Texts such as the novel Dracula, and the film Interview with the Vampire, are often shaped by the values and attitudes within society at the particular time in which it was created. As a result, the context plays a major role in the construction of a text. In Dracula, a novel in epistolary format set and published in 1897 by Bram Stoker, not only do the concepts of sexuality, religion, family, technology, class and gender roles reflect the way they were viewed in the Victorian era, but the actual form of the text itself, a long novel in a book form, mirrors the style of Victorian texts due to the limited technology available.
Similarly, in the film Interview with the Vampire directed by Neil Jordan, the different and changing concepts of religion, sexuality, class, family and gender roles from the four different contexts; the 1791 slave period, the 1870s in France, the 1980s in America and the 1994 context, are reflected in the film in a DVD format. In Dracula, the representation of woman as belittled and with limited roles mirrors the rigid expectations of the Victorian era. During the 1800s, women were confined to narrow gender roles, as represented by the virgin/whore dichotomy substantiated through two of Dracula’s key characters, Mina and Lucy.
The figure of Mina displays the innocence, loyalty and purity expected from women of the time: “she is one of Gods women… ” (P. 226), whilst Lucy’s character illustrated the non-virtuous figure as she appears as flirtatious: “you will think me a horrid flirt… ” (P. 70), and gives us the subtle impression that she has a hidden desire to break out of the social constraints of the Victorian period: “why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all the trouble? ”(P. 70). Due to Lucy’s desire to break out, she must be punished in order to restore Victorian standards: “Arthur took the stake and the hammer… hen he struck with all his might… there, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing… ” (P. 259/60).
This use of imagery implies that Arthur returns Lucy to a state of purity, passivity and innocence, as well as signifies the power and dominance males had over females at this particular time due to the patriarchal tendencies and views of the Victorian society. The actions of Dracula constantly using his powers to fulfil his desires also symbolizes this male dominance and superiority over women: “his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom… terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten’s nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink. ” (P. 340) Stocker uses strong imagery to evoke this. Comparably, in Interview with the Vampire, the positioning of an African American woman as a maid, as exemplified by the close up shot of Yvette’s hand clearing away Louis’ plate, reflects the gender roles in the 1800s slavery period. During this period, white men had great power over their African American slaves. As a result, many took advantage of them.
The panning camera shot progressing up Yvette’s body from Louis point of view reflects the temptation many men endured to satisfy their sexual urges. In this case, Louis could not resist and took a bite, symbolizing penetration. The extreme close up shot of Yvette’s face exposes the pain and suffering many belittled African American women experienced, whilst the act of Louis putting his hand over her mouth and killing her due to her screaming symbolizes the concern of other people becoming knowledgeable about such a dirty action of a prosperous, well respected white man.
Conversely, the involvement of two men, Louis and Lestat, in the growth of Claudia’s vampirism reflects the contemporary context of the increasing role of males in society as well as in their children’s life: “you became my mother, and my father… ”. The freely expressed conversation between Yvette and Louis also mirrors the contemporary context, as back in the 1800s, a slave would never talk to their master without been spoken to first.
In Dracula, the constant mentioning of religious phrases and religious symbols, such as the crucifix and wafer indicates the importance of religion in the Victorian culture even though the introduction of various forms technology began to change this. This change in Victorian values is represented by the conflict between Dracula and the four men; Jonathan, Quincey, Dr. Seward and Dr. Van Helsing. The character of Dracula symbolizes the changes commencing, whilst the men symbolize Victorian sensibilities- belief in the power of God:“The Professor stood up and, after laying his golden crucifix on the table…
Dr. Helsing went on… ”but we, too, are not without strength”… ” (P. 286). This battle between good and evil ends with the defeat of Dracula, allowing the return of the important ideals of the Victorian culture: “after all, these things- traditions… are everything… ” (P. 287) The importance of religion and the idea of the vulnerability to evil of those not religious in the Victorian era is emphasised when an old women offers a crucifix to Jonathan after learning he was going to meet Count Dracula: “she then rose and dried her eyes, and taking a crucifix from her neck offered it to me… (P. 6). Throughout the text, the demonic figure of Dracula is conveyed to be the opposite of Christ as exemplified when he creates “one of the greatest and suddenest storms… ” (P. 91) to aid his arrival into the harbor. This is the complete opposite to the act of Jesus quietening the storm when he was at sea with his disciples.
Similarly to Dracula, the representation of religion in Interview with the Vampire also reflects the way it was viewed its various contexts. The close up shot of Armade saying “I know nothing of God, or the Devil… illustrates how the belief and understanding of religion has significantly dropped in the 1994 contemporary context. The mid shot of Louis saying “actually I’m quite fond of looking at crucifixes” elucidates the lack of power religion has in today’s society. The practising of Voodoo as shown in a mid shot of the African Americans waving dolls near a fire accompanied by yelling and chanting, symbolizes the importance of religion and warning off evil during the slave trade in a still highly religious society.
Likewise, the use of a religious symbol as shown the mid shot of Armade holding the young girl’s arm up in a similar way to Jesus on the cross whilst performing on stage, is used to signify that death and the resurrection, though as a vampire, is about to occur. In Dracula, the exemplification of sexuality reflects the controversial topics of the rigid Victorian era. During this period, women were belittled and suppressed. If a woman was to be sexually assertive, it was deeply frowned upon by society as there was a great emphasis on the importance of encouraging chastity and innocence of ladies.
At the commencement of the novel Lucy is evidently a sexual women: “My dear Mina, why are men so noble when we are so little worthy of them? ” (P. 70), however her full expression of sexuality is released when she is transformed into a vampire: “Come to me Arthur… my arms are hungry for you. Come and we can rest together… ”. As aforementioned, punishing Lucy for being sexually forward will restore Victorian order and put her back in her rightful place: “She is not a grinning devil now- not anymore a foul thing for all eternity… ” (P. 261).
During the Victorian period, homosexuality was considered a serious matter, thought to be evil and wrong, and was often punished by time in jail or even death. In Dracula, there are many metaphoric references to homosexuality, the first incident being when Jonathan cuts his cheek shaving: “I felt a hand on my shoulder… the man was close to me… the cut bled a little… his eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat… ” (P. 30). This sees Dracula tempted to take a bite, therefore symbolizing the temptation of penetration.
Analogously to Dracula, the film Interview with the Vampire also conveys the sexual attitudes of its various contexts. The close up shot showing the homoerotic tensions between Louis and Armade accompanied by emotional classical music reflects the 1990s context in which people were beginning to openly express their homosexuality during the Gay Rights Movement. During this period, many gay couples also began to adopt with the intention of creating a family. This is evoked in the novel when Lestat revives Claudia and turns her into a vampire: “you’re mine and Louis’ daughter now… ”, with the purpose of creating “one happy family… . During the 18th century in America, the discussion and about sexuality and the act of kissing in public was beginning to be socially accepted as symbolized by the mid shot of Louis and Lestat kissing a girl on a chair whilst in the public’s view. Through analysing the novel Dracula and the film Interview with the Vampire, it is evident that the context plays a major role in the construction of a text. Many of the social meanings of a text reflect not only the values and attitudes of society at a particular time, but also the concerns and fears as exemplified through the studied texts.
Courtney from Study Moose
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