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Dracula | Study Guide

Bram Stoker

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Dracula | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How do Harker's style of writing and method of organizing ideas in his journal entries written in Transylvania reflect his character traits in Chapters 1 through 4 of Dracula?

Harker's journal method reflects several important character traits: He's diligent. Harker writes often, gives details, and incorporates notes from previous research in case they're needed later. For example, he records information about the population of Transylvania and about geographical features of the area. He's thoughtful. Harker considers objections that Mina or others might raise, given the events he records, and preempts them. Also, his journal records his careful observations and the analytical connections he makes among them. He's sensitive. Harker records moments of beauty and wonder as he describes the scenery. He describes the people he sees in vivid detail. He's aware, too, of his own reactions. When he himself wonders if what he experiences is real, he honestly records his doubts, and he admits to his fears and insufficient understanding of events. He's efficient. Not only does Harker use shorthand so that he can record information more quickly, but he predicts how information may be useful later and adds memos to himself. Harker's journal-keeping habits reveal the traits that will later enable him to pursue and destroy Dracula at great personal risk.

How does Harker's response to the way people unexpectedly treat him in Chapter 1 of Dracula create suspense for readers and foreshadow what happens to him in Castle Dracula?

Dramatic irony occurs when readers know something characters do not. The characters' lack of knowledge in some way complicates their situation. In Chapter 1 of Dracula, Harker's journal entries record many instances of behavior he can't understand but that readers today grasp immediately, though some of the novel's original readers might have been as puzzled as Harker is. Dracula establishes vampire lore that, after more than a century of adaptations and spin-offs, has become familiar. So, when the Golden Krone's landlady begs Harker not to travel to Castle Dracula, readers know why. They understand her insistence about the crucifix. Readers know why the villagers make gestures against evil and place crosses along the roadside, and they spot the coach driver's lie when he says he can't rest the horses because of vicious dogs in the area. The need to reach Burgo Pass before sunset, the odd fears of the coach's driver and passengers, and a swarm of other details make sense to readers, but not to Harker, who knows nothing of what provokes them. When the driver of Dracula's carriage arrives, readers guess, given his sharp white teeth and glowing red eyes, that it is Dracula himself. These details all suggest that Harker is in danger, creating suspense when he goes willingly with Dracula. Readers suspect that the castle is a trap.

What does the allusion to Moses, a "stranger in a strange land" in the May 7th entry in Chapter 2 of Dracula, suggest about how Dracula views himself?

Dracula, readers learn in this chapter, shuns the title of count and considers himself equal to a prince. But his sense of self-importance goes much further. In one of the novel's many biblical allusions, Dracula asks Harker to help him perfect his English so that he won't sound like a "stranger in a strange land." The phrase comes from the second chapter of the book of Exodus, in which Moses, having fled Egypt into exile, describes himself as a "stranger in the strange land." The comparison, for those who know the story of Moses, is both brash and predictive. Moses, a prince, spent years in exile before returning, in the Exodus story, to lead his people out of slavery to become their own nation. Dracula, in self-imposed exile, has planned carefully to make his own exodus and reestablish his mastery over humankind. Later in the novel, Van Helsing wonders whether Dracula is a new kind of human, maybe even a new species that will overrun the world. Dracula would agree; he considers himself a forerunner of some kind, worthy of establishing a new realm, perhaps even a new race, as implied by this allusion.

How does Harker's "strange night existence" affect his thinking and behavior in Chapters 2 and 3 of Dracula?

Dracula sleeps by day and is active at night, and Harker must conform his schedule, as much as he can, to his client's. But this upside-down life affects Harker's mood and his thinking negatively, and readers may suspect that Dracula, for all his polite apologies, imposes the schedule on Harker in part to weaken his opposition. Mood: Harker becomes "uneasy" as the nights go by. He can't sleep when he needs to, and when he's allowed to sleep, sleep won't come as it should. He begins to feel the loneliness of the castle, with no one but Dracula to talk to. And the fact that he's discovered all the doors to be locked, during his daytime explorations, makes him paranoid about Dracula's intentions. Thinking: Harker says several times that he will record the facts to keep his thinking clear, but his emotions and fears invade his rational analysis repeatedly. "Let me be prosaic," he vows, "as far as facts can be," because otherwise, imagination will sweep him away. He finds comfort now, though he can't guess why, in touching the crucifix and hanging it over his bed at night, and stories of ghosts and other fantastic characters well up in his memory. Night and day, darkness and light work against each other throughout the novel and appear in imagery and sensory details as well. In these chapters, the hours of night bewilder, exhaust, and threaten Harker. During the day he makes discoveries that eventually help him escape the evil castle. Night is the time of malevolent evil while sunny day nurtures wholesome strength. This conflict operates throughout the novel.

