Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Dracula Analysis
Although it contains much material that might once have been considered unsuitable for young readers—which, inevitably, makes it even more appealing to them— the subject matter of Dracula is particularly relevant to adolescents. If one looks beyond the intricately gaudy appearances that Bram Stoker’s vampires present to their adversaries, to the actual effects that they have on their victims, one sees immediately that their principal function is to arouse fervent and problematic sexual desires. Jonathan Harker is utterly beguiled by Dracula’s lovely “brides,” while Lucy and Mina are changed by Dracula’s attentions from chaste Victorian maidens into slaves of passion. The passage describing Jonathan’s unconsummated seduction and the passage describing the appearance of the undead Lucy to the three men who love her are intensely erotic, displaying with remarkable intensity all the ambivalence and anxiety with which puritanical Victorians regarded matters of sexuality (especially female sexuality).
The follies of the Victorian era are far behind modern readers, who are supposed to have much more enlightened attitudes about the urgent and sometimes peculiar impulses that arise from sexual desire, but that does not mean that such feelings have been rendered unproblematic, especially to those encountering them for the first time. It is inevitable that many adolescents who feel the onset of such desire in themselves and witness its effects on their peers should feel direly apprehensive, and this apprehension provides the psychological link that makes the story of Dracula so uniquely appealing to the young.
Stoker’s decision to present the events of Dracula as a series of journal entries recorded by the major characters has two overlapping effects. The method gives the story a vital immediacy, allowing the reader to share each shock of revelation as it occurs, accumulating the pieces of the puzzle one by one. It also gives the narrative an indispensable intimacy, allowing the reader to share the puzzlement, the incredulity, and the acute sense of personal violation felt by the dutiful recorders of the series of events.
A further advantage in using several different first-person narrators is that the innocent viewpoints of Jonathan Harker and Mina Murray are counterbalanced by the more mature and better-informed narrative voices of Seward and Professor van Helsing. Although Jonathan, Mina, and Lucy are the reader’s eyes and ears for the first half of the story, Seward’s scrupulously scientific observations become dominant in the second part. When Jonathan’s journal is reintroduced into the text after a long absence, it has been transformed into the voice of a man forced by experience to become wise.
The result of this calculated tipping of the scales is that horror and incomprehension are gradually overtaken and overwhelmed by a methodical and steadfast approach to the solution of the problem. Much is made of van Helsing’s credentials as a scientist, and his attempts to combat Dracula’s depredations are defiantly pragmatic, involving blood transfusions (which were not yet established as a conventional medical treatment in 1897). Much is made, too, of the technology that the heroes can bring to bear as they pursue Dracula to his lair: The vampire’s minions have no answer to their Winchester rifles, and the blow that finally puts an end to the count is struck with a Bowie knife.
The resulting implication is perfectly clear: The monsters of superstition may be more powerful than one would wish, but they will crumble nevertheless before the combination of scientific analysis, good equipment, and constructive action. In Dracula, the battle between the products of superstition and the forces of reason is one in which the latter are equipped to win a decisive victory, an attitude that marks the novel out as a genuinely modern work. There is a certain irony in the fact that although Stoker presumably set out to demonstrate that the bogeymen of folklore no longer had the power to confound or destroy people armed with the intellectual apparatus of science and the material rewards of technology, what he actually accomplished was to invest the vampire with a new glamour far more powerful than any it had previously possessed. It is, after all, the sharply delineated and casually authoritative figure of Dracula, not the calculatedly eccentric and almost parodic character of van Helsing, that is indelibly imprinted on the imagination of the reader.