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Even in popular media, the idea of equivalent exchange is commonly used to demonstrate the important value of morals and justice. The questioning of morality and justice has not been phased by the coming and going of eras, and authors of all time periods and cultures find themselves wondering whether or not betrayal and revenge lay hand in hand with justice. This is displayed in today’s age when the character Lelouch vi Britannia from the notorious anime Code Geass wisely comments on the cruelty and unjustness of the world surrounding him: “If being powerless is evil, is having power justice? Is revenge evil? If so, to defeat evil, I will become an even greater evil. When there is evil in this world that justice cannot defeat, would you taint your hands with evil to defeat evil? Or would you remain steadfast and righteous even if it means surrendering to that evil?” Lelouch speaks of how the price of justice may be, ironically, to succumb to and become an even greater evil than that of what one opposes. Not unalike to what is seen in Code Geass and other types of literature and media in current times, Alexandre Dumas uses similar, if not identical, themes in the novel The Count of Monte Cristo despite the situational and time differences to describe a misfortunate young man’s journey through oblivious euphoria, purgatory, intense loathing, realization and regret, and, finally, enlightenment. Left in the wake of the knowledge and corruption concerning his fate, Edmond Dantes determines that lawful, honorable justice served by the law will not come to his adversaries unless he himself acts upon his contempt using the language they know best: wealth, honor, and power. For the most part, Dantes is consistently triumphant, but he becomes morally conflicted by the loss of innocent lives he hadn’t calculated into his ploy. His inner struggle with his guilt and the casualties of his much sought-for vengeance exemplifies the truth that, whether one is the avenger or the conspirator of such scorn, both revenge and betrayal come at an invaluable price that one should brace themselves for no matter how miniscule or feeble the act seems to be.
Due to the heavy realization and acceptance of the sins falsely placed upon him, Dantes discards of the once-belonging innocence and ethereal happiness of Edmond Dantes in exchange for the charming yet mischievously bittersweet persona of the Count of Monte Cristo in order to enact his self-justified revenge on those that destroyed his life. The glory of his current life is crushed before his eyes when Danglars and Fernand, mere acquantances by name driven by jealousy, contribute a false notice to officials of his involvement with Napoleon. Villefort, a man who is supposedly trying to prove Dantes’ innocence, selfishly saves his own honor and reputation but, in the process, imprisons Dantes for fourteen years. Once Dantes escapes, he is more than livid about the minds behind his purgatory, and he is more than welcome to the idea of revenge now that he has the resources to back him up. Dantes acknowledges his need to become a greater evil than his enemies to defeat them when he states, “’Now, farewell to kindness, humanity, gratitude,’ said he. ‘Farewell to all the sentiments which rejoice the heart. I have played the Providence in recompensing the good, may the god of vengeance now permit me to punish the wicked’” (187)! Because the law did not bring justice to his enemies, he takes matters into his own hands in order to avenge his untimely fate. He is willing to discard of the good traits of Edmond Dantes and the joys of life in return for the chance of bring justice to his adversaries. He realizes that being truthful and righteous will only end in his downfall, so he creates a different persona in which he will do anything and everything to bring his enemies down. No longer would he play the part of the fair, innocent golden boy Edmond Dantes but, instead, the suave, sly, cool-minded Count of Monte Cristo. He justifies his transformation from Dantes to Monte Cristo with his thirst for vengeance. As Monte Cristo, vengeance and justice are synonymous to his situation. He feels entitled to the justice the law couldn’t give him, and he thinks the only way he can receive such justice will be by avenging himself. Because of this theory, he stoops to his enemies’ level in order to attack them when they least expect it. While not exactly miserable as Monte Cristo, as Dantes he was much more free and oblivious to the horrors of the humanity. Even during his time in jail before he met Abbe Faria, Dantes still waited and hoped for the day he would someday escape to continue on with his dreams. As Monte Cristo, he is much more stiff and sly, willing to use anything to his advantage at the expense of others. The knowledge of societal views and the nature of mankind’s greed is no longer unknown to him. His ethereal happiness with Mercedes was short lived, but, in the end, he still obtained the happy ending he feels he didn’t deserve. As Edmond Dantes, he was betrayed. As Monte Cristo, he betrayed others. Nevertheless, at the end of the novel, Monte Cristo reverts back into someone similar to what a weary, old Edmond Dantes would have been but with the knowledge and experience of Monte Cristo. It was not as Edmond Dantes or Monte Cristo, however, but as a regular, worn out, content man with the woman he came to love as more than a daughter, that he finally receives the justice and happy ending he could have never reached as just Edmond Dantes or Monte Cristo alone.
