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Dracula | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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What is Mina's relationship with Van Helsing in Chapters 25, 26, and 27 of Dracula, when does she accept his authority, and why does she come to question it?

Van Helsing acts as a father-figure, to various extents, for all the young people in Dracula. Lucy accepted this relationship, taking comfort in Van Helsing's guarding presence in her bedroom at night and trusting his guidance. Mina, the less conventional female character, also appreciates Van Helsing's affection, protection, and guidance, especially when it comes to helping Jonathan recover from his trauma. She looks for his approval, for example, when she suppresses tears before she and Jonathan part. Van Helsing's "look is a warning" for her to restrain her tears. But Mina doesn't always comply with Van Helsing's wishes. She resents his intermittent decision to send her away during the men's huddles and complains when he tries to force her to speak under hypnosis. His commands are pointless, Mina argues, because of Dracula's hold on her, yet he orders her about "as if I were a bad child!" Indeed, when she's hypnotized, she's given Van Helsing some control over her similar to what Dracula already has asserted. Her sense of self is doubly under stress. Mina also questions Van Helsing as they travel together. He drives—till he can't sit up for exhaustion. Even then, she must persuade him to let her drive rather than lose time. The closer Dracula comes to his castle and to Mina, the more control Mina exerts over her situation. She insists on leaving to meet Jonathan and the others, and she refuses to be comforted by Van Helsing's promise that God will forgive her impurity on Judgment Day. The question for readers is whether Mina's increasing noncompliance means that she is maturing as a young adult, gaining confidence and self-trust, or whether it results from Dracula's increasing control over her mind as she nears the castle. In other words, is Mina a virtuous but modern woman, or is she a rebellious daughter refusing to obey the father-figure to whom she owes obedience? If the latter, then Mina's apparent self-assertion may in fact be growing obedience to Dracula as her master.

How does Mina struggle against transformation into a vampire in Chapters 26 and 27 of Dracula, and what signs of transformation do she and Van Helsing note?

Unlike Lucy, who had no idea why she was ill or what Van Helsing's odd garlic treatment was about, Mina understands what is happening to her. She knows she has a bond with Dracula; they've tasted each other's blood. She feels his commanding pull over her, even when he's far away, and she grasps that she could at any time become his creature and attack one of her defenders. As the pursuers follow Dracula to Transylvania, readers see both Mina's gradual transformation and her fight to remain human and herself. Mina's sleep patterns change. She is groggy during the day at first and finally can't stay awake during daylight, yet she's alert and bright-eyed at night. As she and Van Helsing sit by the fire, he sees those bright eyes and realizes that he can't sleep at night for fear of attack. Mina's appetite changes—and she lies about it. She's not hungry for human food but doesn't want to worry Van Helsing, so she pretends to have eaten while he gathered firewood. This is a good sign—the real Mina is still present, ever putting others' needs and feelings before her own. Mina's mind becomes more aligned with Dracula's. On the one hand, she's unable to express her own thoughts when his command overpowers her. On the other, she turns this mental link into a weapon against Dracula by willingly undergoing hypnosis. In addition, when she feels freer of Dracula's control, her mind—like his—is sharp and predictive. It's as if she gains from Dracula some of his planning ability. Ironically, she uses his own strategy—studying maps to plan his invasion of England and to arrange his retreat—against him. The appearance of the bride-maidens on the cold night during which they feed on the horses and call Mina "sister" is a test of Mina's resolve. Van Helsing feels a surge of joy when Mina's eyes reveal "the repulsion, the horror" she feels when the bride-maidens call—a sign of her rebellion against Dracula's desire to add her to his harem.

What is the redemption that occurs in Chapter 27 of Dracula, and in what way is the conflict's resolution a muted victory?