In Chapter 3 of Dracula, how does Harker explain the crucifix's power and how do later chapters support or contradict his explanation?

In Chapter 3 Harker begins to put together evidence about Dracula's power, intentions, and malice. He is grateful now for the gestures and gifts of the villagers and grasps vaguely that their gifts are supposed to protect him. "Bless that good, good woman [the landlady of the Golden Krone] who hung the crucifix round my neck!" he exclaims because it now comforts him to touch it. This puzzles him. He's been taught, as a Victorian Protestant, to regard Catholic objects and rituals with suspicion, as idols. But now, alone and frightened, this object above all others gives him strength. Harker hopes to "examine the matter" later, if he survives, showing an openness of mind. He muses about whether "the essence of the thing itself" is powerful. That essence is faith, the weapon against Dracula's dark plans, and Harker and other characters must develop their faith to prevail against their enemy as the novel proceeds. The crucifix and the communion wafer are the most effective tools against Dracula precisely because, readers discover in a later chapter, he and his kin studied satanic knowledge. For now, however, Harker lacks faith, so he explains the crucifix's effect as one of "conveying memories of sympathy and comfort." It's a symbol to him of well-wishes and friends, but it will become, later, a tool explicitly connected to Christian faith.

What is the nature of the three bride-maidens and their relationship to Dracula as revealed in Chapters 3 and 4 of Dracula?

The three bride-maidens are powerful creatures whom Dracula has made at some point in the past, in the same manner that he transforms Lucy and attempts to transform Mina. They belong to him and obey him—just barely, readers feel. He's commanded them to leave Harker alone till he gives Harker to them, yet twice they disobey Dracula and approach Harker. Dracula must either placate or threaten them to protect Harker. This is, perhaps, the risk of having creatures who share much of his power—they are on the verge of being uncontrollable in their lust for blood. The bride-maidens are not equal in rank, readers learn. The fair bride was made first, so, as the darker brides say, "yours is the right to begin." Later in the novel, Van Helsing feels the power of the fair bride's beauty the most strongly, an intensely sexual power that overwhelms Harker, too. Blood and lust are entwined in the bride-maidens' desires. Though their urge to feed is explicitly sexual, for them (and for Dracula) the sex act means drinking blood. They remain virginal, physically, as does Lucy later—maidens and brides but never wives, and never securely enough under masculine control to remove their threat.

How do Seward's and Morris's marriage proposals in Chapter 5 of Dracula reveal their characters and foreshadow their reactions to Dracula's attacks on Lucy and Mina?

Seward and Morris are two of three men who love Lucy. They're bound to Lucy even after she becomes Holmwood's fiancée, and their proposals and reactions to her rejection foreshadow their roles in the unsuccessful struggle to save Lucy from Dracula. Lucy reports that Seward is "cool outwardly" as he proposes, but he fidgets nervously with a lancet as he presents his rehearsed proposal as an argument about how Lucy would help him, as his wife, to do his work well. He insists on knowing why Lucy won't marry him, asking follow-up questions till he gets an answer. Seward is a scientist, always seeking reasons and evidence as he treats his patients. Of the four men Van Helsing leads in the attack on Dracula, Seward has the hardest time waiting for explanations and is most likely to question them. Quincey Morris is very different man. He relies, in his proposal, not on sincerity and earnestness but on humor, speaking Texas slang because he knows Lucy enjoys it. He's nervous, too, but cheerfully asks Lucy to "hitch up alongside of me ... in double harness." Unlike Seward, Morris doesn't explain how Lucy would help him as his wife but instead speaks of marriage as a long trip they'll take together. He takes her rejection calmly, though it means "a pretty lonely walk between this and Kingdom Come," and pledges to remain her friend. When Morris later faces danger, he does so repeatedly with the same matter-of-fact attitude. He never questions Van Helsing's crazy instructions but simply does what's needed, careless of the cost.

