Study Guide

The Man in the Iron Mask Themes

  • Friendship

    Friendship is the backbone of The Man in the Iron Mask, but it rapidly disintegrates throughout the book. The four men, once bound by their motto of "all for one and one for all," have grown apart from one another. Political, familial, and career motivations threaten the once inseparably loyal friends. Their friendship was once very simple. Now it is complicated.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Is Aramis a good friend? How would Fouquet answer that question? How would Porthos answer that question?
    2. At what point has the legendary friendship between D'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis broken up for good? Did you notice that the four of them are never once in this novel in the same place together? (This is a big deal – these guys used to be so attached that their nickname was "the Inseparables.")
    3. Why does Aramis willingly tell Athos the situation, but hold back from telling Porthos?
    4. How is friendship defined in The Man in the Iron Mask?

    Chew on This

    Aramis is a horrible friend to Porthos.

    Fouquet's friends display the truest form of friendship to be found in the novel.

  • Love

    There are many different types of love in The Man in the Iron Mask, and all forms of it act as powerful motivators for the characters involved. The first type of love in the novel is the love the four friends still bear for one another. Secondly, there is a powerful father-son bond. Athos and Raoul's love for one another transcends physical limitations of time and space. There is also Raoul's unrequited love for his former fiancé, Louise de la Valliere, which is even stronger than his love for his father.

    Questions About Love

    1. Why doesn't Raoul just find another girl?
    2. How is love defined in The Man in the Iron Mask? How can you tell when one character loves another?
    3. Does Aramis love Philippe, or was that just a line to convince him to leave the Bastille?

    Chew on This

    Although La Valliere does not love Raoul, she suffers from his death just as much as he suffered from her infidelity.

    Athos's love for Raoul prevents him from being a good friend.

  • Memory and the Past

    Throughout the novel, the four friends are haunted by their past as four young and courageous men. The past in The Man in the Iron Mask is thus held dear as it embodies the age of romantic chivalry – an age which is clearly slipping away.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. To what extent does reading The Three Musketeers help you understand The Man in the Iron Mask?
    2. How is the past evoked in The Man in the Iron Mask? How is it typically characterized? For Raoul? For the four best friends?
    3. In what ways, if any, is the present considered just as great as, or better, than the past?

    Chew on This

    Aramis draws on his shared past with his friends in order to manipulate them.

    Raoul lives in and dwells on the past even more so than his surrogate fathers, the four best friends.

  • Family

    Family in The Man in the Iron Mask does not present a reliable bond. In many ways, friends are more important than family in The Man in the Iron Mask. An exception to this claim, however, concerns Athos and his close relationship with his son, Raoul.

    Questions About Family

    1. What, if anything, can we glean about Anne of Austria's feelings for her son, Philippe? (You might want to re-read Chapter Twenty-Four: The False King.)
    2. Of the four Musketeers, only Athos has a child. How does this lack of posterity affect the dynamic among the Musketeers and their various personalities, if at all?
    3. Re-read the face-off between King Louis and Philippe. How would you characterize the dynamic between the two brothers?

    Chew on This

    Coming face-to-face with his twin was exactly the kind of shock Louis needed to begin instituting absolute rule.

  • Principles

    Honor is the governing code of conduct for all men in The Man in the Iron Mask, and it determines whether or not the four Musketeers will be on your side. In order to be honorable, the men sometimes must act counter to their own self-interest.

    Questions About Principles

    1. To what extent does the world of the novel depend on an adherence to codes of honor?
    2. Who is the most honorable character in the novel? Why?
    3. What does it mean to act with honor in this novel? Why is it so important?

    Chew on This

    Acting in an honorable manner is the priority for almost all the characters in the novel.

  • Old Age

    The four Musketeers from Dumas' The Three Musketeers are all grown up, and The Man in the Iron Mask deeply reflects that fact. Everything is more complicated for our heroes than it used to be, meaning that old age is viewed negatively in the world of the novel. The glories of youth are over, so from here on out life is about finding a good way to die. Keep in mind also that our heroes aren't exactly old, per se. They're still vigorous and healthy men. Old age in The Man in the Iron Mask is therefore more a state of mind than a state of physical being.

    Questions About Old Age

    1. Can each character's considerations be linked to old age? Why or why not?
    2. To what extent is old age a positive force in The Man in the Iron Mask?
    3. Why do the four best friends continually think about their youth together? Why was it better than their current situation?

    Chew on This

    In The Man in the Iron Mask, aging means that life becomes more complicated.

    Youth, and not age, is celebrated in The Man in the Iron Mask.

  • Loyalty

    In The Man in the Iron Mask, loyalties are continually being pitted against each other. Characters in the novel are always expected to first and foremost be loyal to the King, but this requirement sometimes conflicts with loyalties to friends, family, or self-interest.

    Questions About Loyalty

    1. Who in the novel has the greatest loyalty to the King? Why?
    2. Why is D'Artagnan so loyal to the King?
    3. What type of loyalty in The Man in the Iron Mask proves to be the strongest? Loyalty to friends? The King? One's self?
    4. How is loyalty defined in the novel?

    Chew on This

    Out of all the courtiers, D'Artagnan has the greatest loyalty to the King.

  • Justice and Judgment

    Justice in this novel is whatever the King says it is, which of course makes us wonder exactly how just the system is. Unlike what we saw in The Three Musketeers, justice in The Man in the Iron Mask is a subjective issue.

    Questions About Justice and Judgment

    1. Why does Philippe say that his arrest is just?
    2. Is King Louis XIV a just king?
    3. Was Fouquet treated in a just manner?

    Chew on This

    Not a single character in the novel receives a just punishment.

    No one is concerned with justice in the novel.