The fictional book ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker contains a number of important themes that reflects Stoker’s philosophies and attitudes and, by extension the sensibilities of the period he lived in. Within the narrative, these themes are revealed in the manner in which the characters in ‘Dracula’ interact, as well as in the outcomes of certain events.
The individuals who united to destroy Dracula were not friends from the start- three of them had competed for the hands of one woman, and two had been saddened by her rejection. Yet there was no feeling of jealousy or resentment at the individual Lucy chose or on Lucy herself. Although they all came as competitors, Arthur, Quincy, and Seward ended up forging an undying bond with themselves, as well as with Harker, Mina, and Van Helsing.
When Lucy was ill, the suitor she rejected, Dr. Seward, was the one who cared for her, while another suitor, Quincy, contributed his blood to be transfused into her when she was in dire need of it. Van Helsing also provided his own blood despite having no prior emotional connection to her. This selflessness and generally noble predispositions are what make the brotherhood so strong and then ultimately successful against Dracula in the face of huge odds.
The Validity of Religion Alongside Technology
Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula‘ was written during the Victorian period, at a time when Charles Darwin’s theory of revolution, as well as recent technological advancements, were leading to less religiosity among people. This sentiment is exemplified in the attitudes of Mina and Dr. Seward who could not solve the mystery of Lucy’s ailments because of a dependence on cold rationalism at the expense of superstitions and spirituality.
It took the arrival of Van Helsing to expand the field of observation and therefore countenance the possibility of a spiritual or supernatural origin to Lucy’s deterioration healthwise. Stoker seems to be advocating an open-mindedness to knowledge that would not dismiss certain areas as being too ridiculous. It is crosses, wafers, and garlic that are able to ward off the vampire, rather than guns or bombs.
The Tangibility of the Soul
One of the major themes in Stoker’s book ‘Dracula‘ is the tangibility of the soul. The soul is a potent, active force that represents the essence of the individual but can be contaminated. For Stoker, our souls start from a pure state but can then get contaminated by external influences or actors. In the book, vampirism is like a soul-altering plague that either corrupts or shoves aside the pure soul of the individual in other to replace it with a new, much more evil life force.
The state of being “undead” is like a chip complete with bad and evil programs. When Lucy transforms into a vampire, her pure soul is replaced by that of an “undead” life force, and when she is then killed, her pure soul returns and finds rest. This is the case too with Dracula, whose final moment of peace is his most sympathetic. After his death, a tranquil disposition descends over him, replacing the malevolent and evil expression that had been on his face before. So in a sense, the fight against Dracula was also a fight to free his pure soul from the foreign life force that had either corrupted or imprisoned it.
In Stoker’s work, vampirism is associated with the deplorable and demeaning vice of lust. Lust here is an emotion that symbolizes a lack of self-control, in essence, man’s inability to master his own emotions, making him a prisoner to his desires. This man is far from the Victorian ideal, and if these qualities are found in a woman, it would greatly affect her reputation. When Harker first visits Dracula, he is impressed and made to feel comfortable by Dracula’s gentlemanliness and aristocratic charm. But this is a disguise that fades away at Dracula’s first temptation- the moment when Harker cuts himself. Dracula instinctively lunges at Harker at the sight of blood, but he is repulsed by Harker’s cross.
Lust or overt sexual expression is an emotion displayed by only the corrupted or damned in Stoker’s world. Neither Lucy nor Mina displays any degree of sexual expression in their interactions with their respective significant others, but when Dracula forces Mina to drink his blood, Mina recalls being sexually drawn to him, and it is only when Lucy transforms into a vampire that she becomes an evil seductress. The normally gentlemanly Harker cannot help the feeling of overwhelming lust rushing through as he was assailed by the three female vampires in Dracula’s castle. The association of sexual expression to a sort of corruption or contamination of the mind and soul is therefore evident in the book.
While ‘Dracula‘ cautions against a mindless adoption of modern technology and ideas at the expense of our stash of traditional knowledge on cultures, superstitions, and religions, he still nonetheless recognizes the import of technology in the world. The keeping of diaries and journals, the telegram, the science of hypnosis, transcription, and the art of using a stenograph are some of the valuable skills that help in dispatching Dracula.
Analysis of Key Moments
- Jonathan Harker is warned by an old peasant woman in Bistritz against going on to Dracula’s castle. He accepts the gift of a rosary from her.
- Dracula invites Harker to enter freely into his castle.
- Dracula tries to attack Harker after seeing blood on Harker’s body but is repelled by the rosary Harker carries.
- Harker sees Dracula depart for England with the boxes of earth.
