Dracula | Study Guide

Bram Stoker

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

Dracula | Symbols


Castle and City

Settings in Dracula are associated with the protagonist, Van Helsing, and the antagonist, Dracula. Castle Dracula and the villages near it form Dracula's stronghold. No one denies his authority there without paying a terrible price, though they have folklore to protect them, and Van Helsing knows that if Dracula successfully retreats to his castle, destroying him will be much more difficult. The ancient cemetery and church at Whitby and the abandoned medieval house at Carfax are also places where Dracula can flex his powers.

Conversely, the modern cities of London and Amsterdam are associated with Van Helsing's research, Mina's secretarial skills, Seward's cutting-edge medical knowledge, and Harker's legal prowess. Dracula is less at home and more vulnerable in modern settings, despite years of preparing to live among Londoners.

Tools of the Trade

Lore about vampires existed, which Stoker researched and added to. Many of the tools Van Helsing uses to destroy the vampires and to prevent Dracula from attacking Lucy have mythological or Christian associations. The crucifix and communion wafer are clearly Christian symbols used against Dracula's evil. Further, other tools, such as garlic and wild rose, already figured in folk remedies for various illnesses. Knowledge, too, is a tool Van Helsing uses as he and the young people pursue Dracula, as are the modern methods used to record the knowledge and disperse it. So the toolkit deployed in Dracula draws on ancient and modern resources, on superstition, and "the latest" in technology.

Blood and Bodies

However readers see the conflict played out in Dracula—old versus new, Eastern versus Western, evil versus good—the battlefield of the conflict is physical. Dracula is nearly superhuman, by night at least, in his strength and his ability to rejuvenate his youth by drinking the blood of others. Readers witness victims' bodies become material for his apparent campaign to establish a new kingdom, and readers watch as Dracula attempts to create new vampire servants in Lucy and Mina—through blood.

At the same time, Van Helsing uses blood in the form of transfusions and physical bodies, and in the form of Mina's mental connection to Dracula, to mount his counterattack. While the prize may be the soul of England or at least the souls of those Dracula feeds on, the conflict occurs in the physical bodies of Dracula, his vampire women, and his victims.

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