Dracula Essay, Research Paper
The aspect of Dracula that makes it so frightening, as opposed to contemporary horror, is that of the strong persona of Count Dracula himself. For all of the terror he inspires, The Count has few appearances in the novel, instead using his mystique to frighten the reader. While nearly all current books and films in the horror genre focus on the aspects of violence and shock appeal, Dracula uses the element of suspense to captivate the reader. By using the element of fear, Bram Stoker keeps the reader turning the pages in anticipation of the next series of terrifying events to occur.
One of the major factors in the horror of Dracula is that so much of Count Dracula’s actions are centered around the carnal and bestial, desires which are considered unnatural for humans. The Count is purely carnal and animal in nature, making him so terrifying for the men and women that become ensnared in his bloodlust. An example of The Count’s animalistic traits can be found in his appearance. With his sharp canine teeth and rather hairy body, The Count certainly gives the impression of being something other than human. As stated in Jonathan Harker’s journal, “…lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely everywhere else; The mouth… was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; The ears were pale, and the tops extremely pointed…” (page 18). This is clearly not a man, but some sort of beast in a human form. This unnatural being subconsciously horrifies the reader, as it is not clear what to make of Dracula, whether he is a man or a beast. By leaving this element of mystery to the character of The Count, the reader is left with a feeling of suspense. This feeling is often lost in contemporary horror/gothic literature and film, which often shows the evil being in all of its horrific glory. By leaving these psychological aspects of fear and suspense, Bram Stoker writes a truly classic gothic novel.
Another of the key factors of the psychological terror in the novel is that of the sexuality of the vampire. Sex was one of the greatest taboos of Bram Stoker’s time, even more so than it is now. Stoker, a highly religious man and an advocate for censorship, used this to his advantage when writing Dracula. This connection is seen early in the novel, when Jonathan Harker is attacked by three beautiful female vampires in Dracula’s castle. Harker writes in his journal that, “The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating.” (page 39). This kind of dominant female sexuality is usually both adored and feared by men, as Harker next states: “There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive…” (page 39). This forceful female sexuality is also seen later in the novel, when Lucy Westrena is transformed into a vampiress, and attempts to take her husband Arthur to the grave with her on a few occasions. One such occasion occurs when Lucy is on her “death-bed” and says, “Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you could come! Kiss me!” (pages 168-169). Lucy’s “kiss” would have meant Arthur’s end, had Dr. Van Helsing not stopped it. However, the both the sexuality and the horror of Dracula is often lost in gruesome contemporary novels. Recent movies such as The Hunger and Francis Ford Coppala’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula are little more than lesbian vampire films with notable casts. A similar comparison can be made with Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, which are currently praised as great examples of gothic horror novels. Similar to the aforementioned films, these and other contemporary gothic novels lose the sensuality of Dracula.
Finally, possibly the most terrifying aspect of Dracula is The Count’s mocking of Christianity. In Bram Stoker’s puritanical society, Dracula represents a character almost like Lucifer incarnate. In his parody of Christ, Dracula says, “Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you… He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (page 304). Indeed, Dracula seems to be a total opposite of Christ and Christian values, completely base and carnal in his desires, and truly some sort of beast from hell. However, Christianity is the clear victor in this novel, as one of the most powerful devices against The Count is a cross, proving that faith and good conquer over evil.
Dracula is truly a classic gothic horror novel of the best kind. Instead of focusing on the violent aspects that pervert most writing in the genre, Dracula uses the elements of fear and suspense. Using man’s natural fear of the sexually unknown, Bram Stoker psychologically terrorizes the reader with dominant female characters that are dangerous threats to the men of the novel. By using inverse Christian symbolism, Dracula is shown as being truly evil, but is able to be subdued by Christianity and faith. These elements separate Dracula from contemporary gothic fiction, and simultaneously terrify the reader much more so than any current forms of the horror genre. Ultimately, Dracula will always be the standard that gothic fiction writers will always strive for, but few will achieve.