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Dracula | Study Guide

Bram Stoker

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Dracula | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Chapters 22 and 23 of Dracula, on whom does the blame for Mina's plight primarily fall, and why do some characters object to this assignment of accountability?

Chapters 22 and 23 present several candidates for blame (beyond Dracula, the perpetrator of the horrible actions). Renfield lets Dracula in and realizes his mistake too late. Seward fails to connect the clues that link Dracula and Renfield. Van Helsing overconfidently thinks Mina safe and unwisely isolates her. But the blame falls mainly on the victim, who embraces it, crying out self-condemning words like "Unclean!" and declaring herself worthy of death. When the communion wafer burns Mina's forehead, she knows God has rejected her and her polluted blood. Van Helsing doesn't object to Mina's self-judgment; he doesn't deny her assertions. The only comfort he can offer is the hope that on Judgment Day, God will forgive Mina, implying strongly that her condition is her fault. Some readers may find this scene baffling. Yet the events in Mina's bedroom are staged to suggest not only a physical assault but a sexual one. Harker is sleeping, entranced, on the bed. Mina kneels on the bed itself as Dracula, having drunk her blood, holds her in a rigid embrace to his bare chest. For a late Victorian novel, the scene is as sexually charged as it can be. Dracula wants to transform Mina into a bride-maiden, like the voluptuous, insatiable, desirable women in his castle. In Victorian culture, women had to guard their chastity. Whether through choice or force, chastity, once violated, marred a woman's reputation; and women who dared to engage in men's business, as Mina has, were already suspect. Dracula targets Mina for his own reasons, but for Mina, the assault is God's judgment, and the mark on her forehead is evidence of her fallen state.

How does Jonathan Harker change in Chapters 21 through 23 of Dracula, how does his transformation parallel Mina's recent experiences, and what does the change suggest about their marriage?

The first changes readers see in Harker are hardly surprising. He's worried about Mina because she is pale and tired, and he feels separated from her because Van Helsing isolates her. He spends too many hours investigating and too few eating, so he is exhausted (just as she is), and he experiences sleep disturbances, courtesy of Dracula (just as she does). Most striking, however, is that he changes physically. After Mina narrates the details of Dracula's final assault on her, which she can bear to do only because Jonathan holds her tightly and supports her, Seward reports that Harker's face shows "a grey look which deepened" as the sun rose, and Harker's hair becomes white, perhaps from shock. As he learns more fully what's happened to Mina, Harker seems to age. He becomes thin and pale (just as she does). Later in the novel, when the team divides into three groups to pursue Dracula, Harker struggles with drowsiness when Mina, traveling with Van Helsing, can hardly wake up; and when she's alert at night, he's uncannily alert as well. These parallels suggest a deep emotional connection between husband and wife. When Harker writes that if Mina "must be a vampire in the end, then she shall not go into that unknown and terrible land alone," it's easy to believe he's willing to continue his parallel transformation and become a vampire with her.

In Chapters 24 and 25 of Dracula, what are the competing views of Dracula and can they coexist logically?

Van Helsing doesn't know how Dracula became a vampire, but his research and the team's experience suggest several views of what and who Dracula is. A brute: Driven by his need for blood, and allied with other brutes (such as wolves), Dracula is like a predatory animal, such as a tiger in search of prey. Dracula is supernaturally strong, like a tiger or a pack of wolves, so mere men need special weapons to destroy him. An able scholar and adept leader: As he was in mortal life, Dracula is intelligent and curious. He learns foreign languages, researches London, and prepares his move carefully, and he achieves his goals "all alone! from a ruin tomb in a forgotten land." A lost opportunity: If only a being of Dracula's talents used them for good, Van Helsing laments, what could he not accomplish on the side of the right? A miracle: Dracula can "smile at death," Van Helsing says, and is immune to diseases capable of wiping out populations. A forerunner: Perhaps Dracula is a new species; if he's successful in establishing a new realm, he will populate it with others of his kind. A child: Perhaps Dracula's brain is still childlike. In the centuries since he became a vampire, he's had to learn everything anew. A criminal: Mina advances this view. Dracula's flight is cowardly and self-centered; and rather than innovating in the face of new challenges, he merely repeats patterns from his earlier days. Clearly, these views jostle for dominance during the discussions about Dracula and contradict each other, but Mina's view—that Dracula is "of criminal type"—is the final word and the assumption on which they base their successful pursuit of the vampire.

