Dracula and Xenophobia

Bram Stoker’s Dracula features representations of many late 19th century anxieties in England. One of the most prominent themes is the nationalistic fear of foreign encroachment to the nation. Using a cultural lens, as well as with knowledge of historical circumstances like the rising economic status of Germany mentioned in the introduction to The Fin de Siècle, the overarching theme of fear of foreign dominance in the novel becomes evident.

Johnathan Harker goes to visit the Count in his home in Transylvania to discuss property that the Count wishes to purchase. Harker is immediately struck by the Count’s animalistic physical qualities. The distinctive physical attributes of the Count indicate the prevalence of racial pseudoscience in the fin de siècle, which posited that the common physical characteristics found in different ethnicities are tied to universal intellectual traits in that race as well. The Count, with his sharp fangs, pointy ears, and hairy palms, is described in animalistic terms, specifically a predatory animal.

This predatory characterization is manifested not just in his literal thirst for blood, but in the fact that his primary goal to spread his domain to England by buying property in London. The Count is a wealthy aristocrat of an Eastern European nation, proud of his heritage and customs. He hungers for the blood of English people, masked by an interest in English culture. The Count’s nature as a vampire is to literally consume blood. Blood is traditionally a nationalistic marker of identity, indicating the shared heritage of a people that is in their genes. Dracula’s thirst for the blood of English people solidifies him as a symbol for foreign races that will erase English heritage, “sucking the blood” from England.

Count Dracula as a metaphor for foreign domination is also supported by his intense aversion to Christianity. The pronounced division between Catholics and Protestants in England that is mentioned in The Longman Anthology of British Literature on page 1056 is acknowledged in this novel. Johnathan Harker is given a Catholic crucifix from villagers outside of Dracula’s castle to defend him against the Count. Despite Harker being an Anglican who regards crucifixes as idolatrous, he begins to take comfort in the symbol of Christianity despite its conflict with his beliefs. Stoker, who was an Irish Catholic, may have been trying to bridge the divide between Catholics and Protestants. If both groups united in their belief in the Christian God, they would have greater power to defend themselves against the heretical beliefs of foreigners.

One thought on “Dracula and Xenophobia”

  1. Your commentary on the idea that blood acts as a marker of national identity reminds me of our discussion last Thursday about the implication of blood all throughout the novel, particularly that of important bloodlines and family ties. You say that perhaps Dracula’s wish to go to England signifies his sucking the blood, or heritage, from England itself. However, I think that it is important to note Dracula’s own aristocratic status in Transylvania. Like Arthur and the other characters, Dracula is borne of higher status, and yet because he is not English he is not equal—that is the only thing separating the two parties. No matter how much blood he may take from England, or how wealthy he is and how much land he owns, his bloodline will never be good enough for the high-brow English people. What would happen to this story if Dracula had Western European blood, or better yet, was English? Would he be more likely to be pardoned as Lucy was?

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