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In Bram Stokers novel Dracula, the first chapter presents the audience with the narrator Jonathan Harker describing a sunny day is Munich, however as Mr. Harker prepares to go for a drive his coachman Johann is warned to be back before nightfall because it is Walpurgis Nacht. While on his drive Mr. Harker discovers a road that leads to an abandoned village that Johann refuses to take. Mr. Harker gives up on having Johann take him down this road and determines to travel this road on foot sending Johann home.
During his travels Mr. Harker gets caught in a storm wrought with snowfall and seeks shelter whereupon he finds himself in a graveyard facing a marble tomb that appears to be impaled with an iron spike. As the storm rages and lightning strikes the iron spike Mr. Harker is knocked unconscious, however as he regains consciousness he discovers that he is beneath a very large wolf. The wolf is chased away by a troop of soldiers who have been sent to find him at the request of Herr Delbruck, who received a letter from a man telling him to spare no expense in finding him, which was signed by Dracula (394-403).
Stoker grabs his readers’ attention by setting an environment that readers can immerse themselves in using many integral elements to construct his first chapter of Dracula. Tim O’Brien and K.M Weiland are two authors who have written advice for authors to help them construct successful novels. In his essay “The Magic Show”, Tim O’Brien touches on the three things he considers most important to writing fiction: plot, character, and mystery.
He explains how important plot is to readers and how it keeps the story moving forward. O’Brien then writes about the interaction between readers and the characters and the way that readers have a desire to know the characters as well as they know themselves. O’Brien then tell us how mystery must be at the core of a story, and how it affects the readers’ interest in the story. He gives examples of how people are never satisfied in the knowing of things, because they always want to know more. (356-60). Although O’Brien focuses on the importance of plot and character in writing fiction, Weiland has a different view on what is important to writing a successful story. In her essay “The Hook”, Weiland focuses on the first line and chapter of a novel. She gives examples of what the first chapter of a story should contain including a great opening line, setting, conflict and characters. She breaks all of these things down and gives example of what each one could look like in a novel. She also focuses on what exactly make a great first line which she refers to as a “hook” and how it is important to any novel that the hook set the tone for the entire novel. (337-42). Dracula contains many of the elements both O’Brien and Weiland feel are important to the structuring of a novel. In the first chapter of Dracula, Stoker provides a multitude of details concerning the setting at different points throughout the chapter in very poetic ways. Weiland states that “…a quick incisive intro of the setting serves not only to ground the readers in the physicality of the story, but also to hook their interest and set the stage” (339). Throughout the first chapter of Dracula there are many examples of setting presented in poetic ways. The very first line of the chapter states “When we started for our drive the sun was shining brightly on Munich, and the air was full of the joyousness of early summer” (394). This sentence give us a picturesque scene, in which we begin our journey for this chapter. As we traverse this chapter we are also transported through a valley that Harker described as “…desolation, itself” (397) and a storm that a storm rages with lightning and snow, Stoker gave great detail of this setting by using descriptions like “[e]very now and then the heavens were torn asunder by vivid lightning” (398). These depictions invoke feelings within the audience and gives them a scene they can picture in their minds which helps them become immersed in the story. Stoker introduced many scenes in his first chapter that lend themselves to the development of plot, but also construct the mystery of the story. O’Brien declares that “plot is grounded in a high-even noble-human craving to know, a craving to push into the mystery of tomorrow” (359). Stoker establishes plot in many facets throughout his first chapter by introducing us to many unknowns such as why does Johann fear Walpurgis Nacht and how “[Johann) seemed always about to tell [Mr. Harker) something the very idea of which frightened him…” (395). This statement lends itself to the development of the plot, the underlying current of the story which compels readers to asking questions, but it also enforces the mystery that is permeated throughout the entire first chapter. O’Brien stated that “…the depletion of mystery robs a story of the very quality that brings us to pursue fiction in the first place” (360). Stoker used carefully crafted scenery, and characters which influence the perceived mystery of Dracula. Johann and Herr Delbruck who fear this Walpurgis Nacht, the wolf no one will speak of, the grave of the mysterious woman with the iron spike through it and how Dracula knew Mr. Harker would need rescuing. Why was there a spike through the woman’s tomb, why are the people afraid to be out after dark on Walpurgis Nacht. These questions create a suspenseful atmosphere that entices readers to continue reading so they may find out the significance of these facts. One of the most important aspects of a novel such as Dracula besides plot and setting, are the characters within the story itself. Weiland declares that “[t]he personalities that inhabit [writers, stories are what will connect with readers” (339). In Dracula readers are introduced to a few characters such as Herr Delbruck and Johann. These characters are introduced through interactions with Mr. Harker. Herr Delbruck is the one who warns Johann and Mr. Harker not to be out after night fall and he also sends a search party for Mr. Harker later in the chapter. Johann is presented as a superstitious man who wants to avoid some unknown entity. Mr. Harker is presented as a curious and adventurous man. In comparison to how Weiland sees character, O’Brien states that “[w]hen writing or reading a work of fiction, we are seeking access to a kind of “otherness”…other souls” (358). Stoker writes Dracula in Mr. Harker’s point of view and in doing so gives the audience access to his innermost thoughts and feelings. So when Mr. Harker says “I was awed and shocked and felt the cold perceptibly grow upon me till it seemed to grip me by the heart” (398) the audience can immerse themselves into what Mr. Harker was feeling and experiencing and therefore gain that insight into another person’s self that they seek. These descriptions of the characters thoughts and feeling help readers connect to the characters and this connection leads them to wanting answers as to the fate of these characters. While reading the first chapter of Dracula I felt myself pulled in to the story and unable to put it down until the end. This is the mark of a great first chapter that is set up so perfectly to draw readers into the novel’s story. Novels are more easily understood if readers can understand exactly what is happening and being able to analyze why readers react to novels in certain ways can have a positive impact on how readers choose the novels they will read. If readers can understand what it is that draws them into a novel they may be able to find novels that will appeal to them more closely than a random novel. Knowing the analytical breakdown of a novel can also help readers gain a better understanding of what actually happened in the novels they read and lead them to think about the novels they read in a less linear context.
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