Tomorrow, or Monday, I will post a small bit of creative writing which includes notions introduced here. I've also got a poem I'm working on which I will try to post this week.
Afterward, I will do my best to discuss repressed desires, self-criticism and the never-ending struggle for truth.
Hope you can gain something from this, even if you haven't read the novel or the criticism I discuss early on. I have bolded a quote that I think deserves particular attention, so if you don't want to read the whole thing, just read that.
As observers of human nature, many authors have studied the dark and tempting voice of desire that we are taught to repress. Societal norms plaguing the Victorian era forced people to suppress this voice and in turn prompted writers to expose it, as in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde or The Picture of Dorian Gray. However, most of these stories focus on the duality of man; the dichotomy of the conscious and unconscious minds. Bram Stoker’s Dracula goes a step further by specifically identifying the “evil” we repress within ourselves through his portrayal of the vampire. Phyllis Roth explores this relationship in Suddenly Sexual Women in Dracula, demonstrating at once that Dracula embodies the repressed desires of the protagonists and is the Oedipal suppressor of these desires. This leads Roth to identify the nature of Dracula’s power, and further to indicate the aggressive persecution of female sexuality. Yet by understanding Dracula’s power, we can shield ourselves from him by considering the workings of our psyche. We will thus analyze the ways the self is constructed in Dracula, which will offer insight into the relationship between Dracula, the men, and the mothers of the group.
Few popular novels of the Victorian era are as blatantly sexual and subversive as Stoker’s, and yet readers never cease to identify with it. In her analysis, Phyllis Roth initially confirms the equation of vampirism to sexuality to later illustrate how readers may unconsciously identify with the Count. First and most striking is the contrast between the asexual human characters and the sexually aggressive vampires. Without a doubt, any sexuality expressed in the novel always relates to the vampire, and when it is described, it is shockingly explicit:
Kneeling on the near edge of the bed facing outwards was the white-clad figure of his wife. By her side stood [the Count] […] With his left hand he held both Mrs. Harker’s hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare chest which was shown by his torn-open dress. (Stoker 246-7)
Along with the sexual connotation the quote attaches to vampirism, of importance for this essay is the cruel and primal nature of the dominative act. Here, the Van Helsing group (Roth’s terminology) witnesses Dracula in an unmistakable pose of gratification, potentially jealous of his predicament. Indeed, Roth has noted that “in psychoanalytic terms, the vampirism is a disguise for greatly desired and equally strongly feared fantasies” (Roth 414). Drawing on the patriarchal and suppressive nature of vampirism demonstrated in this scene and two others, she considers the relation of Dracula and the Van Helsing group to the Oedipus complex. In this case, the former is the father figure and the latter are the children fighting for the mother, Lucy, and later Mina. Roth observes that the children – Arthur, Seward, Quincey – all fight for Lucy’s affection, and then unite to fight against Dracula to save her, though with dishonesty and betrayal amidst the entire group.
According to Roth, however, the true nature of the novel lies in the identification with Dracula and “a fantasy of matricide underlying the more obvious parricidal wishes” (Roth 415). To begin, Jonathan, Van Helsing, Seward and Holmwood are all incredibly attracted to the female vampires, and they want to express their sexuality as Dracula can. Clearly, the problem lies within; the Count is simply a projection of their repressed desires. This should be clear, as the Van Helsing group seem to take pleasure in all their sexually fulfilling, “righteous” vampire-murders – Seward even contemplates killing Lucy with “savage delight” (Stoker 188). Though these “good” characters repeal their un-Christian actions through “rituals and renunciations” (Roth 416), Roth argues their acts demand “an identification with the aggressor on the part of characters and reader alike” (Roth 416). She points out that Jonathan simply diverts the central identification of the novel with Dracula, since his narrative encloses all the others. His role as Dracula’s servant is relatively trivial for the rest of the novel, which invalidates the defense the order of the narrative provides. Since the reader’s sympathies lie with the aggressor, Roth says they are ultimately sided with Dracula.
Having established identification with the aggressor, Roth infers identification with the victimization of women. She explains that Dracula’s desire to destroy Lucy and Mina, the mothers, is mirrored by the males of the Van Helsing group. To be sure, Arthur is the one who kills his wife in a most horrific and satisfying way. Evidence for the desire of Mina’s destruction, though perhaps not as obvious as Lucy’s, is equally present. Roth cites Mina’s “uncleanness” and Van Helsing’s hostile comment about her sexual performance with Dracula. Roth also mentions that though Mina is not sexually characterized as Lucy was, she is foolishly excluded from the group by the men despite all warning signs. She is subsequently attacked by Dracula, hindered in the main by the males, hence confirming the ambivalence toward both mothers among the children.
