Dracula: Book Summary & Literary Analysis

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  • 0:01 Introduction to Dracula
  • 0:27 Dracula Summary
  • 3:23 Themes: Good vs. Evil
  • 4:31 Themes: The Repression…
  • 5:27 Motifs: Blood & Religion
  • 6:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

During this lesson, we will explore Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. After a summary of the events in the book, we will analyze the novel by looking at a few of its themes and motifs in closer detail. A short quiz will follow.

Introduction to Dracula

Even if you have not yet read the Gothic horror novel Dracula, you probably have heard of the character by the same name. Although Bram Stoker, an Irish author from the mid- to late-19th century, wrote his novel in 1897, his infamous main character has made a lasting impression on literature. Dracula was the first significant vampire in literature and has served as a template for all the vampires who have come after him.

Dracula Summary

Before we launch into a summary of the events in Dracula, it is important that we consider the way the novel is written. The novel is made up of various written records, including, but not limited to, letters and diary entries. A novel written in this manner is called an epistolary novel.

The novel is set in 1893, a mere four years before it was written. Personal journal entries from an English lawyer, Jonathan Harker, start off the novel. Harker travels to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania to assist him with legal business. Unfortunately for Harker, things go wrong fairly quickly. Dracula imprisons him in his castle. When he tries to sneak out, three female vampires attack Harker. Dracula saves him temporarily, but only because he needs information about England from Harker. It turns out that Dracula is planning to move. Once he knows what he wants from Harker, he leaves Harker to the mercy of the three female vampires. Harker barely escapes with his life.

Dracula travels to England on a Russian ship called the Demeter. When the ship runs aground, the crew is discovered missing. The captain's log explains that the crew slowly disappeared. The ship's recovered cargo turns out to be dirt from Transylvania. Meanwhile, in England, Dracula turns his attention to hunting down Jonathan Harker's associates. He starts secretly drinking the blood of one of Harker's female friends, Lucy Westenra. When she grows weaker, another one of their friends, Dr. John Seward, calls in Professor Abraham Van Helsing, the first person who sees Dracula for what he really is.

Helsing can tell that Lucy's blood is being drained by a vampire, but he thinks that the others will think he is crazy for suggesting it. His hesitation proves fatal: one night, Lucy is attacked by a wolf. She dies, but soon after, a newspaper reports that children are seeing a beautiful lady in the woods. Helsing knows he cannot hide the truth about Lucy any longer. He confides in her friends. Together they hunt Lucy down and stake her through the heart. This ends her vampire curse, but they cannot bring her back from the dead. After this, Jonathan Harker and his wife, Mina, join the others. They decide to kill Dracula. Dracula retaliates by feeding on Mina several times. He also forces her to drink his blood, so he can control her.

Determined to save Mina, her husband and their friends destroy Dracula's lair in England and drive him back to Transylvania. They chase Dracula back to Transylvania, where the three female vampires from earlier try to convince Mina to join them. Van Helsing hunts them down and kills them. Then they hunt down Dracula. He is in a box of dirt being delivered back to his castle. Harker cuts Dracula's throat, while his friend stabs Dracula in the heart with a knife. Dracula turns to dust, breaking his connection with Mina.

At the end of the book, it is revealed that Jonathan Harker and Mina name their first born child after the people who helped them defeat Dracula.

Themes: Good vs. Evil

As a Gothic horror novel, a critical theme in Dracula is good against evil. Dracula is an undead monster. Even though he appears to be living, he is actually dead and feeds on human blood (which is seen as a life force) to prolong his existence. His evilness is shown by the way he feeds off of the most vulnerable characters, in addition to his eerie ability to communicate with animals, such as wolves.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Harker and his friends are all undeniably good characters. They are well-educated, respectable members of society. Jonathan Harker is a lawyer, and his friends include an aristocrat, a doctor and a professor. Together they symbolize all the civilized aspects of society, such as law and order, medicine and knowledge.

Even though Jonathan Harker and his friends end up killing the vampires in the novel, the act is shown as emancipating their souls, rather than murder. For example, when they have to kill Lucy, who has become a vampire, Van Helsing suggests that Lucy's fiancé put the stake through her heart, because the act is seen as an act of love and compassion, rather than aggression.

Themes: The Repression of Female Sexuality

The model Victorian woman is sweet, kind and sexually repressed - the opposite, in other words, of the female vampire characters in the novel. The three female vampires who live in Dracula's castle are very sexually aggressive. The difference between the human women and the female vampires is most obvious through the transformation Lucy undergoes. When she is human, she is so sweet and passive that three men propose to her on the same day. But when she becomes a vampire, she becomes more physical and kisses her fiancé with an uncharacteristic assertiveness.

In addition to the female vampires being sexually aggressive, some people think that the act of penetrating the vampire's hearts with stakes is written in a sexually suggestive manner. When viewed in this light, the act of Arthur Holmwood, Lucy's fiancé, staking Lucy after she becomes a vampire could be seen as Arthur asserting his dominance over Lucy and restoring the traditional gender roles in their relationship.

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