Essay, Pages 7 (1703 words)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula sheds light on the transition of the nineteenth century away from traditional beliefs and into more modern perspectives. The movement toward the “New Woman” and hints of religion are frequently referenced in the novel, which brings attention to the development of the era. In Stoker’s novel, he uses Mina Murray and Lucy Westerna to represent the development of traditional gender roles of women in the nineteenth century. By doing so, Stoker is also able to address the religious beliefs of the era by utilizing Christianity, symbols of Catholicism, and blood through Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, and Lucy Westerna.
Stoker introduces the theme of gender roles in his novel primarily through the characters of Mina Murray and Lucy Westerna. In the novel, both characters are introduced as the ideal Victorian woman by fulfilling the role of the “Angel in the House”, the set standard of women throughout the nineteenth century. The traditional role of the “Angel in the House” included,” Her main mission…to serve others with a complete moral superiority and integrity…to be regarded as a lady, it was essential that she follow the norms and manners inflicted upon her by the society… regardless of her origins, a woman was always considered secondary both in the family and society.
”(Yildirim). Stoker utilized the Victorian social pyramid to accurately depict what behavior an average woman in the nineteenth century would consist of, thus playing into the set gender role of women. When Mina Murray begins journaling, she mentions that she is learning how to write for her soon-to-be husband, Jonathan Harker.
By stating that she is beginning to journal for her husband, Mina is reflecting the traditional role of women in the nineteenth century because,” The traditional belief was that tenderness and simplicity were the basic features of a woman…under the complete autonomy of men.” (Yildirim).
Additionally, at towards the end of the novel when Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, and Van Helsing are going to kill Dracula, they form a plan to leave Mina out of the battle, even though it was her idea that lead them to Dracula. The exclusion of Mina reinforces the stereotype that,” The only career that was deemed as appropriate for a woman was marriage… No other intellectual activity was required or expected from a Victorian woman…” (Yildrim). Furthermore, after Van Helsing touched Mina’s forehead with holy water, Mina’s forehead burns and turns red, which leaves her feeling unholy. This moment is significant because it solidifies the battle that the men are going to endure in order for Mina to become unpolluted and virtuous which means that she is forced to revert to her initial “Angel in the House” role. Unfortunately in Victorian society, “A woman’s virtues received praise as long as she conformed to the prescribed roles of a loving and loyal servant for her husband and children.”, thus limiting the growth Mina had made as a writer and as a woman after acknowledging her repressed intelligence and desires (Yildirim).
Lucy Westerna can also be found embodying the “Angel in the House” gender role. Stoker utilizes Lucy to shed light on how the traditionalist role of women in the nineteenth century has also affected them in regard to marriage. Lucy Westerna is introduced in the novel as Mina Murray’s best friend who has the dilemma of picking her husband from multiple suitors. As the traditional “Angel in the House”, Lucy acts as, “…as the symbol of femininity, submission, emotion, and dependence.” (Yildirim). Lucy’s frantic worry of choosing an acceptable suitor demonstrates that “Love actually had little or nothing to do in the majority of matrimonies that took place… Women did not have any say in the marriage. They were forced to marry because there were no other options… They were urged to find a suitable partner and get married as soon as possible.” (Yilidrim). This quote shows that because Lucy is repressed by traditional standards of the Victorian era, she finds herself without a career, education, and completely dependent on finding a husband who will enable her to continue to fulfill the “Angel in the House” role that is expected of her.
Stoker also demonstrates a temporary shift away from the traditional “Angel in the House” role for women and into the modern role of the “New Woman”. During the nineteenth century, “…productive labor shifted from the home to the factory…men, acting on premodern conceptions of men’s and women’s responsibilities, increasingly sought outside employment.”, which resulted in a shift of women rejecting the life of a house-wife (Tylor). Although Mina does exemplify “Angel in the House” tendencies at the beginning of the book, Stoker does give Mina the occupation of an assistant schoolmistress, which is something that an “Angel in the House” woman would not normally have as a responsibility. The modern, “New Woman” inside Mina has a career, which leads her to be less dependent on Jonathan Harker.
