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Chapter 21

Stanley Stepanic, Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the University of Virginia, explains Chapter 21 in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Dracula | Chapter 21 : Dr. Seward's Diary | Summary

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Summary

Seward attempts, in his October 3rd entry, to record every detail calmly. He finds Renfield bloody on the floor, his face beaten, his back broken, and his right side paralyzed. He can't have caused all these injuries to himself, the bewildered attendant observes. Seward sends for Van Helsing, who runs for his surgical case. They dismiss the attendant and examine Renfield, whose skull is fractured. Morris and Holmwood arrive as Van Helsing prepares to cut a hole in Renfield's skull to relieve pressure. The men dread what Renfield may say if he regains consciousness. Van Helsing removes bone above Renfield's ear, and soon Renfield wakes and, unaware of the paralysis, asks Seward to remove the straight-jacket. Renfield thinks he's had a dream, but in the time it takes to fetch restorative brandy, he realizes it was no dream but horrid fact. He tells how Dracula came in a mist and took human form. Dracula promised to reward Renfield, as he has before, with years of life-blood. Through the window, Renfield saw a wave of rats following Dracula, who silently promised to give them and greater lives to Renfield, "if you will fall down and worship me!" Renfield's vision reddened, and he opened the window an inch to welcome the Master. The rats vanished; Dracula slipped like moonlight through the crack.

Renfield angrily recalls how Dracula didn't keep his promises but instead scorned Renfield and behaved as master of the asylum. When Dracula departed later, Renfield noticed a faint aroma, as if Mina had been in the room. Enraged at the thought of Dracula feeding on Mina, Renfield tried to stop Dracula when he returned in the night, but Dracula dashed Renfield to the floor before slipping away to attack Mina again.

Renfield's breathing falters as Van Helsing urges the men to defend Mina. They leave Renfield helpless in his bed and force the door to Mina's room open. Harker lies entranced while Mina kneels on the bed, Dracula standing by her side. He holds her hands tight in one of his; with his other hand, he forces her face to his bare chest, where blood trickles down. Infuriated by the interruption, he flings Mina down and turns to attack, but Van Helsing holds up the communion wafer and the others their crucifixes. Dracula cowers, transforms into mist, and escapes. At that moment Mina screams, a wild, grief-stricken sound Seward will never forget. As Van Helsing covers her and turns to wake Harker, Seward sees Morris through the window, hiding in the trees. Harker wakes to the terrible scene and pleads with Van Helsing to help Mina while he pursues Dracula. But Mina clings pathetically to him, though Van Helsing assures her she's safe for now. When blood from Mina's lips and wounds stains Jonathan's white night-robe, she draws back, sobbing, "Unclean, unclean! I must touch him or kiss him no more." Jonathan holds her close, affirming his love.

Seward catches Harker up, and Holmwood reports that Dracula is gone, having wrecked Seward's study and burned Mina's transcripts and the other records. Fortunately, copies are locked in the safe. Renfield is dead. Morris tried to follow Dracula, but he escaped in bat form. Mina then tells her painful story as Jonathan holds her up. She took the sleeping medicine but was tormented by fearful thoughts. She finally slept, waking to find Jonathan asleep by her and white mist creeping into the room. Terrified and paralyzed, she saw the mist become Dracula. Dracula threatened to kill Jonathan if she made a sound. He grabbed her shoulder, bared her throat, and fed on her. Mina felt oddly passive as Dracula drank her blood. Then he mocked her for trying to outwit him and condemned Van Helsing and the others for daring to oppose a powerful lord of men. Now their dear Mina will become his companion and aid him, after he punishes her for working against him. He slashed his chest with a fingernail and forced her to taste his blood. Mina breaks down, crying for pity.

Analysis

Finally Dracula returns to the action, in what is likely the most dramatic scene in the novel, leaving death and threats in his wake. He reveals much about his nature and his plans, first in his encounter with Renfield, and then in his imperious comments to Mina.

Renfield had called Dracula lord and master; he tried to mimic Dracula's blood feasts and expected reward for his service. Only a day before, he boasted of his great friend's power. But Renfield is profoundly disappointed when he sees that he doesn't matter at all to Dracula, whose promises of prey, in the form of a wave of rats, are merely a ploy to get into the asylum. The broken promises, coupled with Renfield's inference that Dracula is feeding on Mina, strip away Renfield's illusion of hope. His final act is brave but fatal; he's no match for Dracula's strength and dies trying to defend Mina. Readers today may have less intense reactions to Dracula's behavior in this scene. Dracula is a fiend, violently attacking Renfield and then assaulting Mina, but on top of that, he broke his word. He calls himself noble—a count—and he poses as a wealthy gentleman in London. Yet he is not a man of his word, a damning trait for male Victorian characters.

Mina is Dracula's primary victim. At this time he doesn't seem to know that he's lost Lucy, in spite of his mind link with his victims; he's confidently building his harem in London and clearly doesn't expect opposition. When the men burst, almost comically, through the door, they find a shocking scene. Seward describes it with an odd mix of innocent and sensual imagery—the tight embrace in which the demonic Dracula holds Mina as she kneels is sexual, yet the comparison to a child pushing a kitten's nose into milk to make it lap is mundane, slightly cruel, and disturbing. Mina's blood is on Dracula's mouth; his blood is on hers and on her gown; through the whole horrid, intimate attack, Mina's husband lies inert, unable to defend her as love and duty compel him to. The scene seems a moment of triumph for Dracula, though he's forced to cut his attack short, and this is more the case when Mina reports his proud speech to her. This is at least the third attack Dracula has made on Mina, who is not only helpless to object to his "reeking lips" on her throat but in fact "did not want to hinder him," which she blames on the curse of his touch.

Dracula, like many a good villain, monologues while Mina's in his power. The men should not have tried to match wits with a war leader of renown; he will use Mina as a weapon against them, forcing them to "minister to your needs," but not until he punishes Mina for colluding with the men. Whether that punishment means forcing Mina to drink the blood that "spurts out" from his chest or will come later, readers don't know. But Mina's reaction to recounting these events seems punishment enough. She rubs her lips hard "as though to cleanse them from pollution" and declares herself unclean. Readers may wonder, when Van Helsing holds up his golden crucifix and assures Mina she's safe as long as it's near her, why he gave each man a crucifix but not Mina. This is one of the many missteps the men make, whether because they place too much stock in their information, are too confident in their plan, or dismiss Mina from their circle because she's an apparently weak woman. Regardless of their motivations, the outcome is the same: Mina bears the brunt of the harm and takes the blame. It's no wonder that Harker in particular becomes wild for vengeance. He and Dracula are now rivals for Mina.

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