Dracula's death happens quickly; he doesn't have time even to get out of his box of earth before Harker and Morris destroy him. The end of the pursuit strikes some readers as anticlimactic, but a more dramatic moment in Chapter 27 provides a more convincing climax and resolution to the novel's long conflict: the cleansing of Mina's forehead. Already, Van Helsing has freed Lucy and Dracula's bride-maidens from the thrall of his evil, so that their souls can be redeemed for heaven. And, Mina reports, a "look of peace, such as I never could have imagined," passes over Dracula's face before his body disintegrates. The vampires are not just destroyed; their human souls, subjects of heavenly salvation, are restored. When the red mark disappears from Mina's forehead, she is purged somehow of the taint of Dracula's blood in her body and is pure again, as Morris exclaims in joy before he dies. Redemption from the horrid taint of Dracula, who studied, according to Van Helsing, with demons, is the novel's resolution. But the victory is muted because of the novel's losses: Lucy, in her pure and sweet beauty, and Morris, a brave and trusting man. It's not surprising that the talkative Van Helsing gets the novel's last words, and these reinforce the idea that Mina's cleansing is the novel's resolution. He holds Quincey Harker and says that someday the child will understand "how some men so loved [Mina], that they did dare much for her sake." They didn't act in time to save Lucy, though they purified her body; but Mina emerges from her trial redeemed; "The snow," Morris says, "is not more stainless than her forehead."

In what ways is Dracula an example of the Gothic genre, and in what ways does it break with that genre?

Settings: Castle Dracula, old and musty, with locked doors hiding horrible mysteries, is a classic Gothic setting. The dramatic mountain landscape, fearful cliffs, and howling wolves add to the Gothic mood, especially at night. Harker is isolated there, fearful that his sanity is breaking, and exposed to sights that defy rational explanation, such as Dracula creeping down the stone walls like a lizard. Other settings have Gothic elements, too: the lunatic asylum, where Renfield eats flies and spiders to extend his life, and Carfax, abandoned for decades and now inhabited only by Dracula, rats, and dust, are others. The dilapidated churchyard and cemetery at Whitby, with its lying headstones and suicide burials, is an appropriately Gothic scene for Dracula's first assault on Lucy. Monsters: Dracula himself, whether in his supernaturally strong human form, his bat form, or his mist form, fits the Gothic mold, as do the bride-maidens with their enticing but slightly inhuman beauty. Lucy, too, becomes a monster, damned eternally if Van Helsing can't restore her human (though dead) nature. The threat of something that seems human but is not and its effects on normal humans is a common Gothic theme; Van Helsing's use of religious objects to combat Dracula is part of this sensibility. However, the novel's emphasis on modern life (for its setting) opposes these Gothic elements. Typewriters, wax phonograph cylinders, shorthand, Kodak pictures, and modern transportation affect the plot. Dracula flees England by sail; his pursuers come after him by steam train, the quintessential 19th century cutting edge way to travel. The contrast of Gothic and modern reinforces the conflict of old and new, Eastern and Western. Dracula yearns for the return of rule by aristocrats in their castles, but the young people live in London and embrace its modernity.

How is Dracula organized, and how does Harker's final note serve as a bookend to the novel's headnote?

Dracula is organized roughly but not precisely chronologically over several months, with the final note falling seven years after the main action. When characters are separated (for example, when Harker writes from Castle Dracula and Mina is in Whitby) or when several characters report on the same events, the chronology may overlap or skip forward or back a bit; but generally, the plot follows the calendar from early May to early November of a year that may be 1893. This choice is in keeping with the other organizational strategy—the fiction that the events presented are real, captured in real records such as journals, patient notes, news articles, and so on. The fantastic and Gothic elements of the novel are set against as realistic a historical backdrop as possible, especially for its original readers, for whom 1893 was just four years previously. Stoker may have chosen this organization to appeal to readers' desire for adventure and mystery in the midst of their real, everyday concerns and activities. The approach is popular with readers today, too; an example is Max Brooks' World War Z, a fictional account in many dozens of "historical" records of a zombie apocalypse. What may strike readers as odd is that, having collected and organized the records so carefully, the Harkers lock them in a safe for seven years. At several points in the novel, characters write to capture the fantastic facts accurately so they'll be believed—just as the headnote claims. Yet when Harker considers the records later, he thinks that no one will take them "as proofs of so wild a story." No matter, Van Helsing says: "We want no proofs; we ask none to believe us!" Yet the records are assembled, according to the headnote, for public consumption and judgment. In this way, perhaps, the headnote and Harker's final note challenge readers to make their own judgments about the novel's central questions of sacrificial good and all-consuming evil.