Furthermore, although Lucy Westerna also presented traditional values when she was picking a suitor to marry, while writing to Mina, Lucy mentions the feelings of her desire to have more than one suitor. Polygamy was not openly practiced in the nineteenth century, so it was odd of a traditional woman in that time period to express repressed desires of an unspoken practice. In fact, Stoker furthers the expression of repressed sexual desires when Lucy and Mina undergo vampirism. When both Mina and Lucy begins to undergo their vampirism, they become very flirtatious and start acknowledging their sexual desires that they have repressed. Stoker uses vampirism as a, “… dominant form with sexual menace or the dreadful perception of sexual perversity.” (Kwan-Wai Yu). Furthermore, as Mina succumbs to Dracula through her vampirism, her writing begins to become a direct reflection of her beginning to express herself because, “Vampirism… threatens through subverting proper gender definitions and behavioral expectations.”, which contrasts against the traditional role of the “Angel in the House”, therefore making a shift towards the “New Woman”, by becoming more acquainted and expressive of internal desires (Kwan-Wai Yu).
By addressing the progression of gender roles of women in the nineteenth century, Stoker is able to introduce the theme of religion in the novel. Stoker uses prominent symbols found in Christianity such as the crucifix, blood, and holy water in the novel as well as characterizes Count Dracula as a demonic, Satan-like character.
The nineteenth century was the start of progression from traditional views, thus leading to an influx of people,” … ‘consciously and deliberately rejecting Christianity…”, which is demonstrated in the novel through vampirism (Ungureanu). Although nineteenth-century England was primarily composed of people of Protestant Christians, Stoker references Catholicism in the novel through characters such as, “Aside from the Catholic Abraham Van Helsing, those battling the count are Protestants.” (Bowles), and can also be demonstrated by Stoker’s frequent references to crucifixes throughout the novel. Stoker first references the crucifix when Johnathan Harker receives a crucifix from the innkeeper’s wife before he is about to leave for Dracula’s castle. Lucy Westerna also receives a crucifix as treatment whenever Dr. Van Helsing begins to suspect her sudden illness, pale complexion, and pin-prick dots on her neck are the result of a vampire.
Additionally, Stoker utilizes blood in the novel as a reference to Christianity. In Christianity, Christ’s blood is represented by red wine during the ritual of Communion. Communion is the ritual in which Christ’s sacrifice is celebrated by ingesting a communion wafer and red wine, which is meant to signify Christ’s flesh and blood, serve as a reminder of his sacrifice, and to remember immortal life after death. An example of this in the novel is when Renefield repeats the phrase, “The blood is the life!”, which can be seen as a reference to these Christian beliefs. Furthermore, when Dracula ingests blood, it provides him immortality as well, and it’s important to note that during communion, it is the holy “consumption” of blood, while Dracula’s consumption of blood is unholy. Additionally, Stoker also uses Dracula in the novel to represent a demonic, Satan-like character with fiery red eyes who is able to damn souls by turning people into vampires. This further explains why Dracula’s consumption of blood is unholy and results in damnation, as compared to the faithfulness and salvation of communion.
Stoker’s presentation of gender roles of women and religion in the novel is effective because it provides insight into the views of the progression of the nineteenth century. Stoker references controversial topics that were occurring during the creation of his novel and sheds light on how the nineteenth century is changing. For the first time during this era, women are beginning to reject the “Angel in the House” stereotype of the ideal Victorian woman and are beginning to seek work to break away from the traditional expectations of a housewife. Stoker’s usage of Mina Murray and Lucy Westerna demonstrates how this movement affected different women of different social class, as well as showcase how each woman was able to align with her repressed desires and enabled through vampirism to express desires that are otherwise unaccepted openly in Victorian society. In the novel, Dracula feeds off of Johnathan Harker, Lucy Westerna, and Mina Murray, yet is only able to transform Lucy Westerna and Mina Murray.
By undergoing vampirism, Lucy Westerna and Mina Murray were able to become the “New Woman” because of their ability to address and express their repressed desires. By doing this, Stoker is again able to bring light to how expression for women is unaccepted in Victorian society as compared to men, thus resulting in Mina Murray and Lucy Westerna succumbing to Dracula, and Johnathan Harker remaining human. By doing so, Stoker was also able to address the religious beliefs of the era by referencing Christianity. Stoker utilized Dracula as a symbol of corruption, greed, and unholy. Dracula corrupted the characters in the novel by the greed of self-fulfillment by sucking their blood, which in turn made them unholy. This reference can be connected to the corruption of people in society due to greed, which makes them stray away from God. By making this connection, Stoker is able to express his feelings about what struggles he views in society as the nineteenth century progresses.