65. Dracula, Part 2

In the previous post we saw how aspects of Stoker’s Dracula can be interpreted through the psychoanalytic lens. This led us to consider symbols of unconscious drives, fears, wishes, and defense mechanisms. We also saw how sadism, masochism, and repression might be exemplified in the behavior of Dracula, his victims, and his hunters. These observations about repression can move us in the direction of political interpretations. For Dracula, with all his outlandish, dangerous, and foreign traits, can be interpreted as the demonized other.  He is the stranger who comes to threaten the boundaries of self and society.  The only way to deal with dangerous strangers is to murder them lest they murder you or, what is worse, turn your wives into the very kinds of women you want yet fear. So Dracula’s journey to London can represent an invasion that our xenophobia makes possible.  But, as we have seen above, we may also want to be invaded and thus the phobia is mixed with fascination as well. One can also read Dracula politically as an aristocrat from a long, noble family who comes down from his castle to feed off the common person for his (and his family’s) continued well-being and immortality This notion of class war might be expanded into a war between the ways of superstition—represented by Dracula with his occult powers listed above—and the ways of Christianity—represented by all the explicit Christian symbolism. The war may also be between the old ways superstition and the new ways of modern society and science represented by England’s industry, Darwinian evolution, and utilitarian morality. It is important to note that Dracula includes some suggestions about how to act in a war.  One suggestion is simple to grasp but hard to do: keep an open mind.  This open-mindedness is exemplified in Van Helsing’s character who says to Dr. Seward: “My thesis is this: I want you to believe.”  Seward replies: “To believe what?”  Van Helsing replies with an interesting reference to Mark Twain:

“To believe in things that you cannot.  Let me illustrate.  I heard once of an American who so defined faith: “that which enables us to believe things which we know to be untrue”.  For one, I follow that man.  He meant that we should have an open mind, and not let a little bit of truth check the rush of a big truth, like a small rock does a railway truck. We get the small truth first. Good!  We keep him, and we value him; but all the same we must not let him think himself all the truth in the universe.” [1]

Van Helsing, despite his immense scientific knowledge, is aware of, and open to reconsidering, the so-called myths of the past. His open mind enables him to transverse both old and new worlds.  Moreover, his open mindedness gets others to open their minds and, as a result, they can accomplish things based on new knowledge. Once this angle is emphasized, the novel is less about a variety of political conflicts and more about how to overcome them to a large extent using all the ideas at our disposal.  Of course, to succeed we will also need our own strength of character, other people, and, in accordance with the novel, God.  The characters dramatically illustrate these other factors in their exceptional efforts to find and destroy Dracula. So the novel makes a set of suggestions about dealing with the varieties of conflict it so vividly depicts.

Go here for part three…

[1] Dracula (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003), p. 208.

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