How do Dracula's main settings—London and environs, Castle Dracula and environs—shape the struggle between Dracula and Van Helsing, and what advantages and disadvantages does each setting offer the adversaries?

Castle Dracula and the mountains around it are the seat of Dracula's power. There he can rest safely, feed with impunity, and command a small army of wolves. The villagers hate and fear him but are so intimidated by him that they don't oppose him; neither did their ancestors. Dracula's control in this setting is complete, and he has leisure to study and plan his invasion of England. Harker, in contrast, finds this setting an almost inescapable prison, with its locked doors, steep walls, and thirsty occupants. When Dracula leaves the castle, he takes 50 boxes of earth from its chapel. In a sense, he carries his stronghold with him. And at first, this plan works. The presence of the castle's earth protects and sustains him on the Demeter and at Carfax. However, what changes is Dracula's control. In London and the surrounding areas, he must retreat to the boxes, in their various locations, each day; and though he's hidden the boxes, Harker uses his legal expertise, Holmwood his aristocratic influence, and Van Helsing his knowledge of how to poison each box to deprive Dracula of each sanctuary. In London, Dracula finds that he's been overconfident. He can't control this large, diverse territory; he can't make creatures quickly enough to build his forces. In the end, he must take the last box of earth and flee to his home base to regroup. Castle Dracula represents old ways and historic times when nobility of blood equaled power and ability to intimidate. London, the modern metropolis, opposes Dracula on multiple fronts. He's unequipped to succeed in this setting, against an aspiring doctor, a middle-class lawyer and his secretary-wife, an adventurous, globe-trotting Texan, and the other representatives of forward-thinking, modern society.

How does Dracula's power grab contrast to the willingness of other characters to sacrifice—power, wealth, life—in the struggle between evil and good, damnation and salvation, that plays out in Dracula?

Dracula works to regain the power he and his ancestors, worthy warriors all, once held. He has asserted his dominance regionally by cowing the people who live in villages near Castle Dracula, preying on their children unless they serve him. But de facto rule over part of Transylvania is not enough for him. He wants an empire, built on blood. "All your girls," he warns the men, will do the work of spreading his rule and working revenge for the status his family has lost. Dracula must take and take, more prey, more blood—or wither into age. By contrast, Van Helsing and the young people have the choice and the responsibility to sacrifice for others. Van Helsing rallies them to such sacrifice using biblical imagery: they must bear their cross, obey God's will, and become God's instruments even "through stripes and shame; through tears and blood, through doubts and fears." They rise to the occasion. Holmwood allows the terrible desecration of Lucy's still-beautiful corpse and even participates in it; Mina requires the men to agree to kill her should she become a threat and is quite willing to die for the others. All risk their lives against enemies human and vampire, to save each other and to prevent Dracula's evil from spreading, and Quincey Morris dies in the final assault on Dracula. The willingness to give up one's life for others is part of the Christian ethic on which Van Helsing depends in his struggle against Dracula; by contrast, Dracula sacrifices others to get what he needs and consequently has no bonds of affectionate protection to help him in the end. The Szgany who haul the box of earth to the castle care only to escape Dracula's wrath and flee as soon as they can. Van Helsing and his allies triumph because they are willing to sacrifice all for each other and their goal.

How does the emphasis on record-keeping in Dracula develop the theme of modern knowledge, and how does it contribute to characterization, especially of Mina?

