Study Guide

The Count of Monte Cristo Ambition

By Alexandre Dumas

Ambition

Chapter 1
Danglars

"Indeed," said Danglars, casting a sidelong glance at Dantès with a flash of hatred in his eyes. "Yes indeed, he is young and full of self-confidence. The captain was hardly dead before he had taken command without asking anyone, and made us lose a day and a half on the island of Elba, instead of returning directly to Marseille. (1.30)

Here we see a conflict of ambitions. Danglars wants what Edmond has worked hard to earn. This small-scale conflict of interest leads to, well, everything.

Chapter 7

"Father! Will you always be an obstacle to my happiness in this world, and shall I always have to contend with your past?"

Then, suddenly, it seemed as though a light had unexpectedly passed through his mind and lit up his face. A smile rose to his clenched lips, while his distraught look became a stare and his mind appeared to concentrate on a single idea.

"That's it," he said. "This letter, which should have destroyed me, might perhaps make my fortune. Come, Villefort, to work!" (7.121-123)

Ambition can turn even the most dire of situations into the greatest of boons.

Chapter 17
Abbé Faria

"Misfortune is needed to plumb certain mysterious depths in the understanding of men; pressure is needed to explode the charge. My captivity concentrated all my faculties on a single point. They had previously been dispersed, now they clashed in a narrow space; and, as you know, the clash of clouds produces electricity, electricity produces lightning and lightning gives light." (17.45)

Abbé Faria suggests that ambition can feed on adversity.

Chapter 41
Albert de Morcerf

"Oh, father," said Albert, smiling, "you clearly do not know the Count of Monte Cristo. He finds satisfaction elsewhere than in the things of this world and does not aspire to any honours, taking only those that can fit on his passport."

"That is the most accurate description of myself that I have ever heard," the stranger said. (41.34-35)

By neglecting the expected honors, the Count distinguishes himself from the crowd. His lack of ambition – normal ambition, anyway – is worth just as much as a more conventional man's hard work.

Chapter 76

"In any case, even the most corrupt of us finds it hard to believe in evil unless it is based on some interest. We reject the idea of harm done for no cause and without gain as anomalous." (76.6)

Perhaps, because we cannot think of ourselves doing anything unreasonable, we have a hard time believing someone else would do wrong without expecting something in return.

"On his departure, M. Andrea had inherited all the papers affirming that he had the honour to be the son of the Marquis Bartolomeo and the Marchioness Leonora Corsinari. He was thus more or less established in Parisian society, which is so open to receiving strangers and treating them, not as what they are, but as what they wish to be." (76.2)

Paris seems to be the perfect place for strivers and social climbers, like a big fancy party that anyone can crash

Chapter 83
Gaspard Caderousse

"You lapsed into poverty and you knew hunger. You had spent half a life in envy that you could have spent in profitable toil, and you were already thinking about crime when God offered you a miracle, when God, by my hands, sent you a fortune in the midst of your deprivation—a fortune that was splendid for you, who had never possessed anything. But this unexpected, unhoped-for, unheard-of fortune was not enough for you, as soon as you owned it. You wanted to double it. How? By murder. You did double it, and God took it away from you by bringing you to human justice." (83.54)

In Caderousse's case, ambition only means one thing: trouble, and lots of it.

Chapter 90
Edmond Dantès, the Count of Monte Cristo

"And all this, good Lord, because my heart, which I thought was dead, was only numbed; because it awoke, it beat; because I gave way to the pain of that beating which had been aroused in my breast by the voice of a woman!

"And yet," the count went on, lapsing more and more into anticipation of the dreadful future that Mercédès had made him accept, "and yet it is impossible that that woman, with such a noble heart, could for purely selfish reasons have agreed to let me be killed when I am so full of life and strength. It is not possible that she should take her maternal love, or, rather, her maternal delirium, that far! Some virtues, when taken to the extreme, become crimes." (90.5-6, our emphasis)

The last line says it all: unchecked ambition can be dangerous, and sometimes deadly.

Chapter 106
Danglars

"I increased our wealth, which continued to grow for more than fifteen years, until the moment when these unknown catastrophes, which I am still unable to comprehend, arrived to seize it and cast it down—without my being to blame, I might say, for any of it." (106.38)

Danglars takes credit for all the increase, but is unable to own up to his failures. That's how it seems to go when dreams are destroyed.

Chapter 112
Edmond Dantès, the Count of Monte Cristo

"Like a benefactor in a novel, I should have left without seeing you again; but such conduct was beyond my feeble powers, because I am a weak and vain man, and because a joyful and tender look from one of my fellow-creatures does me good. Now I am leaving, and I shall take selfishness to the point of saying to you: Don't forget me, my friends, because you will probably never see me again." (112.41)

Monte Cristo is ashamed that he should require recognition for his good deeds. He wants to believe that he can do something and not expect, not want anything in return.

Edmond Dantès, the Count of Monte Cristo

"What is truly desirable? A possession that we cannot have. So, my life is devoted to seeing things that I cannot understand and obtaining things that are impossible to have. I succeed by two means: money and will. I am as persevering in the pursuit of my whims as, for example, you are, Monsieur Danglars, in building a railway; or you, Monsieur de Villefort, in condemning a man to death; or you, Monsieur Debray, pacifying a kingdom; you, Monsieur de Château-Renaud, in finding favour with a woman; or you, Monsieur Morrel, in breaking a horse that no one else can ride." (63.7)

By seeking the impossible, the Count provides himself with limitless fodder for his plans. They may be a pretext to cover up his larger goal, but they're still stunning.

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