In the middle of the year, my English teacher mentioned BRAWLing (Battle Royale All Will Learn discussion-type thing). My teacher also recently assigned a quote picture from All Quiet on the Western Front. We spent an entire discussing that. First the directions were simple: drop your favorite quote from the book over a picture that matched. By the end of the period, it was a movie with each period competing for extra credit points. It never happened, by the way.

I hoped the BRAWL would go something like that. We received a handout explaining the basics on the next time he mentioned it. Nothing else for about two months. On the 20th, we formed groups and I was prepared to fail.

Last year, I never spoke during Socratic Seminars. I had a scary teacher who was moody and sometimes would rant at my class just because it was sixth period. There were two people who actually knew what they were doing and came prepared with notes. A handful of others said “I agree” a lot and got some participation points. It was very quiet. I received a zero on every one.

Four days later, we got our questions. They were a combination of the best written by us, all the periods put together. If yours was selected, extra credit. If not, oh well.

There were amazing questions like these:

– In two of the previous novels we read, A Tale of Two Cities and All Quiet on the Western Front, as well as The Count of Monte Cristo, the theme of not trusting others and being on your own is prominent. However, this theme is also contradicted with the relationship of Lucie and her Father, Faria and Dantes, and Paul and his comrades. Why do you think that there is this contradiction? What is the real underlying theme? Why would the author contradict their own major theme?

– In numerous works of literature, the central dilemma is often presented at the beginning of the story, and a happily ever after is reserved for the final chapters. However, in ‘The Count of Monte Cristo,’ Dumas twists this around by placing a fairytale-like ending at the beginning, then shatters this illusion as the plot thickens and betrayal and false promises come to surface. What could be the purpose of this arrangement in regards to the structure of a theme?

And there were other ones like these:

– Why do you think Dumas decided to choose the island, Monte Cristo, as the place that held the fortune? Does the name, Monte Cristo, have anything to do with it? Is there any significance about where the treasure was hidden? 

– Why is granite so important that is mentioned in two major turning points in Dantes life? 

– Take note of the date of Dantes’s escape. Why would Dumas have lined up Dantes’s escape to this particular date in spite of its almost numerical impossibility? 

I had a lot of fun answering the latter ones. I read about a Monte Cristo sandwich (fried ham and cheese), the meaning of symbols of gravestones, pirates (Red Beard), legends (dragons guarding islands), numerology (fourteen day people have strong negative influences on others if they are aware of their own energies), and religion, mythology and folklore.

I had to speak for my group and I did. All three times and I think I did good. There was also an online discussion with the same questions. I answered the last question.

– The date of Dantes escape is February 28, 1829. He entered the Chateau d’If in February 28, 1815. He was imprisoned for exactly fourteen years. Dumas might have chosen these dates for the symbolism of the number fourteen found in the Bible and numerology.

– According to several biblical and palm-reading sites (thisthisthisthis, and this) from the first few pages of Google’s more reliable-looking links, seven is a lucky number and fourteen is double that, which means double spiritual perfection and double completion. The number two (2×7) symbolizes incarnation. This relates to Dantes because he rose as a different man from he sea, the graveyard of the Chateau d’If. He was extremely lucky to have escaped alive, and the perfection and completion he desires will be achieved only through his vengeance.

-In the Book of Proverbs, the expression “the fear of the Lord” occurs fourteen times (I checked with an online copy of the Bible and ctrl F). Dantes seems to think that he’s God because he’s righting his world as he desires after it fell apart in his absence. Those who are good to him, he graces with gifts (his distracting presence to Faria, knowledge and gifts to the pirates, diamond to Caderousse, etc) and those who wronged him, he will punish. 

– The fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover, when God delivered the firstborn of Israel from death. (Exodus 12) Brief summary: God told Moses and his brother in Egypt each household needed a male lamb on the tenth day of the first month. On the fourteenth day, everyone in Israel killed their lambs at twilight as a sacrifice. The Jews would mark a blood X on their door and the angel of death would pass over that house. The firstborn male child would be killed in each unmarked house. Here, Dantes is the angel of death and Danglars, Villefort, and Fernand have unmarked doors. Dantes is more creative than this angel. 

I sound smart. Well-researched, at least. I need to work on relating the information to the book and staying on task. The question had nothing to do with the number fourteen; I got there all on my own. As far as I know, nothing important happened on February 28th. I subtracted the years and got fourteen. I’m almost certain I got it wrong. But in English, you can twist around wrong answers if you ramble intelligently. Most of the time you get at least partial credit for getting something right, and if you’re lucky, extra credit for uniqueness.

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