Monstrous Protagonists: Victorian Fears Related to “Cultural Guilt”

Dracula as a novel seems to be about eradicating the evil influences of vampirism (and vampires’ representation of foreignness) from Victorian society. However, in questioning who is evil in our text, Bram Stoker paints Victorians themselves as monstrous, calling attention to widespread cultural guilt resulting from imperialism. The monstrous and yet contrite nature of Victorianism is perhaps best captured by Stoker’s portrayal of Dracula’s death (401). 

Throughout this scene, exceptionally violent actions and tumultuous surroundings lead up to the tranquil death of Dracula’s character. Opening this scene with the “level[ing] of weapons,” “the flashing [of] knives,” and the “howling of wolves” enables Stoker to build climactic tension (401). The resolution for this tension comes with Jonathan and Mr. Morris driving their knives into Dracula, who subsequently “crumbles” away (Stoker 401). Perhaps most significant to this scene is Mina’s narration, which reveals that Dracula had a “look of peace” upon his “face,” one which she “never could have imagined might have rested there” as he dissolved into the air (401). In considering Dracula as a foreign influence to be vanquished, one may interpret Stoker’s protagonists as crusaders. But the notion that Dracula needed to be at peace runs contrary to that theme and fits with the higher ethical standards of Victorian society. Stoker’s juxtaposition of these chaotic and serene depictions demonstrates the dual themes running through the novel.  

As Stephen Arata highlights, fears of reverse colonization were salient in the minds of Victorians. What had once been the pride of the “white man’s burden” to “civilize” the rest of the world had now turned into fears related to “being colonized by ‘primitive’ forces;” fears which Arata highlights as stemming from “cultural guilt” (Arata 623). The protagonists of Stoker’s novel justify their actions by claiming that all of their efforts to “sterilize” Dracula’s ties to Transylvania and rid society from his vampire-like tendencies were for the good of the moral order and cultural progress – an idea which seems to parallel the justifications made by the Victorians for their colonization efforts (Stoker 317). A final “look of peace” on Dracula’s face perhaps demonstrates the remorse that these Eurocentric characters felt and may have been Stoker’s attempt to call attention to the cultural feelings of guilt around their previous influence over and eradication of the foreign.

2 thoughts on “Monstrous Protagonists: Victorian Fears Related to “Cultural Guilt””

  1. I really enjoyed your blog post and thought that your connection to Dracula’s death being a foreign threat that was vanquished and the fear of reverse colonization with the idea of imperialism in victorian time. I find your analysis of this as Bram Stoker’s way to create a call to action to stop the eradication of the foreign very interesting and you may be onto something. For me, I think that the idea of the fear of the foreign and trying to hold on to the idea that white pale people were the pure, innocent and superior people reminded me of the Goblin Market. The two sisters are very much afraid of the foreign merchants or goblins, and have to give away parts of their purity in order to enjoy their fruit, but once they have done this they are never able to find the market ever again. In my opinion this portrays a similar message of the reverse colonization and by taking the forbidden fruit the sisters are never able to get another piece of it and are left longing for the wonderful tasty fruit. I feel like this could be interpreted as a way to show that these foreign merchants are not so scary and have their own riches

  2. I agree with your point on how both sides can be described as evil in some ways. I think a large part of this concept can be attributed to the concept of “Who is more evil”. This is seen in the novel in some way as I feel that if you split the novel in half it is almost as if for the first half Dracula is on the “offensive” and the rest of them are not but then we start to see in the second half of the novel that they are out to get Dracula and he is is on “defense” and the one being threatened. I think this is all done on purpose as it is not as if the Victorians need to be seen as perfectly innocent but more so just need to be seen as “Not as evil” as Dracula.

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