Ole Unreliable: Point of View and Narration in Dracula

Throughout Bram Stoker’s Dracula, point of view and narration are undeniably two of the most important factors in interpreting the novel, as they consistently change and affect our understanding of the plot as readers. Not only does the shifting of narration provide different understandings of the plot, but more in-depth characterization of the characters morality and sensibility. Because of this, Dracula can be understood through many different critical lenses, as we, the readers, are simply given more ways that Stoker can illustrate the complex evils of Dracula as understood through the morality of the narrators.

Though evil might actually be a bit harsh for Dracula, as our understanding of him and his wickedness is a result of the narrators’ position towards him. Stoker never grants Dracula any agency in explaining his story or perspective. To the people of England, he is an outsider, who Jonathan goes so far as to even give us a serpent-like description of him. The only perspective of Dracula we receive is from those against him.

So, is Dracula really evil, and if so, who is trusted to qualify him as this?

Particularly through Carol A. Senf’s “Dracula: The Unseen Face in the Mirror”,  this topic of narration is further illuminated. As stated, Jonathan sees Dracula as something not only other than himself, but something of an enemy. Without Dracula’s point of view, we’re not entirely sure whether this antagonistic feeling was truly reciprocated by Dracula. Senf, touching on Dracula’s lack of agency regarding narration, explains:

The difficulty in interpreting Dracula’s character is compounded by the narrative technique, for the reader quickly realizes that Dracula is never seen objectively and never permitted to speak for himself while his actions are recorded by people who have determined to destroy him and who, moreover, repeatedly question the sanity of their own quest (Senf 424).

The representation of Dracula, as explained in Senf’s article can be better understood through a psychoanalytic lens. These biases present within the narration not only work to progress the plot but to reveal faults or flaws of character. As the characters “determined to destroy him” also “question the sanity of their own quest”, Senf illuminates a sort of unreliability present through the narration of characters all supporting a similar agenda. Also, I think in raising the question of the “sanity” of the narrators through a psychoanalytic lens, the characters’ explications of their morals provide an understanding of how Dracula is affecting them. Senf poses this as an idea, as she argues that Dracula’s real wickedness affects those from the inside, rather than deliberately harming them. Senf writes: “Although perfectly capable of using superior strength when he must defend himself, he usually employs seduction, relying on the others’ desires to emulate his freedom from external constraints” (Senf 427). Given his mental way of attack, and for the other character’s indulgence in his seduction, the reliability of the narrators of the novel become even more cloudy as their morals are constantly challenged. As Senf argues, the narrators hatred of Dracula likely stems from their inability to mimic his “freedom” from societal norms.