- Dracula arrives at Whitby in a shipwrecked boat after killing off every other person in it.
- Lucy starts sleepwalking and gets repeatedly attacked by Dracula
- Lucy falls ill, and her condition defies Dr. Seward’s treatment; Van Helsing is called in
- Van Helsing diagnoses Lucy’s condition as being a result of a Vampire attack. He takes measures to protect Lucy from subsequent attacks.
- Lucy becomes the ‘bloofer lady’ (as quoted from ‘Dracula’) after turning into a vampire
- Dracula attacks Mina and incapacitates Harker.
- The crew of light succeeds in destroying Dracula’s boxes, except for one
- Van Helsing and his team trace Dracula and the final box to the Borgo pass
- Dracula is destroyed.
Style, Tone, and Figurative Language
The ‘Dracula‘ book is a horror story, and Bran Stocker utilizes a number of techniques not only to convey this horror but ground it within probable, realistic settings. Stocker is able to create tension through clever use of forebodings, world-building, and imageries. He builds the horror bit by bit; thus, while Jonathan’s journey to Scandinavian starts on a happy and comfortable note, the further inland he goes and the nearer he gets to Dracula, the more we get hints of the danger in front of him.
The horror builds up from the increasing eccentricities of the natives, the horror of his hosts at the hotel he stays in at Borgo Pass, and climbs up when he is transferred to the mysterious coach driver with strange features. It reaches a fever pitch as Jonathan gets deeper into the forest in the dead of the night, in the midst of the terrifying howling of Wolves. This careful ascendance of the horror constitutes a neat plot device that creates tension and suspense.
The story of ‘Dracula,’ however, maintains a measure of realism due to the epistolary, journalistic narrative structure. The narration is advanced by the careful journal entries of rational individuals, the innocent letters of naïve friends, newspaper articles, and even ship logs. This makes the story seem quite plausible.
Bran Stocker also employs certain tropes and imageries to spice his narration. There is a deliberate use of contrast; the strange and eccentric Scandinavia contrasted with the order and familiarity of England; the innocence and naiveté of Lucy and Mina contrasted with the perversion and evil of Dracula and the turned Lucy; the hustle and bustle of London contrasted with the quiet, isolated Whitby town. Stoker also draws from Christian theology and features, especially the trope of an unheeded prophet (Old Swales), the demonic slave of an evil master (Reinfeld and Dracula), and the efficacy of holy items like Wafers and the cross against evil, among others.
Analysis of Symbols in ‘Dracula‘
The cross represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ- an event that redeems the Christian faithful from their sins and offers a path to Salvation. The cross has since assumed protective functions and connotations in Christendom. It offers both offensive and defensive powers against evil, and that is exactly the intent towards which it is employed in ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker. The Cross is a symbol of salvation. It is what prevents Dracula from attacking Jonathan when he invited Dracula’s bloodlust after accidentally cutting himself while shaving. The cross is part of the protective and weaponized instruments- alongside holy wafers and garlic- that the protagonists use against Dracula, which gave them a fighting chance against his seeming invincibility. In the end, the cross represents the power of Christ, making clear Dracula’s role as a Devil of some sort.
Coffins ordinarily represent the finality of death. But in ‘Dracula‘, there is no finality about them. The dead do not seem to stay dead, so Coffins assume a certain diabolic vitality that represents the continued aliveness of vampires. It represents the transformation from pure, innocent life to undead, stopping short of final expiration. So while coffins do not represent the finality of death, they represent the death of innocence and purity and the corruption of or infiltration of lust and evil. Lucy dies a pure soul and awakens a terrorizer who has lost every speck of her humanity. It is clear that it is not Lucy who wakes, but something else entirely. This new being has to be put away for Lucy’s pure soul to have rest.
Transylvania represents the exotic and the strange. For Stoker, it is important Vampirism is not native to England but is instead imported from some far away, exotic place. The little-known heartlands and far reaches of Transylvania, with their strange people and customs happen to fit the bill for Stoker. So it so happens that evil would come from far away Scandinavia to try and corrupt innocent England and that it would be brave, resourceful, intelligent, and above all, innocent Englishmen (plus an American and a Dutchman) who would combat it.
What are the major themes in ‘Dracula?‘
Some of the important themes in Dracula are brotherhood, modernity, the tangibility of the soul, and religion, among others.
What is the key message of ‘Dracula?’
Open-mindedness. It pays to be open-minded about every possibility and not totally discount any idea because they seem ridiculous or superstitious.
What does Dracula symbolize?
Dracula symbolizes the victorian fears over racial contamination, scientific ascendancy at the expense of religion, sexual expression, and possible invasion