Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula was written during the late nineteenth century and is commonly classified as a horror novel. Further analysis however, has brought to light the buried symbols and themes of sexuality that the novel holds within it. Due to its female sexual symbolism, the novel draws the attention of mostly men, as exploring these female forbidden themes were more of a fantasy for them than reality. As Dracula was set in the Victorian culture, it is shown to encompass all the beliefs and prejudices of the society, especially in regards to the social gender roles of men and women. Women were known to be suppressed and put down socially while men were lifted up and known for the authority and freedom they possessed. Through the two main female characters of his novel, Mina and Lucy, Stoker presents both the ideal Victorian model of what a woman should be, and the opposite of this model illustrating what a woman should not be; for the second becomes a threat to patriarchal Victorian society and will ends up in ruin.
Mina and Lucy are very significant to the novel as they are the only female characters, and narrators, who are depicted in a large amount of detail by Stoker. He juxtaposes Mina and Lucy throughout his novel to describe and contrast the two different categories of women that he believed existed in the Victorian era: the ideal, innocent, submissive women and the dangerous, rebellious women who wish to take risks and break free from the confining features of society. Although they hold different views on which of the two categories a woman should take her place in, they both acknowledge the conventional belief that men are more dominant in Victorian society than women: “My dear Mina, why are men so noble when we women are so little worthy of them?” (Stoker 96).
Stoker uses Mina to illustrate his version of what an exemplary Victorian woman is like. Van Helsing describes Mina in the novel as “one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoistâ€¦” (Stoker 306). Mina is an intelligent, educated woman who uses her attained skills solely to better her husband, Jonathan Harker. Stoker uses Mina’s speech in the novel to emphasize her dedication to her husband: “I have been working very hard lately, because I want to keep up with Jonathan’s studies, and I have been practicing shorthand very assiduously” (Stoker 86). Although she works fulltime, she tirelessly takes on other commitments such as perfecting her shorthand so that she would “be useful to Jonathan” (Stoker 86). She is also seen thinking very highly of men in general and their independence from women: “a brave man’s hand can speak for itself; it does not even need a woman’s love to hear its music” (Stoker 386).
Lucy on the other hand, falls into Stoker’s second category of Victorian women. She is not seen committed physically and emotionally to one man alone throughout the novel. She is described as a voluptuous, beautiful woman who is approached with three proposals from three different suitors. Lucy complains to Mina asking her: “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker 96). Although she would do this if she were allowed to, she recognizes that she has uttered words of heresy after saying them. This shows that although such a thought is seen as utterly promiscuous, immoral, and forbidden in the Victorian culture, it does not stop her from mentally crossing the boundaries set up by the social conventions of the society.
Lucy is portrayed as someone who is driven by her sexual openness and flirtatious, tempting nature. Her physical beauty holds the interest of all her suitors and she enjoys the attention she would not get otherwise from the men of her society. This, in a way, helps Lucy to equalize herself to the same male gender that is claimed to be superior to females. Conversely, Mina is shown to be content with her monogamous status in society and does not feel the need to use her feminine sensuality to prove anything. In fact, Mina’s sexual desires, if any, remain unknown throughout the novel. By presenting Mina in this way, Stoker provides a stark contrast between the sexuality of Lucy and Mina. Mina’s perspective on the subject is left untold to illustrate that it shouldn’t be a woman’s concern to think about such things, and that all a Victorian woman’s role entails is succumbing to a man’s sexual needs and desires.
Lucy’s character does not agree with this. Because she cannot live out her sexual appetites in the public sphere, she does it in the private through sleepwalking. In the state of sleepwalking, she can unconsciously and quite freely express her thoughts and longings. It is in this state that she is first bitten by Count Dracula. As this sequence occurs more often, she is made into a vampire and openly expresses her suppressed sexual desires. This defiles her purity and makes her a “voluptuous wantonness” (Stoker 342). Lucy as a vampire represents all of her built up, yet restrained sexual urges and passions. Her ravenous, insatiable sexual hunger becomes increasingly more obvious all the way through to the killing of her life as a vampire.
