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Bram Stoker's Exploration of Gender Roles in Dracula's Novel

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Words: 1937 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Apr 29, 2022

Words: 1937|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Apr 29, 2022

Introduction: The Gothic tradition has often been a device to warn about the consequences of transgressing accepted beliefs of the time; ‘Dracula’ – a gothic novel published in 1887 - is seemingly subjective of this in its presentation of female sexuality. Background: Society’s advancement in the understanding of gender and sexuality, in particular female sexuality has driven critics to consider this in texts. This is significant as perceptions of sexuality are usually culturally and historically shaped, therefore it may be beneficial to be sceptical of notions that pathologize sexual difference. Female sexuality has often been a significant topic post 1900, potentially as a result of influences such as the suffragette movement, highlighting sexual discrimination. During the Victorian era, when Stoker lived, female sex drive was often considered as unnatural, possibly because, as Weiman states ‘male sexual pleasure (is) necessary for reproduction and female sexual pleasure (is) not, (therefore) sexual pleasure (is) the sole providence of men’.Another reason could also stem from evolutionary ideas of male sexuality being biologically imperative. 

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Thesis statement: Stoker portrays the male characters to have an element of control and power over female characters in ‘Dracula’. Topic sentence: Dracula is presented as much older and immoral and controls multiple women who are inferior to him, for example the three vampire women in his castle. Evidence & citing: It is clear he has power over them since he questions them ‘’How dare you touch him?’’ ‘’when I have forbidden it?’’. The repetition of question marks creates a sense of authority while the use of imperatives in his dialogue ‘’back I tell you’’ ‘’ beware’’ reinforce his power. However, these women also have power over other men such as Jonathan Harker through their sexuality. Topic sentence: The colour symbolism in ‘’red lips’’ alongside ‘’voluptuousness’’ connotes ideas of promiscuity, lust and sexuality, making the male character Johnathan ‘’uneasy’’ as it places power in female sexuality but also plays on Victorian fears of it. Evidence & citing: The explicit ‘’deliberate’’ behaviour towards him ‘’ she arched her neck’’ alongside the simile ‘’like an animal’’ highlights immorality, as well as emphasising the unusualness of it by comparing her actions to a non-human. Commentary: This is because women are subverting the stereotype ‘naturally timid, or sweet’ which therefore places them in ‘positions of great and dangerous power’.

Topic sentence: Diversely, the character of Mina Harker symbolizes the ideal Victorian woman: caring, intelligent and chaste, but remaining subservient to her husband Jonathan reducing women, no matter how idealised, to still have dependency on men. This reductive view of women is evident in Mina being complimented on having a ‘‘man’s brain’’, suggesting that not only are there distinct gender differences between characteristics, for instance intelligence and bravery, but also that if being like a man is a compliment for a woman, that being a man is then regarded as more rewarding. Interestingly, this suggests Mina’s character reflects characteristics of the ‘New Woman’ – ‘the term used at the end of the nineteenth century to describe women who were pushing against the limits which society imposed on women.’. In Mina’s letter to Lucy she reveals she ‘’work[s] very hard’’ as well as ‘’practising very hard’’ which firstly highlights her intellectual characteristics but also, due to the epistolary form of the novel, reinforces admiration for her and her New Woman traits as she has the ability to articulate fluently both in writing and speech. Commentary: ‘’Many New Woman novels strongly opposed the idea that home is woman’s only proper sphere’’ , here, Mina Harker seems to reflect this idea. It is vital to acknowledge however, that Mina Harker is pursuing her education to ‘’be useful to Jonathan’’, suggesting she is still seemingly secondary to her husband; she ‘’must attend to him at once’’ which implies that although she has some new woman characterises, she has a consistent reserved sexuality. This is juxtaposed with the character of Lucy and Stoker presents her as a ‘foil’ to Mina. 

