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Gothic Elements & Themes in Dracula

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  • 0:03 Gothic Genre
  • 1:20 Settings & Motifs
  • 3:20 Themes
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

This lesson explores the Gothic motifs and themes present in Bram Stoker's classic novel ''Dracula.'' Gothic fiction is a recognized genre of literature featuring mystery, the supernatural, and fear and often has common elements and themes.

Gothic Genre

Literature scholar Alan Bissett, in his book Damage Land: New Scottish Gothic Fiction, says that the Gothic is ''that which is going on beneath the world, that which we'd rather ignore, thank you very much, if it's alright with you.'' (p.4) We all suspect that there are elements of life and death lurking beneath our ordinary, everyday lives. When, in narrative form, literature associated with the Gothic genre reveals some of those hidden elements.

The popularity of the Gothic genre really began with Horace Walpole, whose The Castle of Otranto (1764) contains all the elements that constitute the Gothic form that we still recognize today. In the Gothic genre, we find the language of heightened emotion and terror; no one in a Gothic novel is ever truly calm and content for long. Here is an example from the first chapter of Walpole's story: The servant ''came running back breathless, in a frantic manner, his eyes staring, and foaming at the mouth. He said nothing but pointed to the court. The company were struck with terror and amazement.'' If you've read Dracula by Bram Stoker, you're most likely familiar with this style of intense emotions and panic.

Settings & Motifs

Some elements introduced by Walpole continue to feature in Gothic fiction and film to this day. You've most likely experienced some of them in popular horror films. The setting is usually some place dark and unknown to the protagonist, like an old, abandoned house or a spooky castle.

For example, when Jonathan Harker. one of the main protagonists in Stoker's novel, arrives at Dracula's ancestral castle in Transylvania, he immediately feels the weight of suspense and fear hanging over the place. Other typical settings that are used in Dracula include the graveyard and the insane asylum. Any atmosphere that feels unknown and out of the ordinary for the average reader (and the normal characters) works well in a Gothic novel.

The damsel in distress is a common motif found in the Gothic genre. Remember that at the time the Gothic novel became popular, both men and women assumed that females were weaker and more vulnerable than men. The classic example is Lucy Westenra, the most pure and innocent of young girls, who becomes a member of the undead at the hands (and teeth) of the evil Count Dracula. Though Mina Harker is quite capable and bold for Stoker's day, she, too, is at risk for corruption.

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