Because Mina is not full of sexual neediness like Lucy, she has a lot less to restrain. She rather, uses her energy on being a maternal figure to those who need it. She feels the need to use her natural maternal instincts to better the men around her. She allows Arthur and Quincey to cry on her shoulder not long after encountering them in the novel just so that they would feel the comfort of a mother:
He stood up and then sat down again, and the tears rained down his cheeks. I felt an infinite pity for him, and opened my arms unthinkingly. With a sob he laid his head on my shoulder, and cried like a wearied child, whilst he shook with emotion. We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother-spirit is invoked; I felt this big, sorrowing man’s head resting on me, as though it were that of the baby that some day may lie on my bosom, and I stroked his hair as though he were my own child (Stoker 372-373).
Lucy, on the other hand, is shown as someone who does not take interest in the maternal qualities of women and mistreats little children in the novel. “With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched, strenuously to her breast, growling over it as a dog growls over a bone. The child gave a sharp cry, and lay there moaning” (Stoker 343). This shows that her craving is more important to her than the maternal quality of caring for a child; she would rather feed on the child than feed the child itself.
Although both Mina and Lucy are attacked by the Count, the reasons for the attack differ for both characters. When Count Dracula threatens Jonathan during his attempt to attack Mina, Mina does what the Victorian culture would expect in a situation like this and puts her husband’s life and safety before hers. Through the final attack on innocent Mina, Stoker illustrates the raw desire of men exploiting innocent women and testing their submissiveness. He also shows through this incident his belief of how weak and vulnerable women are. Conveniently, the first thing Mina does is succumb to the strange man’s behaviour: “I was bewildered, and strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him” (Stoker 466). However, as soon as she realizes her purity is being defiled, she becomes revolted by the unclean event that has occurred and cries out “Unclean! Unclean!” (Stoker 461). Unable to change what has happened to her, she uses the incident to help the men who are in pursuit of Count Dracula. Lucy on the other hand, is attacked and killed for another reason. Men want to see her destroyed because they see her beauty and sexual openness as a threat to Victorian society. Stoker uses Lucy to illustrate that sexually aggressive women who use their beauty to gain a certain power over men will not last in the Victorian culture. Instead of being physically ruined, they will be socially demeaned and out-casted. This social punishment is depicted through the staking and killing of Lucy by her own husband, Arthur. He is used in the passage to bring her back under Victorian social order and purity: “There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing that we had so dreaded and grown to hate that the work of her destruction was yielded as a privilege to the one best entitled to it, but Lucy as we had seen her in life, with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity” (Stoker 351). This destruction of Lucy restores the confidence of the male audience of this novel as they are given back their place of superiority and are left knowing that they could continue to repress any liberating power women try to attain.
Mina’s life is spared in the novel for her socially correct behaviour throughout the story. She uses her intelligence, her organization skills, and her resourcefulness to service the men and help them track down Count Dracula. Van Helsing describes her intellect as a “trained like a man’s brain”, proving the belief that intellect is not something women naturally possess (Stoker 551). Mina is also always seen putting men above herself, even if it means giving up her own life: “without a moment’s delay, drive a stake through me and cut off my head, or do whatever else may be wanting to give me rest!”(Stoker 537). She asks her husband to take the responsibility of killing her before she becomes a danger to men’s lives.
To conclude, Stoker uses Mina and Lucy to confirm his sexist Victorian beliefs about the roles of men and women in society. The social construct of the time involved women being inferior to men in all areas of life, with the exception of child bearing and child upbringing. Their value was only seen in their maternal qualities and their submissiveness to men. Through Mina’s character, Stoker exhibits the ideal, virtuous, Victorian woman and shows, through her survival, what the benefits of following this model are. He also goes to show what happens to women when they feel that they should be seen as equals to men. Women who attempt to use their sexuality to attain power and break free from the patriarchal boundaries of Victorian society will end up ruined, just like Lucy.
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