When Jonathan Harker is imprisoned in Castle Dracula, he turns to his journal for comfort and praises "the habit of entering accurately" everything in his record of events. This is in keeping with the novel's headnote, which assures readers that the records present the "simple fact" of events and are accurate and timely. Without these records, Dracula's foes could not have saved Lucy's soul from damnation, stopped Mina's transformation, or destroyed Dracula and his bride-maidens. The knowledge gathered, slowly and often painfully, into the records is literally power—the power to predict, adapt, and act. For the characters who contribute to the records—Seward, Harker, and Mina primarily—the emphasis on record-keeping reveals their modern understandings and concerns (at least in the novel's context). They represent, along with Holmwood, the forward-thinking, can-do mindset of the late Victorian period. They use information and experience to defend their Western worldview against a malicious invader and his perverted idea of England's future. Seward's medical notes mingle professional ambition, medical knowledge, and deep emotion; Harker's journal guards him against insanity and guides him to avenge himself and protect Mina. Both men's records reveal intellect and emotion. Most remarkable is that Mina's journal does, too. In fact, her writings, transcriptions, and organization of the records convince even Van Helsing of her intelligence—her "man's brain." Her writings contrast sharply with the brief, sweet, and passive thoughts Lucy records.

What does the motif of doors, developed throughout Dracula, suggest about control and power in the novel—who has it, how it is used, and who does it affect?

Early in the novel, Harker explores Castle Dracula and finds, to his despair, "doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted." Dracula has told him that any locked door is locked for a good reason, but while the locked doors do keep the hungry bride-maidens from attacking Harker, they also imprison Harker. Throughout the novel, characters lock and unlock doors to control situations. Mina and Lucy's mother try to prevent her sleepwalking by locking her in her room; Dracula, in various forms, attempts to get past doors between him and his victims in several settings—in the asylum and at the Westenras' home, for example. Harker is trapped by doors that mysteriously slam shut; Van Helsing rips doors from their hinges to disable such traps. Vampires are bound by rules concerning doors: They can't cross into a home unless invited over the threshold, and even crumbs of a communion wafer, as in the case with Lucy's tomb, can keep them from touching a door. Van Helsing is the only mortal character, for most of the novel, who understands how to use doors to hinder and harm Dracula. He gradually shuts Dracula off from every safe hiding place. Even if the Szgany workers had successfully delivered the box of earth to Castle Dracula in the novel's final chapter, Dracula would have found his ancestral home closed to him—the final insult to his pride in his lineage. Doors are everywhere in the novel—tools that Dracula and his opponents use in their battle.

To what extent is Mina Harker a model of the New Woman type in Dracula, and in what ways does she repudiate that type?

Mina embodies some of traits of the New Woman, but she defies others. As the woman at the center of the novel, for whom men risk their lives and one dies, she represents an ideal in the novel's theme of masculinity and femininity. Like the typical New Woman, Mina is smart, skilled, and able. She has a brain like a man's, Van Helsing says—high praise from the man who complains about his former student's sluggish grasp of his sometimes outlandish ideas. She keeps up with the latest in communications technology, has a fabulous memory, and reasons well. In addition, Mina works. She intends to work, when she assumes that she and Jonathan will struggle financially, but even after the need is no longer there, she works—but never for herself, always to be useful to her husband. At one point in the novel, each of the men shakes Mina's hand formally, a gesture reserved for use among men. Clearly, she's no fragile woman who faints at effort or surprise. And yet, the New Woman also has the trait of sexual adventurousness. Mina rejects this both explicitly and implicitly. Her physical and sexual purity and faithfulness to her husband is stressed throughout the novel, and the novel's most victorious moment comes not when Dracula is destroyed but when the shameful red mark on Mina's forehead vanishes, signaling her purity. Morris, dying, exclaims in joy that "the snow is not more stainless than her forehead." With the threat of Dracula eliminated, Mina resumes a normal Victorian marriage. She and Jonathan lock all the records she has so carefully assembled in a safe, and she has a son. The final note in the novel is written by her husband—and the last words are given to Van Helsing, who praises Mina not for her intelligence or skills but for her "sweetness and loving care," though he does also mention her courage. So Mina is a progressive woman—but only where her mind, not her body, is concerned, and only to a point.

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