The Classic Gothic Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a true Gothic novel that belongs on any gothic literature course. Focusing in on the recurring themes, characters and settings used throughout the novel one sees how Dracula has set the standard for Gothic literature today.
The theme in Dracula is that classic Gothic theme of the epic battle of good versus evil. In this novel this is expressed in a very direct way, there is never any question as to who is right and who is wrong. As it can be clearly seen the protagonists on the side of good have many endearing qualities while the antagonists on the side of evil have a pact with Lucifer and are of the purest evil.
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The main antagonist in this story, Dracula, has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and his thoughts or emotions are never revealed to us. Dracula never writes a journal or a log as the other characters do so he is never humanized and is always seen as an evil creature with wicked and inhumane motives. Furthermore, Dracula never delivers a final statement before his death to rationalize his actions. Unlike the final scene in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where Frankenstein’s monster delivers a final statement of intent, Dracula dies quietly and we are left guessing as to the motives and drives that were responsible for his actions. (One speculates as to whether Stoker omitted this final statement purposely or if he was pushed by other concerns that forced him to end the novel hurriedly.)
The protagonists on the other hand have many endearing qualities that form an image of humanity that is very positive and good. Throughout the novel the protagonists are constantly performing selfless deeds. Consider how Lord Godalming and Quincy Morris gladly donate their wealth to the cause of the vampire chase even though they no longer had any obligation to do so and act without selfish motive. Consider as well how the four men in the story risk their lives for that of Mina’s. Bram Stoker reveals his attitude towards the nature of Victorian society by making the evil side in this novel very seductive. Even though the side of good is well aware of the harm the evil side can cause, the seductiveness of the evil side tempts our protagonists on many occasions. For example when Van Helsing has trouble bringing himself to stake the three women because of their physical beauty and when Jonathan Harker nearly allows himself to be bitten by one of the women because of how physically attracted he is to her. “I felt in my heart some wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.” Stoker comments on the nature of Victorian society by showing how unacceptable it was to give in to those primal desires. This relates to the struggle between good and evil between our heroes of Victorian society and the devilish vampires.
Vampires are in control of those evil, primal desires in the story and good people like Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing must fight off these desires lest they lose their clean and pure Victorian existences. The characters in Dracula are very Gothic. Dracula is the most important antagonist in the novel. Dracula is a very if not the most interesting Gothic character ever created. He like all vampires casts no shadow and possesses no reflection. Dracula cannot die by the mere passing of time for he is immortal.
Dracula will continue to be immortal as long as he has a supply of human blood to feed on. Dracula possesses the strength of many men and can control the mist with his mind. He can shrink down to the size of elemental dust and has the ability to transform into many different creatures. As well he has the ability to see clearly on the darkest of nights. Dracula in his most common form appears to be a tall thin man with dark hair, red lips and sharp white teeth. While being very cunning Dracula is said to have a child’s brain for he is still discovering what the extent of his powers are. From his actions and speeches you learn that he is centuries old and of the evilest intent. Dracula’s only goal is to drink the blood of the innocent and gain control of larger territories for himself. Not very much can be learned from this character for he does not make a journal or a log of any kind and has very few speeches. Although he is a very important gothic character he is very flat and static showing no growth in any way from beginning to end of the novel. Van Helsing is the shinning light against the dark Gothic evil of Dracula. Van Helsing is the most important protagonist for he is the leader of our heroes and is a moral center throughout the novel. He is an aged man gifted with super human intelligence and incredible foresight. Van Helsing is highly educated in many fields including medicine, religion, psychology and law. Stoker created Van Helsing to be the epitome of the scientific matter-of-fact mind of the nineteenth century. Van Helsing’s only real flaw is the fact that he is socially inept, he is the kind of character who would laugh at a funeral. Van Helsing is a very dynamic character in that he learns and grows at an astonishing rate throughout the novel. An example of this is when he sees the symptoms of Lucy Westenra‘s illness. Van Helsing is very quick to make the connection between loss of blood in Lucy and blood sucking vampires. Most western people of that era could never accept into their minds the existence of vampires, “A year ago which of us would have received such a possibility, in the midst of our scientific, matter of fact nineteenth century?” .
The settings in Dracula are also very Gothic. The entire novel is characterized by eerie, desolate and mysterious settings that are the trademark of all good Gothic literature. The setting surrounding Dracula’s castle is bleak and unforgiving. It is an ancient battlefield sparsely covered with trees and snow. It seems as if the area is always stormy and many wolves inhabit the eerie forests. This uninviting setting is like a mirror into the barren soul of the demon that lives inside it. All Dracula’s homes are old and abandoned. They are dusty, smelly, ill kept and usually infested with spiders and rats. This reflects on Dracula as being very old and unclean. The rising and the setting of the sun govern the characters throughout the story. Dracula rules the night while our heroes rule the day. This is used to contrast the evil of Dracula and the goodness of our heroes. Symbols such as crosses are used throughout to give the impression of the holly battle of good versus evil. Bram Stoker is very meticulous in his attention to every detail, making sure to carefully arrange the dates of all occurrences and giving many visual descriptions. In conclusion Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a classic piece of the Gothic literature and as such deserves its place on any literature course. Due to it’s trademark themes, characters and settings it truly represents the essence of good Gothic fiction.
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