Dr Paul pointed out on David DeAngelo's Deep Inner Game program that the story of The Count of Monte Cristo is a metaphor for the journey that men take in growing from a boy into a mature man. So I recently watched the 2002 movie version starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce, to see what nuggets of masculine wisdom I could extract from it.
At the beginning of the story, Edmond Dantes is a boy living in a man's body. He lacks intuition and street-smarts, and has a naïve overly-trusting view of other people. He has never questioned his belief in God, has weak personal boundaries, and allows other people to manipulate him and take advantage of his naïvety. He has an excess of conscience and looks at the world the way a young boy does. In short, he's guileless and clueless. While he is deeply in love with his fiancé Mercedes, the relationship has never really been tested by any kind of hardship.
When Dantes is prematurely made Captian of his ship by his employer, his childhood friend Fernando Mondego becomes extremely jealous. He is also jealous of Dante's relatioship with Mercedes, who repeatedly knocks back his routine attempts to seduce her. Mondego is at the other end of the spectrum from Dantes: he lacks conscience, but has a worldly wisdom and is totally comfortable with his dark side. He readily betrays his “friend” Dantes when the opportunity arises for him to gain the upper hand. Dantes' naïvety prevents him from recognising that Mondego is not a true friend in any sense of the word, and that their attraction to each other is based on them being at opposite ends of the conscience/intuition spectrum. Neither of them are truly healthy, integrated, mature men yet.
A corrupt prosecutor protecting his own skin has Dantes shipped off to prison, where he loses everything he loves, suffers greatly, and gradually loses faith in God. His prison cell is a metaphor for the boyish thinking that keeps a man stuck without any real power or influence in his own life and in the world. The strongest prison is the one we build for ourselves in our own minds.
Each year the prison guards come and beat Dantes to remind him of the passing of time. He is stuck, trapped and powerless. His suffering represents the time in a man's life when everything we once trusted and relied on breaks down and no longer work for us. In his book Manhood, Steve Biddulph refers to this time in a man's life as “the ashes”. During this time Dantes is wounded physically, emotionally and psychologically by his imprisonment. He gives up his belief in God altogether. Yet it is through his suffering that Dantes relinquishes his boyish view of the world, and starts looking at things through the eyes of a man; albeit for the time being, a broken man obsessed with vengence. His wounds are akin to the wounding traditionally given to adolescents by other men in tribal cultures during their initiation into manhood.
Help comes to Dantes in the form of a fellow prisoner nicknamed The Priest, who teaches him how to escape from the prison. The Priest is a metaphor for the good father or male mentor(s) that all men need in order to complete the journey into manhood. It takes a man to teach a boy how to become a man. I could totally relate to this; my own father was relatively ineffective because his father never taught him how to be a man. Instead, I had to seek out other male role models to act as mentors for me. The Priest teaches Dantes how to read and write, along with the arts and sciences, and the art of swordsmanship and self-defence. In short, everything a mature man needed to function in his culture.
Just before he dies, The Priest gives Dantes the final piece of the puzzle he needs: a map to the hidden treasure of Monte Cristo. The treasure is a metaphor for the riches that await every boy-man willing to take the journey through suffering to maturity. But first he must deal with his anger and hunger for revenge. The Priest admonishes Dante to only use the treasure for good, but Dante is still so angry that he admits he will surely use it to carry out his revenge. Having totally embraced his dark side, he has also relinquished his fears about other people and any potential retribution. And so he escapes the prison, fetches the treasure and establishes for himself a new identity as The Count of Monte Cristo; a metaphor for the new identity that men acquire on their way to maturity.
Dantes returns disguised as The Count to learn that his father killed himself over the grief of Dante's imprisonment, and that Mercedes has married the philandering Mondego. They even have a son named Albert. Realising the depth of betrayal by his friend, Dantes extracts his vengeance on everyone who had a hand in it, having most of them imprisoned. His final acts of vengeance are aimed at Mondego and Mercedes, via their son Albert. In his attempts to kill them all, he discovers that Albert is in fact his own son: Mercedes had lied to Mondego saying the child was merely born prematurely, when in fact she was already pregnant to Dantes when she married Mondego. This was her reason for marrying him so soon after Dante's disappearance, when in fact she was and still is deeply in love with Dantes. And now she recognizes that he is still alive and merely acting as The Count of Monte Cristo.
When he discovers that Albert is in fact his own son, Dantes realises that extracting further revenge will do no good to anyone, and spares Mondego's life. His riteous anger begins to subside and is replaced with compassion for those who have wronged him. He has taken the final step to manhood and mature masculine power by mastering his emotions. Mondego, on the other hand, is enraged and returns for a final climactic sword fight in which Dantes kills him. With all destructive vestiges of Dantes's former life now dispensed, his faith in God returns in a new more mature form. He forgives Mercedes and is able to fall in love with her all over again.
The Count of Monte Cristo is a powerful story, which really hit me strongly after I was shown the metaphor behind it and the stages men go through on the journey to maturity and masculine power. Sometimes I'm still a boy-ish Dantes in my thoughts and feelings, others I'm a vengeful Count of Monte Cristo, but more and more I'm coming to be the mature powerful man that Dantes grows into by the end of the story.