In Chapter 6 of Dracula, in what ways are the two settings Gothic and what does each contribute to the novel's mood?

The two settings in Chapter 6 are the resort town of Whitby and Dr. Seward's lunatic asylum, very different places but with Gothic elements in common. Whitby is similar to Castle Dracula, only outside rather than enclosed, with its rugged beauty, history of warfare, winding walks, perilous cliffs, steep stairs, and graveyard full of misleading headstones. In the ancient churchyard, Lucy shivers when she learns that she sits by a suicide's grave, Mr. Swales both objects to and perpetuates ghost stories, and Dracula attacks Lucy, later, as she helplessly lies on a tomb's slab covering. Unpredictably stormy weather is another Gothic element, tied, as readers later learn, to Dracula's arrival. Pretty resort town by day, Whitby hosts Dracula's first assaults on Lucy at night. Its dual nature adds to the novel's mysterious and changeable moods. The lunatic asylum contributes its own creepiness to the mood. Seward not only works but lives in this grim building, which readers learn shares a property line with abandoned, eerie Carfax. But it's Renfield's behaviors and Seward's notes on them, not physical details of the setting left to readers' imaginations, that borrow from the Gothic. Renfield collects flies and spiders, disgusting vermin that he calls wholesome; he totals up his kills in columns of math, rationally calculating their life force. He eats sparrows whole and wants to eat a cat. Renfield broods and sulks, manipulates and fawns. All the while, readers familiar with the story know that Renfield awaits Dracula, so his activities, confined for now to the asylum, foreshadow the horror to come.

In Chapters 6 and 7 of Dracula, how does Mr. Swales's acquaintance with Mina change her perspective and prepare her for future events?

Mr. Swales is a Whitby local, a colorful character whose North Yorkshire dialect is not easy to read but who finds Lucy charming and who charms Mina. Historians of his dialect point out that "to swale" means to waste away or melt, as a candle consumed by flame, and he is near death, knotted by age and drawn to Lucy's bright youth. Mr. Swales rejects ghost stories as fiction and prefers his own real-life stories, which guide Mina to realize that things are often not as they seem and that what people do and say sometimes hides their real motives. The tombstone of the suicide speaks of a mother's love for her son, and Lucy is appalled to hear Mr. Swales dismiss this beautiful and proper sentiment. That "sorrowin' mother was a hell-cat," he explains, who hated her son because he was hunchbacked, and he returned the hate, spiting her both by and after his death. Mr. Swales also changes Mina's perspective by being unafraid of death and prepared to die, an attitude she will later need, and by modeling intuition. He feels, in the changing weather, something that "looks, and tastes, and smells like death," and in fact, he is found dead after Dracula comes ashore, neck broken, expression of terror on his face, as if he'd "seen Death with his dying eyes." Mina is so impressed that she hides this news from Lucy, who is already too sensitive to such things.

In Chapter 8 of Dracula, what is dramatically ironic about the careful conclusions Mina draws from Lucy's appearance?

Ever the diligent record-keeper, Mina writes in her diary out of duty and discipline even when she's tired. She makes special note in Chapter 8 of Lucy's color. She worries when blonde, fair-skinned Lucy looks paler than usual and rejoices when Lucy's cheeks are full of color. Medical knowledge then, as now, generally associated paleness with sickness or mental distress and ruddiness with robust health. But readers who pay close attention to Lucy's changes in coloration notice something odd. After her first encounter with Dracula, in the ruined churchyard, Lucy wakes looking healthier than she has in some time, to Mina's relief. After two nights during which Lucy doesn't escape her room, she's noticeably paler, but after her wounds are visibly larger, "roses" come back to her cheeks. And as Lucy recalls her night of adventure, she looks positively glowing with health. So signs that typically indicate health or illness mislead Mina, but not likely readers, about Lucy's condition. Van Helsing observes the same changes, much later, in Mina herself, but he understands that Mina's health is linked to Dracula's because she is infected with his blood, as Lucy is.

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