In Chapters 23 through 27 of Dracula, how does Dracula's absence shift the novel's focus, and how does Stoker maintain Dracula's influence and threat despite his absence?

Dracula knows he's been outfoxed and cornered when Van Helsing and the young men confront him in the house in Picadilly, but he has a contingency plan: one final box of Transylvanian earth in which he can travel home to regroup and mount a new attack. He bullies his way through obstacles with the determination of a hunter who knows he's become the hunted. Until the last sections of Chapter 27, readers don't see him at all. In fact Dracula's absent for much of the novel, a plot choice that many movie adaptions reject, keeping the charismatic monster before audiences' gazes. His sudden flight conflicts with the proud statements that Mina will one day feast on the men who "played against me ... who commanded nations ... and fought for them, hundreds of years" ago. Is his flight cowardice or strategic regrouping? Regardless, Van Helsing, Mina, and the young men can't escape the threat and danger Dracula poses, despite his physical absence. His control over Mina grows; she senses that one day he will call her, as he said, and she won't be able to disobey. The idea that the heroes might have to confront Dracula in his stronghold, with wolves and hungry bride-maidens and intimidated Szgany at his command, drives the urgency of their plans, ratcheting up the tension during the pursuit. That Dracula's stuck in a box of dirt doesn't lessen the potency of his blood-lust, either—as the workers who cart the box toward Castle Dracula know, their master will wake up famished. Absent, Dracula looms in each character's imagination as a threat specific to his or her vulnerabilities.

What are the inconsistencies in Mina's behavior in Chapters 25 and 26 of Dracula, and how do they serve the plot?

In Chapters 25 and 26, Mina veers from vampire-in-progress to resolute foe to meticulous record keeper repeatedly. Some days, she seems almost entranced, hardly able to speak for the presence of Dracula's mind in her own thoughts. Other days, she emerges to make and serve tea, like a proper hostess, or to recite train schedules from memory. At her sharpest, she assembles facts and draws the conclusion that Dracula's fastest route is by river, allowing the men to lay the plans for the final pursuit and the attack. But the nearer they draw to Castle Dracula, the more vampirelike Mina becomes, sleeping by day, alert and alarmingly bright-eyed by the fire at night. With great relief, Van Helsing sees revulsion in Mina's eyes when the three bride-maidens name her sister; yet he fears to sleep at night in her presence. These apparent inconsistencies perhaps represent Mina's struggle to remain herself, to resist transformation into the newest member of Dracula's harem. Lucy, sweet and childlike, couldn't resist; but Mina, the stronger, smarter, more heroic female character, is more able to do so. She's caught in a tug-of-war between her husband and her would-be dark master, between civilized sanity and an ancient madness, between good and evil; but she doesn't leave her defense entirely up to others. She fights for herself.

In Dracula Van Helsing is usually identified as the protagonist and hero, but how may some other characters also be considered as the protagonists and heroes of the novel?