Phyllis Roth’s conclusion is that the central plot of the story is preoccupied with female sexuality and the fear of the devouring woman. The story is predominantly masculine in that all the killing is done by males, and any female that has gained sexual power must be dealt with. Roth succinctly summarizes her arguments:
The threatening Oedipal fantasy, the regression to a primary oral obsession, the attraction and destruction of the vampires of Dracula are, then, interrelated and interdependent. What they spell out is a fusion of the memory of nursing at the mother’s breast […] which results in the conviction that the sexually desirable woman will annihilate if she is not first destroyed. The fantasy of […] matricide evokes the mythic image of the vagina dentata […] [which poses] the threat of castration to all men until the teeth are extracted by the hero. The conclusion of Dracula, the “salvation” of Mina, is equivalent to […] an “extraction” [of the teeth]: Mina will not remain the vagina dentata to threaten them all. (Roth 420)
As we have seen, the men in Dracula all become paranoid about protecting their penises. This is caused by a fear of the vagina dentata, which triggers the fear of castration by the father in early childhood. Such morbid dread is a symptom of the deep connections between parenting, sexual identity and the repression of sexual desires.
While Phyllis Roth’s analysis provides a basis for Dracula’s being and aims, it does not envision a defense the characters could use against him. Dracula is certainly an internal fear; he cannot harm us unless we invite him in. Rather, as we have discussed, Dracula is simply a projection of the repressed desires of the characters. From a Freudian perspective, these desires are a product of the pleasure principle, tucked away in the unconscious. Those with the most repressed desires succumb to vampirism the easiest, as Dracula embodies and experiences exactly what they crave. Jonathan provides a good example of this, as he seems the least masculine and thus least dominating of the males: he is dominated by women (Stoker 42), he shrieks at gunshots and he goes into hysterics (Stoker 248). Being such a passive, non-dominating partner, none of his deep sexual desires are fulfilled by his chaste wife Mina – at least, not until she performs them willingly for Dracula. This scene causes Jonathan to become fanatical in his quest for revenge – he will do anything to vindicate his manhood, fueled by his fear of inadequacy (or impotency).
Though these desires are of a sexual nature, they are only stored in their most primal essence in the unconscious. Jonathan may be jealous of many things: the kneeling position Mina is in, suggesting adoration and submission; the power exerted; his wife’s desire for Dracula’s sexual gratification. These forms of pleasure are easily satisfying, but only on a very superficial level. They reflect forms of gratification such as fame, fortune or revenge, which appeal to the little dark voice in our minds. However, though the satisfaction of unconscious desires occurs on a conscious level, it is only temporary. Such easy forms of gratification are not fulfilling, as they are inadequate replacements for the real concern; our quest for money, power, adoration, and other easily satisfying structures is simply a projection of our repressed desires. Great wealth, for instance, may be used to compensate for a lack of self-esteem or a desire for acceptance. In order to react properly to strange new things, experiences, or people (such as Dracula), we must be aware of the real motives for our feelings. The process of bringing unconscious desires to the forefront of our conscious minds is well explained by philosopher Sam Keen in To A Dancing God:
Mature awareness is possibly only when I have digested and compensated for the biases and prejudices that are the residue of my personal history. […] Each time I approach a strange object, person, or event, I have a tendency to let my present needs, past experience or expectations for the future determine what I will see. If I am to appreciate […] any datum, I must be sufficiently aware of my […] characteristic emotional distortions to bracket them long enough to welcome strangeness and novelty into my perceptual world. This discipline of […] compensating, or silencing requires sophisticated self-knowledge and courageous honesty. In order for genuine novelty to emerge, […] I must undergo a decentralization of the ego. (Keen 28)
Since Dracula’s power stems from our own fears, we must first take on a difficult process of introspection in hope of solving these problems at the root. Keen aptly names this a decentralization of the ego: by shifting the perception of our conscious mind, we can “observe” the effect of our suppressed desires, the unconscious, on our ego. Further investigation with Freudian theory says that these desires were repressed “at the instigation of the superego” (Klages 71). As such, managing our repressed desires corresponds to analyzing the proposals of the superego in order to decide what to fulfill and in which way. It is important to perceive and judge the demands of the superego for oneself, as the duties and demands of a societal authority are not always righteous. They can be subverted by the repressed desires of others, who have incentive to leverage their power for easy gain. Stoker captures the essence of this thought in a brilliant metaphor, through Seward:
In selfish men caution is as secure an armour for their foes as for themselves. What I think of on this point is, when self is the fixed point the centripetal force is balanced with the centrifugal; when duty, a cause, etc., is the fixed point, the latter force is paramount, and only accident or a series of accidents can balance it. (Stoker 62)
Stoker alludes to introversion and critical thinking in this quote, placing the self at the centre of the spinning circle of life. When we are focused on solving our internal problems to adequately perceive our external ones, the forces which distort our life are balanced with our own readiness to compensate; the circle is round. When we satisfy ourselves by means of a quest within the typically constraining societal ramifications, the circle becomes elliptical, and some aspects of our life distance themselves. In Dracula, Victorian society dictates the sexual taboo, thus preventing the protagonists from expressing themselves sexually. In their hunt for Dracula, the Van Helsing group completely forgets itself, performing the most heinous acts simply because it is not able to resist the temptation of the vampire. Hence, we must decentralize the ego and analyze the id in order to dispel the influence of our unconscious desires on the superego.