Topic sentence: Mina’s chastity is highlighted by Stoker and her purity continuously admired through the novel. Evidence & citing: For example, one metaphorical description ‘white as ivory and with no stain’ emphasises her purity, the verb ‘stain’ here connoting ideas of dirt and impurity reflecting ideas of female sexuality, while the noun ‘ivory’ can be interpreted as representing strength, as it is hard, strong material, and with the adjective ‘white’ can create virginal and marital imagery. This then prepares the reader for the symbolism of the mark on Mina’s forehead later in the novel. The biblical allusion ‘I bear this mark of shame upon my forehead until the judgement day’ could perhaps be a reference to the mark of Cain. In the story of Cain as soon as blood of Abel touched the ground the earth became cursed, and he was left drinking/swallowing Abel’s blood. The consumption of blood and its impurity holds clear links with the vampire myth used in ‘Dracula’. Here, the responsibility is placed onto Mina, because she is presented to hold the ‘shame’; not only is this wrongfully placed but it is also exaggerated. This is because, Mina believes her encounter with Dracula where she laid ‘’still and endured’’ has possibly affected her chastity. The possible link of the mark on Mina’s forehead and the mark of Cain could perhaps reflect the seemingly illogical belief of the severity of female ‘sexual impurity’.

Topic sentence: Suggesting that sexual pleasure is unique to men leads to women often being presented as sex objects and forms an idea of male ownership and right. Stoker presents women such as the character of Mina to comply with her own sexual objectification. Evidence & citing: This could be interpreted from her asking to be killed, ‘’brave men have killed their wives and their womenkind’’ if she is to become a vampire and belonging to Dracula, implying her want of the preservation of her chastity even if through death. Furthermore, the adjective ‘’brave’’ emphasises the fears of female sexuality but also the notion that it is the man’s ‘’duty’’ to prevent it. Commentary: It could be argued that as the character doesn’t explicitly reference sexuality throughout the novel, reinforces that sexuality is not an ownership of women. This is similar for the character of Lucy, who is better dead and pure than alive and ‘‘impure’’. However, it is also important to consider that they are being transformed into vampires not just simply sexually overt women, therefore Mina Harker’s preference for death may be more to do with not wanting to be a vampire rather than an impure woman.

Topic sentence: The fear of female sexuality is evident in the fact that, the vampires, or the characters that are becoming vampires, are presented as the only sexually overt women in the novel as their ‘‘deliberate voluptuousness’’ was both ‘’thrilling and repulsive’’. Evidence & citing: Stoker also uses the simile she ‘’arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal’’, to highlight the unnaturalness of female sexuality to such a degree that they are literally presented as non-human. Alongside this, the paradox could be emphasising the guilt of expressing sexuality. Commentary: As the predominantly Christian Victorian society perceived female sexuality as unnatural, it was common to then assume that this meant it was evil, as ‘‘most unnatural” occurrences of the Victorian era could only be explained by the workings of “evil” forces’. It could be interpreted that as there is a theme of religion throughout Dracula, Stoker could be reflecting how Victorian society’s views of female sexuality stemmed from their perceptions of religious texts; this depicts a violent image of the era’s social and sexual taboos. Here, the expected gender roles are reversed, Jonathan Harker becomes passive while the females are the sexual aggressors. The narration is from Jonathan’s perspective; this could encourage the reader to empathise with Jonathan’s fear, but could also reinforce his powerless situation as he is only able to write about his experience. Additionally, the vampires are associated with mythological creatures attributed to the devil; ‘it has been generally assumed that the name Dracula represents the Romanian word for ‘devil’ . Dracula’s blood taking and transforming them into vampires could be an extended metaphor for the loss of blood i.e. virginity. The capture of the women by the devil, who are transformed into evil creatures that are mythologically damned to hell, presents them as ‘fallen women’ who ‘could be a woman who transgressed Victorian sexual norms.’

Topic sentence: Lucy Westenra’s characterisation evidently has aspects of the ‘fallen woman’ as she is perceived as much more sexual than Mina – this causes her troubled destiny. Evidence & citing: While at first, she may just be a seemingly excited girl, ‘’why can’t I marry all three’’, the modal verb ‘’can’t’’ highlights that polyandry is forbidden, therefore her reaction suggesting a frivolous character. It could be interpreted that because of her fallen woman personality traits, she is then punished and becomes a vampire; this could be because the ‘fallen woman’s sexual independence made her practically troublesome to patriarchal order’?. She is then transformed to a ‘’voluptuous wantonness’’, the adjective ‘’voluptuous’’ here creating connotations of her as a sultry, seductive woman, suggesting ideas of promiscuity. The notion that she preys upon young children reinforces her immorality. Commentary: There is a parallel between her presentation as her human, and as a vampire – they are both seen as immoral, which could suggest Stoker’s views on the ‘Fallen woman’ which is ‘a woman who transgressed Victorian sexual norms.’ Her punishment escalates in chapter 16 where the three suitors kill her by putting a stake through her heart ‘’ driving deeper and deeper the mercy – bearing stake’’ and the blood ‘’ welled and spurted up around it’’. The scene could be interpreted as symbolic of violent sex or even gang rape. It could also be argued that her sexual aggressiveness is for ‘men’s secret fantasy’ and is acceptable because in the end, she was used, solely, for the sexual pleasure for the male characters. 

