Bram Stoker's Dracula essay

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nineteenth century, the women's suffrage movement was gaining momentum. Appearing out of an era heavily influence by Victorian ideals and beliefs, it was now a question of whether or not women should be allowed to vote, work, eat, and appear as they wished. At this point in history, women were considered significantly inferior to their male counterparts and were not considered so much as citizens of the United States of America according to its constitution. They were recognized as people but fell into a special non-voting category and it wasn't until the 1890s that the first state (Wyoming) granted women the right to vote. In England, Queen Victoria was in power and supported ideals of blissful motherhood and marriage as an ultimate goal.

In the midst of the suffrage movement, Bram Stoker wrote his immortal novel Dracula. His two leading female characters, Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra, though different in personality, both represent a new woman in English literature.

Mina, while well educated and independent, showcased many of the mother-like attributes supported by the Victorian era. Her character lacks sexuality and is usually sought at times of despair. Lucy, on the other hand, demonstrates the power a woman's sexuality can have and captures the hearts of numerous men. Her physical attractiveness marks the early stages of women's sexual liberation while Mina's ability to be self-sufficient, both economically and spiritually, points to the coming of a more independent woman who can survive in modern times without the assistance of a man and become a model for future feminists in literature and the world around it.

Mina Harker's character finds itself in a space between traditional Victorian ideals and modern progressive thought and demonstrates the capability to exist within the boundaries of the two. Victorian women were generally financially dependent upon men for their entire lives. As children and young women, they were supported by their fathers and would typically make finding a husband a primary goal. Once married, they would leave the household of their fathers and directly enter that of their husbands. Once married, the household became their top priority, raising a family was sought as a career, and, according to Meike Roder, "Women were supposed to stay at home and their main duty was to take care for their household and their children." (Roder, 3)

Mina represents a change in tradition while assuring that such a change cannot arrive too quickly. She possesses some of the progressive thoughts a feminist may have while also remaining somewhat conservative in her actions. She stands as a mother to most of Stoker's male characters. She provides spiritual support to those deeply effected by Lucy's death and offers the kind of comfort a mother would give to her children; she also makes tea for the men as an attempt to sooth their wounds. On the other hand, she is incredibly self-motivated and sufficient. In addition to her duties as a school teacher, which she describes as exhausting in a letter to Lucy, she "mentions her other work activities: learning shorthand, keeping a journal, and "doing what I see lady journalists do." (Prescott, 4) Mina's journal keeping signifies a desire to pursue a personal interest as a possible career and gives her character a passion that is found outside the scope of domestic duties. She states that she wishes to be of much service to Jonathan but, as Prescott has pointed out, "we can wonder how a lady journalist can possibly help a solicitor's clerk." (Prescott, 4)

Mina is passionate about her journalism. To her, it is something much more than small mundane entries about the day's events. It becomes an important objective of the day, something she must find piece and quiet in order to complete. The journal's contents, which become vital to the story, demonstrate an important desire for self-expression. During the late 19th century, many women were repressed, under spoken, and confined to the boundaries laid down on them by men and although Mina was not directly rebelling against these ideals, she was breaking out of them without thinking twice.

The text found within Mina's journal often raises awareness of the changing dynamics of women's life. She presents her opinions regarding a "New Woman" and comments on her potential for the future. As Prescott notes, Mina writes, "Some of the "New Women" writers will someday start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the new woman won't condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it, too! There's some consolation in that."(Prescott, 5) At the time of its publication, this passage may have been interpreted as radical thought. The idea of a man and woman witnessing each other sleeping could have been categorized with sexual promiscuousness and the thought of a woman proposing to her potential husband was completely unheard of. Women were expected to take a passive role in their own lives and had little say when their destiny was concerned. This liberal and progressive thought would grant women the opportunity to choose their own mates and ultimately have more control of their futures.

Even though Mina possesses many attributes of the coming progressive women of the 20th century, she completely lacks any sexuality. Lucy Westenra, on the other hand, is an incredibly sexualized character that captivates the infatuations of the story's male population. They all adore her and all of the younger makes strive to marry her. Lucy's beauty even intrigues Mina, who repeatedly comments on how gorgeous she is. However, although she reflects on progressive thoughts and actions that slightly separate her from the traditional Victorian woman, Lucy does not become a good example of a feminist. Like a typical Victorian woman, marriage is her primary goal. While Mina's energy is directed into her marriage in addition to her career and passions, Lucy's biggest concern is which man to marry. Quincey Morris, Jack Seward, and Arthur Holmwood all want to make Lucy their wife so naturally, she has to choose one. Winning Lucy's heart becomes a contest and she does not want to choose. Instead, she would like to marry all three of the men to make the situation easier. During the Victorian era, this thought process is closely associated with the sexual promiscuousness of a less than admirable woman and justifies why she becomes Dracula's first victim.

Prior to her vampire transformation, Lucy is mostly innocent and naive. Although she would like to marry all of her suitors, she chooses Arthur. If Lucy had been more diabolical and lacked any Victorian morals, her sexuality involving the three men would have been stronger. However, Lucy's potential as a lust-seeking being comes to life, as she becomes Dracula's first victim. By present day standards, Lucy may not posses the characteristics that would make her appear as an un-chaste woman but the idea of desiring the marriage of three men simultaneously in the late 19th century, dooms her to the most un-holy of existences.

Lucy's lack of any career goal also takes her out of the running for a feminist example. While Mina describes her goals and passions to her, it is as if she cannot comprehend it. She lacks any real concerns outside of seeking male attention and certainly does not posses the will power and strength that Mina does. Lucy, like the traditional Victorian woman, places herself in a position that is completely dependent of a husband while Mina would be capable of surviving without one. Although she does break through the sexual awkwardness that is portrayed by women of her time, Lucy does not possess any additional strength that would award her any kind of liberation. Her desire to capture the hearts of numerous men represents a break from the restrictions laid down by the norms of the era, and as a result Lucy is a sort of new woman. However, she lacks any other traits or goals that would classify her as a progressive woman and certainly lacks the intelligence necessary to survive Count Dracula's advances.

When placed in similar situations, Mina's actions reflect much more intelligence and sense than Lucy's. She, like Lucy, experiences a blood transfusion with the vampire but is able to survive it. Their situations contrast each other by the manner in which they took place. Dracula may only enter one's home if he is invited to do so. Unlike Lucy, who personally allows the Count to enter, it is Renfleld, a local psychopath hypnotized by the vampire's presence, who grants him access to Mina after she had repeatedly kept him away. This raises the issue of Mina's intelligence verses Lucy's infatuation with the opposite sex. As Foucault stated, the people of the Victorian era began to "choose sexuality as the basis for delineating their identity." (Foucault) Their actions after the vampire's first attack also differ. Mina states that she feels unclean and is able…[continue]

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