Although the overbearing ecstasy of completing his vengeance sates Monte Cristo’s thirst for the agony and suffering of his enemies, the guilt of the death of innocent lives lost in his extravagant plans hangs over his thoughts like a guillotine over a convicted man’s neck. Edmond Dantes was originally a good, loyal, honest man with a successful relationship and career, the epitome of being a golden boy, but as Monte Cristo he is a harsher, brutal, sophisticated genius in the field of societal honor and reputation. Even so, not even his prodigal skills in society and smooth-talking can help him escape the regret and guilt of destroying innocent lives in exchange for his selfish justice. His morals, while less responsive, more monochrome, and definitely stretched further with more exceptions to good and bad, are still there nonetheless despite throwing away his original persona and becoming an entirely different person. The fact that Monte Cristo still feels guilt over actions he knows is his fault or could have been prevented is displayed when he finally completes his revenge against Villefort: “Monte Cristo turned pale at the frightful sight. Realizing that he had passed beyond the bounds of vengeance, he felt he could no longer say: ‘God is for me and with me’” (567). After the death of Heloise and Edward, Monte Cristo finally realizes the error of his ways; innocent lives were never supposed to be lost in his ploy against Villefort, Danglars, and Fernand. The only people he had meant to punish were those that ruined his life, and, now that blameless lives were lost for his petty wishes, he is no better than the very people he had sought to punish. This makes him realize that he has gone too far and that he cannot justify his vengeance any longer now that he has tainted his hands with faultless blood. Despite once feeling entitled to revenge and going as far as to think that even god was on his side, now he feels that it has all been one big mistake after another. He begins to feel and regret that he has been a fool trying to play a higher power concerning the fates of others. He concludes that the actions he took against Villefort oversteps the fine line between seeking justice and being a no better evil than his adversaries, and for the small remainder of the novel Monte Cristo becomes softer and more alike to Dantes than in the beginning of his quest because of his realization of how cruel and unjust he has become in his pursuit for justice.
Edmond Dantes’ struggle to bring justice to his enemies as the Count of Monte Cristo nearly concludes with an expensive payment in the form of his morals despite his justified intentions, giving way to the fact that both revenge and betrayal always come at a price that one must be prepared to pay. Against his better intentions, Monte Cristo feels mentally conflicted with the death of bystanders. On one hand, he has completed his much sought-for revenge, but in the process he caused the death of two innocent lives. The effect is almost immediate once he sees what he has done: “‘No,’ replied Monte Cristo, ‘and God grant that I have not already done too much’” (568)! The regret is evident in the way he speaks and his hurried manner as he rushes away without looking back. His suave mask cracks the moment he doubts his actions, and all that is left is mass panic and unbelievable regret. Before this, he was very confident in his justification of his revenge that he never doubted himself for a single moment. Betraying people while taking his revenge, Monte Cristo was not prepared for the shock of his conflicting morals. He thought he had steeled himself enough from the moment he became Monte Cristo, but the ways of Edmond Dantes are still deep within him even if he does not feel like it is; the two deaths penetrated his exterior defenses and pained the small part of his mind and heart that still belonged to Dantes. Now that the lives of Heloise and Edward were lost due to his actions, Monte Cristo slowly begins regressing back into a pseudo-Edmond Dantes; not quite as innocent and oblivious as Dantes yet more gentle and caring than Monte Cristo. Without Heloise and Edward dying, Monte Cristo would not have felt any remorse for the damage he presented to Villefort. He would not have realized that the justice he was seeking was not the justice Edmond Dantes would have wanted had he still been the same man. The fact that he almost became an evil akin to the people who wronged him eats away at his mind and thoughts, and, due to this revelation, Monte Cristo immediately stops any remaining pursuit against Villefort or Danglars, the only two left alive, in exchange for helping a young man reconnect to the love of his life. In an attempt to repent for the sins he realizes he has committed, Monte Cristo offers advice to Maximillian, whom greatly reminds him of his former self and is someone similar to a son to him, so that he will not fall into the same depravity he himself had fallen into, therefor morally self-repenting for his sins against two innocent lives by helping two other innocent lives live happily and regret-free.
After discovering the trickery and lies concerning his personal purgatory, Edmond Dantes seeks to enact justice in the form of vengeance upon those that have wronged him by using the resources given to him to become wealthy, socially popular, and elite. To become a wealthy superpower to defeat his enemies, Dantes discards of his former glory in return for the cold visage of Monte Cristo. As the Count of Monte Cristo, one by one he takes away the things his adversaries hold dear until he finally feels content with his punishments. Despite his triumph over his enemies, Monte Cristo becomes ethically conflicted over the loss of two innocent lives. He realizes that his revenge is not, in fact, as justified as he had liked to make it out to be, and the guilt of indirectly murdering innocent bystanders eats away at his mind. In the end, he finally understands the fact that both betrayal and revenge come at an expensive price that he himself was not prepared to pay. Dantes’ theory of becoming a greater evil than the evil he was trying to defeat, he finally concludes, was wrong, and at the end of the novel he finally lets go of all his contempt and scorn for Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort in order to look forward into the future – his future – with Haydee.
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