The analysis so far has not dealt seriously with the origins of these repressed desires. In this essay, we will only study the roles of the parents in this process, since it will offer direct insight into the relationship between Dracula, the mothers and the “children”. In order to fully understand the role of the father, let us first completely define the terms used so far. A young male child entering the Oedipus complex fears castration by his father, and as such represses the sexual desire for his mother to avoid angering him. This first repressed desire of the first sexual pleasure creates the superego, which serves as a reservoir of rules and moral guidelines given by authority (parents, school, etc.). His father’s anger and domination of his mother are therefore responsible for the repressed desires the child begins to accumulate. Consequently, this impairs his conscious perception of his perceivable reality (what is offered by our senses). To reiterate, this is a template for Dracula: social norms suppress the desires of the protagonists; as such, they never express sexuality and fall prey to vampiric seduction.
If the influence of the superego could be reduced, it would lessen the repression of desires and free the child. To accomplish this, the father must do two things: become more passive and liberate time with the mother. Two situations are described in Dracula. In the first, the Count visits Lucy frequently, affecting her health and blood levels; he is sexually aggressive and liberates no time for the other children. In revolt against the father, the children claim their profoundly attractive mother and literally impale her (Stoker 192). The second features a plainer, more mature mother figure, one who is visited by Dracula only for a short period. In his presence, the children focus their attention on their duty and neglect the founder of their unconscious, Mina. They are driven by their repressed desires and unable to perceive the danger she is in. Following the attack (246-7), the rest of the story unfolds with Dracula at a relative distance from Mina. He never visits her again, and though she becomes progressively vampiric, the process seems much slower than with Lucy. In this scenario, the children have their mother liberated, and the father is vanquished.
Modern studies agree that time spent with children enables them to develop a stronger sense of self and greater self-knowledge. In his book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist, explains the significance of devoting time to children:
The time […] that their parents devote to them indicate to children the degree to which they are valued by their parents. […] This feeling of being valuable is a cornerstone of self-discipline because when one considers oneself valuable one will take care of oneself in all ways that are necessary. Self-discipline is self-caring. (Peck 23)
A more balanced disposition of time between the parents and the child provides the latter with a more conscious and internalized interpretation of the superego, and thus, of reality. As we have seen in Dracula, the father is often the culprit for the lack of affection experienced by children and their fear of authority; not coincidentally, the above passage is from the chapter “The Sins of the Father”.
We now have full understanding of the mother’s importance in Dracula. She is the origin of pleasure for the child, and as such she largely determines its perception of sexuality. Indeed, as the more caring mother, Mina gives the men the strength to resist the female vampires. This is well illustrated by Van Helsing toward the end of the novel:
[…] the very instinct of man in me, which calls some of my sex to love and to protect one of hers, made my head whirl with new emotion. But God be thanked, that soul-wail of dear Madam Mina had not died out of my ears; and, before the spell could wrought further upon me, I had nerved myself to do my wild work. (Stoker 320)
Mina’s is a voice of compassion and purity of emotion for the men, but she is also the most emotionally mature among the group. She is able to understand her fears and recognize Dracula’s misery, and in fact wishes for his peace (Stoker 269). Mina is surprisingly able to understand the emotional distortions and desires vampirism causes and keep a rational perspective of reality: she allows herself to be hypnotized, she recognizes the danger of being fully informed, of being left alone, and she compensates for her own vampirism. She applies a successful defense against Dracula, playing a role twice as hard as the other characters. Once Dracula is vanquished and she is completely “liberated”, the centripetal force becomes balanced with the centrifugal, restoring peace to the group: “[…] and the happiness of some of us since then [Dracula’s defeat] is, we think, well worth the pain we endured” (Stoker 326).
Mina acts as the party’s guide throughout the conclusion of the story. She is capable of introspective analysis and is able to preserve her spirit. Even though vampirism is liberating in many ways, she sacrifices herself for the sake of the men. Her role as the mother is paramount since she determines her children’s perception of sexuality, and thus their ability to resist and vanquish Dracula.
The intimate nature of Dracula’s narrative allows great insight into the minds of the characters, while the contrasting absence of the Count’s thoughts creates a backdrop for the story. By selectively quoting from the text, Phyllis Roth describes the nature of Dracula on the basis of the nuclear family: “Big Daddy”, Lucy and Mina, and the kids. In doing so, she investigates the victimization of women in the story. By further exploring the parental roles, we have shown why and how parents play a crucial part in the child’s construction of self. Ultimately, the key to achieving balance and happiness, for anyone, is to start bringing unconscious desires into the conscious mind. As Freud said, “Where It was, shall I be.”