Van Helsing is usually considered Dracula's protagonist and hero, despite being absent for the first third of the novel. Van Helsing acts as surrogate parent to the young men and women; he knows vampire lore and has the right tools. He controls information, dispensing only tidbits, yet the young people fully trust this man they describe as fatherly, charismatic, and great-hearted. However, details from the novel can make a case for other heroes. Mina: Even Van Helsing admits that without Mina, they couldn't have destroyed Dracula. Van Helsing repeatedly tries to exclude Mina from plans; she repeatedly pushes her way back in. Mina might have made a powerful vampire. She's articulate, competent, assertive, and prepared to lose her life for those she loves. Even as she succumbs to the poison in her veins, she fights Dracula by turning his blood against him. Yet she doesn't strike the deadly blow, and in the novel's final note, she's relegated to the background, her husband and young son taking precedence. Mina may be a character whose strengths surprised even her creator. Quincey Morris: In a novel with hints of the romance, Morris plays the role of the handsome young man whose death saves the day. Lucy's description of Morris's reaction when she rejects his proposal foreshadows this act. Morris speaks of the "lonely walk" between the moment of her rejection and his life's end and asks for a kiss to "keep off the darkness" as he goes on without her. Seward, Morris, Holmwood + Harker: The efforts of this team of young men destroy Dracula and save Mina. Each makes sacrifices; each proves his courage. Holmwood mutilates Lucy's pretty corpse (then collapses in grief). Harker ages suddenly, nearly gives up sleep, and is willing to become a vampire if Mina does. Seward fights severe depression and pursues Dracula with something like a death wish. And Morris dies in the act of avenging Lucy, saving Mina, and protecting England. The men, acting in unison toward a common goal, can be seen as a corporate hero.

Dracula is often classified as a Gothic or horror novel, but in what ways could it be described as a detective novel, and which detective story elements affect the story?

Detective stories were a new genre when Stoker began the research for Dracula. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" was published in 1841; and Arthur Conan Doyle's first story, "A Study in Scarlet," introduced the public to Sherlock Holmes in 1887. Stoker began research for Dracula around 1890. In his work for London's Lyceum Theatre, Stoker was immersed in business details of schedules and travel plans, salaries and contracts, and similar considerations not only occur all through Dracula but also lead to revelations that allow Van Helsing and the young men to pursue and finally overcome Dracula. Informed by Van Helsing's research (he consults with experts on vampires) and organized by Mina, with her ability to piece together seemingly unrelated details, the pursuit of Dracula is an effort in detection not unlike what Holmes undertakes. Examples occur throughout the novel, and several characters act at times like detectives, but the outstanding example occurs in Chapter 26. Mina, despite her deteriorating condition, is the detective. She writes, "Oh! if I could only help at all" and then combines details from the records she has assembled, information from maps, and psychological insights to figure out Dracula's route home, a feat she modestly shrugs off as "God's providence." As they hunt Dracula, the men turn to Mina repeatedly to refine her detective work, which relies, as does Holmes's investigations, on her broad knowledge of train schedules and other data. One effect of the mingling of genres is to highlight Mina's "man brain," as Van Helsing describes her intellect, so that she participates in her own rescue. Another is to develop the conflict of the modern West, in which data and reason are valued, and the ancient East, in which obedience to traditional authority is valued. Without the detective work, the goal of destroying Dracula would have failed as surely as it would have done without crucifixes and communion wafers.

In Dracula is Dracula portrayed as a sympathetic character—that is, a character to be pitied—or as a character only to be despised and feared?

Many readers don't find Dracula a sympathetic character. The early chapters of the novel describe the terror of the people who live near Castle Dracula and know its inhabitant's ways. Harker finds their reactions puzzling; later, when Van Helsing and Mina retrace Harker's journey, Mina finds herself the object of their fear, too, because of the mark on her forehead. No matter how attentive a host Dracula is or how benign his plans for buying a house in London seem, the Gothic setting of the empty old castle sets a foreboding tone. When Harker reports how Dracula feeds on children and calls his wolves to destroy the mother of one of his victims, sympathy or pity for Dracula is difficult to justify. Yet other scenes in the novel may in face justify some sympathy, largely because of Van Helsing's reports about Dracula's past. How Dracula became a vampire is never explained, but Van Helsing regards that event as tragic. Dracula was a leader, a scholar, a man Van Helsing might have admired and befriended in his day. The curse that made him conditionally immortal destroyed a perhaps otherwise good man who found himself cut off from other people, cursed to live in darkness and become an object of fear. Dracula's desire to come (even if for the wrong reasons) to London and his short-lived enjoyment of Harker's company suggest that he is imprisoned in a kind of solitary confinement by his condition. Add to that the fact that he is damned, shut out of heaven, and even Mina is relieved to see "a look of peace" rest briefly on Dracula's face before the setting sun turns his body to dust. Dracula has to die so that the curse of his infection will end, but Van Helsing and Mina in particular react to him in ways that call out readers' sympathy for this ruined being.

