Study Guide

The Count of Monte Cristo Fate vs. Free Will

By Alexandre Dumas

Fate vs. Free Will

Chapter 5
Eugénie Danglars

"Come now, "he [Danglars] said. Have you anything to fear? It seems to me, on the contrary, that everything is working out as you would wish."

"That is precisely what terrifies me," said Dantès. "I cannot think that man is meant to find happiness so easily! Happiness is like one of those palaces on an enchanted island, its gates guarded by dragons. One must fight to gain it; and, in truth, I do not know what I have done to deserve the good fortune of becoming Mercédès' husband." (5.22-23)

Oddly enough, it's at the most extreme moments – whether they be extremely happy or extremely grim – that we wonder if Fate might be lurking, exerting a negative influence.

Chapter 61

"Ah, but who can ever know what may happen, my dear fellow? Man proposes, God disposes…"

Andrea sighed and said: "But as long as I remain in Paris and nothing forces me to leave, this money that you just mentioned is guaranteed?

"Oh, yes, absolutely."(61.46-48)

A variation on the old saying, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch." Except this one captures the way the stars can seem to align against even the most insignificant plans.

Chapter 64

"No, but I was brought up in Corsica. You are old and obstinate, I am young and stubborn. It's a bad idea for people like us to threaten one another. We should do business amicably. Is it my fault if luck is still hard on you and has been kind to me?"

"So luck's good, is it? Which means it's not some borrowed groom or borrowed tilbury or borrowed clothes that we have here? Fine! So much the better!" Caderousse said, his eyes gleaming with greed." (64.54-55)

Caderousse teaches Andrea/Benedetto a lesson in language. One man's luck might seem, to a more perceptive man, something stranger or more complex.

Chapter 80

"Oh, what is man!" d'Avrigny muttered. "The most egoistical of all animals, the most personal of all creatures, who cannot believe otherwise than that the earth revolves, the sun shines and death reaps for him alone—an ant, cursing God from the summit of a blade of grass." (80.19)

D'Avrigny raises a good question: isn't it rather egotistical for man to assume that God has the time to cause their petty misfortunes?

Chapter 83

"God could have guided the murderer's dagger so that you would die immediately, yet He gave you a quarter of an hour to reconsider. So look in your heart, you wretch, and repent!"

"No," said Caderousse. "No, I do not repent. There is no God, there is no Providence. There is only chance." (83.66-67)

Caderousse rejects the idea of God and the idea of Fate (or Providence) with it; he's one of the few to do so. Still, he changes his mind just before he dies. So much for asserting man's free will.

Chapter 87

"Albert! Forgive me for saying it: shattered with regard to you, but enchanted by the nobility of that young woman seeking to avenge her father. Yes, Albert: wherever this revelation came from—and I grant that it may be from an enemy—I swear that that enemy was an agent of Providence." (87.1)

It's important to recognize that Fate isn't always thought to exert itself directly, as with a stroke. Sometimes Fate enlists someone to complete its work.

Chapter 90
Edmond Dantès, the Count of Monte Cristo

"No, it is not life that I regret, but the ruin of my plans, which were so long in devising and so laborious to construct. Providence, which I thought favoured them, was apparently against them. God did not want them to come to fruition!

"This burden which I took on, almost as heavy as a world, and which I thought I could carry to the end, was measured according to my desire and not my strength. I shall have to put it down when my task is barely half completed. Ah, I shall have to become a fatalist, after fourteen years of despair and ten years of hope had made me a believe me a believer in Providence!" (90.2-3)

In order to believe he is an agent of Providence, the Count must believe he knows what is meant to be. To see that certainty crumble is, potentially, just as damaging as that fateful bolt from the blue, the stroke.

Chapter 95
Eugénie Danglars

[Eugénie Danglars:] "Well, my dear father, in the shipwreck of life—for life is an eternal shipwreck of our hopes—I throw all my useless baggage into the sea, that's all, and remain with my will, prepared to live entirely alone and consequently entirely free." (95.21)

Eugénie suggests that life is some combination of chance (the shipwreck) and choice (the decision to throw away the baggage.)

Chapter 103
Noirtier de Villefort

"Monsieur," Villefort replied, trying to struggle against these three wills and against his own feelings, "you are wrong. No crimes are committed in my house. Fate has struck. God is trying me, which is horrible to believe; but no one is being murdered!" (103.36)

In this case, the deed has already been done; Fate is nothing more than a label meant to console the victim.

Chapter 112
Mercédès Mondego

"See: misfortune has turned my hair grey and my eyes have shed so many tears that there are dark rings round them; and my forehead is furrowed. But you, Edmond, you are still young, still handsome and still proud. You did have faith, you had strength, you trusted in God, and God sustained you. I was a coward, I denied Him, so God abandoned me; and here I am!" (112.105)

In invoking the concept of "faith," Mercédès suggests that there is an element of choice, of will. If she had had faith, things could have been different – she was not fated to end up the way she did.

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