May 13, 2008
A Tragedy of Sucking
A nobleman kills someone who is trying to attack him; he wanders into a new land and later marries the widowed queen. After a time, he finds out the man was his father and he has married his biological mother so he pokes his eyes out. When one thinks of a tragedy, normally it is something like the preceding: the story of Oedipus. Classically, a tragedy is a narrative tale about the fall of a great man with drama and conflict between good and evil and a disastrous conclusion that elicits pity. Dracula by Bram Stoker may not seem like a tragedy on the surface, but it shares characteristics with many tragedies such as Oedipus and Macbeth, and fits the classical definition of the genre.
Count Dracula is a great man that falls, not in the typical sense but in that he was a strong and powerful individual. According to the editors of the book, Romanians used Count to mean prince (Stoker 22). There was some speculation of the Count’s background regarding the possibility of him being of royal blood; when talking about his history, the Count spoke like a king (Stoker 33). He even calls himself a nobleman: “Here I am noble... the common people know me, and I am Master” (Stoker 26). Jonathan writes of Dracula’s wealth, about how “The table service is of gold, and so beautifully wrought that it must be of immense value. The curtains and upholstery of the chairs and sofas and the hangings of my bed are of the costliest and most beautiful fabrics… [he had seen] something like them in Hampton Court,” a royal residence (Stoker 25).
Dracula is also amiable and well-read. Jonathan points out how Dracula met him “with a charming smile” (Stoker 23) when he opened the door to him. Later in the library of the castle, Jonathan noticed a wide variety of genres: “history, geography, politics, political economy, botany, geology, [and] law” (Stoker 25). At the time, only the wealthy were able to get an education, which is proof of both his wealth and education. Not only did he have books of many genres, but “for a man who was never in the country, and who did not evidently do much business, his knowledge and acumen were wonderful” (Stoker 37).
His superhuman strength and ability to control people made Dracula powerful. He seemed to feel he was untouchable, but with a little hard work, even the Count was brought down. After their meeting about how to find and kill Count Dracula, John, Arthur, Quincey, Jonathan and Van Helsing made their way to Carfax in order to find and cleanse the boxes of his native soil that Dracula brought over from Transylvania with him. The men cleansed the 29 boxes at Carfax, leaving Dracula without a place to rest in the area; they later tracked the rest of the boxes. The men found eight boxes in Piccadilly: “with the tools which we had brought with us we opened them, one by one, and treated them as we had treated those others in the old chapel” (Stoker 262). Arthur and Quincey soon found twelve additional boxes and “destroyed” them at two different residences, leaving one box unaccounted for and nowhere for the Count to go rest besides that one box. When he finds them and says, “You think you have left me without a place to rest; but I have more,” (Stoker 267) it seems more like he’s scared and saying what will make himself feel better. Though he taunts them, he knows that he has been beaten.
What led the men to search for Dracula’s boxes was his attack on Mina. John, Van Helsing, Arthur and Quincey found out from Renfield that Dracula had been visiting Mina. They ran up to the Harker’s bedroom and barged in just as Mina got a small taste of Dracula’s blood; Dracula was interrupted before he was able to fully turn her and complete his mission. After he fled, Mina recalled what Dracula had said to her: you “are now to me, flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood; kin of my kin; my bountiful wine-press for a while; and shall be later on my companion and my helper” (Stoker p 252). He told her that they are now the same, he is a part of her and she was to be his wine-press, meaning he drank from her, probably referencing the Christian fact that wine is the blood of Christ. In calling her his companion and helper, Dracula tells her she will be like a servant, like a robot: “when my brain says ‘Come!’ to you, you shall cross land or sea to do my bidding” (Stoker p 252). However, after being found out by the men, Dracula, a mere shadow of his former self, escaped before Mina got a good drink. He ran away like a coward in an effort to get back to his home soil. The final fall for the Count was his death.
There was much conflict between good and evil in this book. Obviously, Dracula was evil, and most everyone else was good. He killed the children he kidnapped and fed them to the women vampires, who also tried to feed on Jonathan. A larger conflict includes Lucy and the four men, but mainly Arthur, in the graveyard. She was no longer herself, but evil. She looked different and even played coy with Arthur: “Lucy’s eyes... full of hell-fire, instead of... pure... Her eyes blazed with unholy light... With a languorous, voluptuous grace, [she] said: - ‘Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you.” She was trying to trick him, using the same power the women vampires used on Jonathan and Dracula used on nearly everyone he came in contact with (Stoker 188). Lucy was no longer the angelic young woman they all loved, but a woman who could deceive anyone.
Renfield had a strange conflict within himself and Dracula. Renfield was certainly a different case than the others because he was not bitten, that we know of, yet he was affected by Dracula and what he wanted. “The Master is at hand,” says Renfield on page 96, then later, “I am here to do Your bidding Master. I am your slave, and You will reward me” (Stoker 98). He wants to be used, he wants Dracula to be his master. He changes his tune later on when beseeching Dr. Seward: “You don’t know that you do by keeping me here...” (Stoker 217). He pleads with the doctor to get him out of the house; he seems noticeably scared of Dracula. “By all that you hold sacred- by all you hold dear... - for the sake of the Almighty, take me out of this and save my soul from guilt” (Stoker 218). He seemed freaked out by the chance of seeing or being near Dracula; he knew he was coming. Renfield later explains this inner turmoil when he talks about wanting to let Dracula in but not wanting to.
Mina was probably the most pure of all the characters in the book. Even though it was Dracula who helped end the life of her dearest friend and tainted her with his blood just one night before, Mina was most understanding. She said:
But it is not a work of hate, that poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of all. Just think what will be his joy when he too is destroyed in his worser part that his better part may have spiritual immortality. You must be pitiful to him too, though it may not hold your hands from his destruction (Stoker 269).
Later, Mina insists that the men must take her with them to Dracula’s castle because she knows he can control her mind and make her go. Though she has his evil blood inside of her, her good side prevails.
The tragic ending in the novel is slightly different than what we usually get in classical tragedy. Dracula dies in the end; of course, this is only sad if you were rooting for the villain. In an amazing race, the men catch up with Dracula’s carriage moments before the sun has set. When they open the box, Dracula’s eyes go from being full of anger to full of triumph, but the self-congratulation was too soon. Jonathan and Quincey stab Dracula, and “his body crumbled into dust” and disappeared (Stoker 325). Everyone is happy and relieved at the end of the book; the desired outcome came true. This ending is not at all typical of a classical tragedy; the ending of Dracula was actually a happy one.
While Dracula was a great man who fell, his death was not in actuality a tragedy. He was an evil man and had to be killed lest he killed more innocent people. One can say the tragedy of his death to the underworld, brought great joy to the good. It meant one less vampire to prey on the good people of the world. Even Mina was now free from her curse as her scar had disappeared. I wonder if it’s worthwhile to suggest that Quincey’s death is heroic and brings down the ‘body’ of men who are hunters? Or perhaps he can be seen as a sort of sacrifice? Then the ‘body of men’ is reborn with the multi-named baby. By the way, a character like Macbeth (while not a pure villain like Drac) is another case of the ending of a tragedy being happy, in a way.
Stocker, Bram. Dracula. 1897. Ed. Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.