How is Dracula characterized in the first four chapters of Dracula, and how do the pace and tone of the novel change when he appears again in Chapter 21?

Some critics argue that Chapters 1 through 4 are the strongest of the novel. Not only are these intense chapters written from Harker's uninterrupted perspective as he becomes aware of danger, but in them, readers see more aspects of Dracula than in any other section of the novel. Aristocrat: Dracula is proud of his noble lineage. Though others call him Count Dracula, he rejects that title. His forebears were princes. No matter that his castle is decaying and unstaffed; he rules his area of Transylvania through terror and knows that he deserves obeisance. Scholar: Dracula is intelligent. He has been carefully researching his move to London for some time. He's worked on his English, studied documents and maps, and made business arrangements. Dracula alludes to the Bible and other works; he has studied history and can converse about it at length. Host: Dracula behaves as a gracious if unusual host for much of Harker's stay. Harker has a comfortable room, plenty to eat, and a library to occupy him, and Dracula seems to enjoy his company. Even when Harker begins to learn things he shouldn't know, Dracula tries to maintain the guise of host while in fact imprisoning Harker. Voivode: Dracula is a voivode, a war-leader. Dracula's "troops" are now limited to three female vampires and swarms of wolves. These are enough to terrify Transylvanian villagers into submission. In London, Dracula will need an army, and readers later learn his plans to build this force. When Harker's knowledge threatens Dracula's invasion plans, Harker becomes an enemy whom Dracula won't hesitate to destroy. When, in Chapter 21, Van Helsing, Holmwood, Seward, and Morris see Dracula at Mina's bed, forcing her to drink his blood, the novel's pace quickens and the tone becomes urgent. The transformation that destroyed Lucy has begun in Mina; time is not on her side. Dracula knows this, too, so he destroys the records and Renfield as he retreats. The race to the final conflict begins in this scene, and it becomes difficult for readers to view Dracula as anything but a monster.

What do the meanings of Lucy's and Mina's names contribute to the conflict in Dracula?

Authors sometimes give characters names with symbolic meaning. In Dracula, several names have meaning that reinforces thematic elements. Lucy is a common name in 19th century novels and roughly means "light" or "daylight." This name fits Lucy's golden beauty and her sweetness, which causes three men to fall in love with her. Her last name, Westenra, is less common and means "light of the west." Since the novel's conflict occurs between a dark, ancient figure from the East who comes to restore old hierarchies and the efforts of Van Helsing and the young men to save Lucy, both her names speak to the danger of Dracula's shadow falling over the Western world. He wants to establish a new realm, through his bloody acts, in a cutting-edge modern city. Dracula opposes Western progress, scoffing at a generation that accepts "dishonorable peace" over glorious battle. So the struggle for control of Lucy, which Dracula temporarily wins, is a symbol of the struggle for control over culture. Will it continue to progress, or will it backslide into the "warlike days" Dracula longs to see renewed? Mina's name also ties into this conflict. Her full name, Wilhelmina, means "will to protect" or "one who protects" and is a feminine version of Wilhelm (William). Much is made, in the novel's later chapters, of the men's willingness to protect Mina. She thanks them for it in her writings—and feels unworthy of it, since she's polluted with Dracula's blood. The novel's final words celebrate this willingness: the men loved Mina so much, Van Helsing says, "that they did dare much for her sake." The men act not only to save Mina but also to protect other women, since Dracula has explicitly threatened them ("all your girls," he calls them while in England). The battle against Dracula is not merely a battle against a single vicious foe. Dracula wants to subjugate modern men and women to his regressive vision of authority; Van Helsing and the men defend the progressive (for that time) ideologies of the West and the light of reason against Dracula's dark vision.

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