Topic sentence: However, it could also be interpreted that Lucy’s destiny was perhaps ‘necessary’. Evidence & citing: In the ‘undead’ Lucy’s description ‘’folds of the flesh were the coils of Medusa’s snakes”, she is referred to as Medusa, whose story is told as a ‘good versus evil tale and Medusa is the evil factor in the story’ which therefore portrays Lucy as the evil character. It could be argued that “Medusa is a victim of male aggression [rape by Poseidon],’’ and then ‘the female victim to silence”. Commentary: Here, the possible parallel between Lucy and Medusa depicts Lucy as the evil woman of the novel, due to her fallen woman characteristics, and so her fate corresponds with the myth; Lucy is also ‘raped’ and is silent as she is dead. Here, the possible link between Lucy and Medusa could be reflecting the societies illogical belief on sexually overt women and how it is perhaps necessary they remain silent, or that they must be restrained and controlled. 

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Conclusion paragraph: To conclude, female sexuality is clearly shaped by historical, cultural and religious influences; ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker portrays female sexuality as a reflection of Victorian society’s fear and misconception of it, reducing it to being unnatural and a sin in a somewhat simplistic way. In reference to Weiman, it is evident it was common belief that ‘sexual pleasure is the sole providence of men’. Stoker explores this belief and agrees with the condemnation of women, evidently through the portrayal of Lucy, but perhaps also through the lack of punishment for Mina. Accordingly, Stoker may like the formation of the New Women, however only to an extent where women are still subordinate to men, this subordination may be through the lack of women’s control over their female sexuality or perhaps simply through the obedience of men. Essentially, this view confirm that female sexuality has been presented in a perhaps problematically inaccurate way.

Sources

  • https://search.proquest.com/openview/ecdb702746b2b492142c7af828fc12de/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=1819308 2 done
  • https://kutztownenglish.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/jds_v2_2000_rosenberg.pdf
  • http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/newwoman.html done
  • http://www.victorianweb.org/gender/diniejko1.html done
  • https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/rescue-of-fallen-women
  • https://kutztownenglish.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/jds_v2_2000_rosenberg.pdf
  • http://eportfolios.roehampton.ac.uk/hsa020c132h/2018/06/29/medusa-as-a-victim/ 8 done
  • https://www.bourncreative.com/meaning-of-the-color-red/ 10 done
  • https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/rescue-of-fallen-women 11 done

Introduction close-button

Should follow an “upside down” triangle format, meaning, the writer should start off broad and introduce the text and author or topic being discussed, and then get more specific to the thesis statement.

Background close-button

Provides a foundational overview, outlining the historical context and introducing key information that will be further explored in the essay, setting the stage for the argument to follow.

Thesis statement close-button

Cornerstone of the essay, presenting the central argument that will be elaborated upon and supported with evidence and analysis throughout the rest of the paper.

Topic sentence close-button

The topic sentence serves as the main point or focus of a paragraph in an essay, summarizing the key idea that will be discussed in that paragraph.

Evidence & citing close-button

The body of each paragraph builds an argument in support of the topic sentence, citing information from sources as evidence.

Commentaryclose-button

After each piece of evidence is provided, the author should explain HOW and WHY the evidence supports the claim.

Conclusion paragraph close-button

Should follow a right side up triangle format, meaning, specifics should be mentioned first such as restating the thesis, and then get more broad about the topic at hand. Lastly, leave the reader with something to think about and ponder once they are done reading.

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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Bram Stoker’s Exploration of Gender Roles in Dracula’s Novel. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/bram-stokers-exploration-of-gender-roles-in-draculas-novel/
“Bram Stoker’s Exploration of Gender Roles in Dracula’s Novel.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/bram-stokers-exploration-of-gender-roles-in-draculas-novel/
Bram Stoker’s Exploration of Gender Roles in Dracula’s Novel. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/bram-stokers-exploration-of-gender-roles-in-draculas-novel/> [Accessed 26 May 2024].
Bram Stoker’s Exploration of Gender Roles in Dracula’s Novel [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 29 [cited 2024 May 26]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/bram-stokers-exploration-of-gender-roles-in-draculas-novel/
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