Back To Course11th Grade English: Tutoring Solution
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Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.
I'm guessing you probably know this guy. But, there's a lot more to the story of Count Dracula than just one undead aristocrat biting people and making terrible cloak-related fashion choices! In this lesson, we'll go over the main characters in Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, and how they relate to the main themes of the novel.
First, we'll go over a few themes so you know what to look for. The novel Dracula is part of a genre called Gothic fiction, which explores the breakdown of social order, control, and scientific understanding. In Dracula specifically, the villain has supernatural powers that threaten science as a way to understand the world. The heroes defeat Count Dracula by combining modern science with knowledge of vampire legends, which restores order to society.
The novel also explores the breakdown of social control through sex. In Victorian society, social order rested on the position of women as subservient and politically powerless. Female sexuality threatened this power structure because it was seen as a way for women to get power over men and also as an irrational force that could undermine science and rationality. In the novel Dracula, vampire bites metaphorically represent sex. The sexual control of men over women is first threatened and then regained at the end, restoring male authority and social order.
Now let's move on to the characters and how they fit into these themes.
The main villain of the novel is Dracula himself. Dracula is a vampire, hundreds of years old, with supernatural powers and weaknesses. He's extremely physically strong, he can shape-shift into several different forms, he has hypnotic abilities, and he can control nocturnal animals. And of course, he can bite other people and turn them into vampires as well. But vampirism also comes with its downsides: Dracula can't handle running water, garlic, crucifixes, and holy water. He'll die if he's exposed to the sun, and he has to be invited into a human home before he can enter.
Thematically, Dracula's supernatural powers and mysterious bites represent a threat to medical science because nobody can figure them out or understand why they make people sick. Dracula himself is also portrayed as a kind of sexual predator, with biting as a metaphor for sex. Accordingly, Dracula threatens to destabilize science and sexual decency, and his death at the end restores social order and rationality.
Dracula's main motivation in the novel is his desire to move from Transylvania to London. He wants to be closer to modern society, but as a vampire, it's hard for him to travel, and he's limited by the need to rest near his native Transylvanian soil. In the story, he tries to solve these problems by buying some land in London and filling it in with Transylvanian dirt, which is how he runs into our heroes.
Now let's take a look at the good guys:
Jonathan Harker is a young British lawyer who ends up involved in Dracula's attempt to move to London. He's the one who discovers Dracula's true nature as a vampire, and he leads the group of heroes who join together to stop the vampire.
Van Helsing is an older scientist and professor who plays the experienced advisor to the other heroes. He's first called in to save another character, Lucy Westenra, from a mysterious illness that turns out to be Count Dracula draining her blood. He's done his homework on vampire legends, but he's also a modern scientist, and he combines the two areas to help the team defeat Dracula. This ties into the theme of the vampire as a threat to social order and scientific rationality; by defeating Dracula with science, Van Helsing helps restore the proper order of things.
There are also two women in the group fighting Dracula, Mina and Lucy.
Mina Murray, later Mina Harker, is Jonathan's fiancée and later his wife. As a character, she's supportive and nurturing. She helps Jonathan do research, nurses him when he gets sick, and provides emotional support for the group. Dracula attempts to turn her into a vampire, but doesn't succeed.
Lucy Westenra is Mina's friend. Where Mina represents a 'good' Victorian woman, Lucy is a 'bad' one. Lucy's character revolves around her beauty and sexuality, which make her unacceptably powerful. This is drawn out even further in the novel when she becomes a vampire. Dracula's bites already work as a metaphor for sex, which makes her 'bad' for having metaphorical sex outside of marriage. Then as a result of the biting, she becomes a vampire herself, which gives her supernatural power and amplifies her appetite for sex and for blood, tying together female sexual desire with female power as something monstrous and disgusting.
As the 'bad girl' in the story, Lucy has to be punished for threatening the social order, and she's eventually killed by her own fiancé. The vampire aspect of the story is a way to dramatize the threat of female sexuality and make it even more compelling, while ultimately eliminating the threat as part of the happy ending.
Three other minor characters are also important to know:
John Seward runs an insane asylum and eventually ends up involved in the fight against Dracula. One of his patients, a man named Renfield, is obsessed with eating smaller animals to get their life force, and studying Renfield's behavior gives Seward clues that he can use to help fight Dracula. As a doctor, Seward is also important for the triumph of science over Dracula.
Arthur Holmwood is Lucy's fiancé while Lucy is alive. He tries to save her from vampirism, but when it's obvious that she has to die, he is the one who kills her. Having Lucy's own fiancé drive the stake into her heart emphasizes the theme of men regaining sexual control over women.
Quincey Morris is an American who proposes to Lucy. Lucy turns him down, but he stays with the group and tries to save her. Later, Quincey ends up helping Jonathan Harker finally kill Dracula.
All three of these men propose to Lucy in the novel, emphasizing her unacceptable level of sexual power. They're also friends with each other, even after Lucy picks Arthur over the other two.
In this lesson, you got an overview of the characters in Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. In the book, Jonathan Harker, his fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and their older advisor Professor Van Helsing fight the undead vampire, Count Dracula. Van Helsing and John Seward represent the forces of science that defeat Dracula, and Lucy exemplifies the woman who is too sexual and too powerful, is turned into a vampire, and eventually has to die to preserve the social order. The heroes of the novel are assisted by three minor characters: John Seward, who runs an insane asylum; Arthur Holmwood, Lucy's fiancé; and Quincey Morris, an American from Texas.
These characters all tie into the themes of Dracula as a Gothic novel. Gothic novels explore the breakdown of reason, science, and control over bodies and minds. Dracula is dangerous to society because he poses a threat to scientific rationality and sexual control, particularly through the sexual connotations of blood-drinking and biting. His defeat at the end of the novel restores the scientific, male-dominated social order.
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Back To Course11th Grade English: Tutoring Solution
19 chapters | 218 lessons