The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas
Tools of Characterization
No doubt about it, there's a lot of action in this novel. You would definitely find it under the "Action/Adventure" section at Blockbuster. We can compare the actions different characters take, and, as a result, we can really understand who they are at heart.
For example, consider the way characters seek revenge in this novel. Danglars and Fernand seek a kind of revenge on Edmond by falsely accusing him – a plot that doesn't take much thought, time, or effort to execute. On the other hand, Edmond dreams up an incredibly intricate revenge plot that takes years to fully unfold. Danglars and Fernand demonstrate a heated impatience in the way they seek to destroy Edmond, while Edmond demonstrates a thoughtful, deliberate approach in the way he takes his revenge. In understanding just how intricate this plot is, we come to understand just how deeply Edmond has been hurt and changed.
We can learn a lot about the characters in The Count of Monte Cristo by examining the ways in which they live, the lies they tell, and the dreams they have. Are Haydée and Mercédès similar in how they perceive love and in how they act based upon their love for the Count? Are they different? How do Caderousse's actions compare with those of the great Italian Bandit leader Luigi Vampa? How are Mercédès's actions at the end of the novel (when she realizes who the Count is) different from those of Madame Danglars (who has lost all of her money)?
In the changing world of 19th century France (a world that has only recently been upturned by revolution and upheaval), having an education still means that you have a certain social power and standing; at this time, education is still closely tied to class. Edmond doesn't have much of an education beyond what he's learned being a kickbutt sailor on the high seas. Monsieur Villefort, on the other hand, is a lawyer who has definitely studied at great schools. And yet, who is more honorable? Monsieur Villefort's education and background has led to his successful career as a law official, and in an effort to preserve his reputation, he throws Edmond in jail without a fair trial and for the wrong reasons.
In jail, Edmond hits the books, as it were. With the help of Abbé Faria, Edmond essentially gives himself a thorough education in all kinds of subjects. Once he leaves the Chateau d'If, he's wiser than Dumbledore, having both the life experience he learned as a sailor and prisoner and the knowledge he has gained from studying with the Abbé. Needless to say, he's one smart dude. And it is this intelligence that allows him to really execute his plans for revenge. With this "education," he reinvents himself and becomes a man whose opinion and advice everyone wants and needs. His "education" becomes one of the most powerful aspects of his identity.
We are exposed to all kinds of different jobs in The Count of Monte Cristo, and a surprising number of characters are super successful in their respective jobs (that is, until the Count intervenes). At the beginning of the novel, Edmond is a sailor, Fernand is a fisherman, Danglars is a ship accountant (supercargo), and Villefort is an assistant attorney. All four of these men come into huge wealth and achieve great success over time. Interestingly, we see how both the working class, the middle class (the Morrels), and the upper class functions in this novel. We also see many examples of men and women rise socially and financially. It would seem that the more wealthy and successful certain characters become, the more greedy and corrupt they become. Where does the Count fit into this idea? What does he think about his newfound wealth? Does he like it? Or is it merely a tool for him to use as he seeks his revenge?