this supremely self-confident man doubts the wisdom of his mission of revenge. Monte Cristo feels he has gone too far and can no longer say, “God is for and with me.” With unaccustomed humility, he acknowledges to Maximilien that the gods operate with a kind of infallibility that is not permissible to a mere man. He leaves...

(The entire section is 806 words.)