The Images of Christ and Vampire in Bram Stocker's Dracula

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Words: 5237 |

Pages: 11.5|

27 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 5237|Pages: 11.5|27 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Table of contents

    The Character of the Vampire: The “Uncanny” Wandering Jew
    The Character of the Vampire: The Correlation with Christ Himself
    Religion As Presented in Dracula

Within the pages of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the author explores concepts of love, darkness, and sexuality as well as the theme of good versus evil. The most powerful theme surrounding the infamous vampire, however, is that of mortality. Death and the possibility of life after death permeate the novel in its most Gothic moments as the text draws attention to one central idea: what does it mean to live forever? That question is asked time and time again through the journey that each character takes and their fears of the strangeness that surrounds them; those fears all revolve around a single being in the shape of a man. Indeed, Count Dracula is in possession of miraculous powers, including access to everlasting life, and the effect of his presence on all those with whom he comes in contact is undeniable. He brings with him the realization that the afterlife may be even more frightening than death itself. In that way, it would at first appear that Dracula is portrayed as the devil, bringing revelations of darkness rather than light. Upon closer examination, however, Dracula’s essence is so specifically juxtaposed with that of the traditional perception of Christ that the Count’s representation may be read as something more profound. The character of Dracula is meant to be Stoker’s Dark Christ, the ultimate critique of heavily organized religion and the Catholic Church, too antiquated for the modern age but not without a strange power. He is a parody with weight, a cautionary tale for those who are all too willing to surrender their souls to what dreams may come in the afterlife. This figure is not Satan, but rather a character esteemed as a god, a character in possession of many Christlike powers, a character offering eternal life.

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In order to dissect the intention behind Dracula’s representation as a Christlike figure and the symbolism involved in that representation, one must first examine the ways in which the character of the Count is described and the context for said descriptions. Dracula employs many traditionally Christian concepts, including the idea of conversion, the symbolic importance of blood in religion and literature, the significance of antiquity, and of course the connection with eternal life. Even more fascinating are the ways in which Dracula relates to the “Wandering Jew” archetype of Stoker’s time; that stock character was likely considered the ultimate anti-Christian or heretic, and it provided Stoker with his most convincing vampire-as-savior correlation. Dracula’s portrayal as a Dark Christ, however, is not evidence enough to conclude the final intent behind Stoker’s novel the direct references to the Christian faith in Stoker’s work as well as the style in which those references are written must also be examined in order to make an accurate assessment of the novel’s overall tone. Religious faith and expressions thereof are critical, as are the many appearances of religious figures and symbols and the implied conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. All of these elements of the novel are important in unmasking the fantastical character of Dracula not for the sake of exposing the devil, but rather for illuminating the Dark Savior that he is intended to be.

The Character of the Vampire: The “Uncanny” Wandering Jew

During the time in which Bram Stoker penned Dracula, a social movement was afoot in his native United Kingdom. Jewish families, once barred from England, were now coming to the country in droves. Eastern Europe, the primary home to Judaism at that time, had seen a massive exodus of its citizens for several reasons, and immigration to England was the most popular choice. Between 1881 and 1900, the number of foreign Jews in England increased by 600 percent, a significant change in the status quo that left many English citizens uneasy (Zanger 34). A Christian nation, England’s traditional source of religious conflict had been the tension between the older traditions of the Catholic Church and the newer ideas of Protestantism and the Church of England. In the face of Jewish immigration, however, such tensions did not seem so great, and the Christian populace was to some extent united by its shared suspicions of the East. The art of the time reflected that concern.

The most popular play of the era was Trilby, a production that prominently featured an infamous character named Svengali, who embodied the sinister image of the “Wandering Jew” that existed in the frenzied minds of the English. Hailing from the East with the power of mind control, Svengali manipulates all of the characters that he encounters by surreptitious means. Trilby thus affirmed its audience concerns about the danger of Wandering Jews by tapping into the allure of a dark foreign force. Stoker, who served as friend and assistant to actor Henry Irving, was almost certainly exposed to that play and the frenzied mentality of the time, and he may have written his novel in order to capture that mass audience appeal (McBride 2). It is just as possible, however, that the perceptive Stoker recognized the social significance of the archetype of the Wandering Jew and used it as a blueprint for what could be considered the antithesis to the traditional Christ figure. Like Svengali, Dracula has been described as a “devilish Semitic middleman,” a shyster who “dupes the innocent into a blood pact in return for a king of immortality” (McBride 1). He exerts control over the minds of his associates, and he is sinister and dark in appearance. If contemporary audiences automatically identified a clichéd “Wanderer” from the East as the polar opposite of refined Christianity, then Dracula’s obvious connection to such a wanderer leads naturally to the conclusion that the Svengali-esque vampire is indeed the Antichrist that he resembles.

Furthermore, it is possible that Stoker intended his presentation of a vampiric wandering Jew to play into the Gothic convention of “the uncanny”  that is, the depiction of an element that resembles something “normal” or “human” but is nonetheless in possession of a nearly indecipherable quality that makes said element peculiar. In short, an uncanny character may be human yet not human at all, which can be said of the vampire and also of the Wandering Jew. In Stoker’s time, the concept of Judaism was foreign and yet familiar as the basis for Christianity. Due to the lack of any serious religious challengers to Christianity in the United Kingdom, the Jew appeared as the only non-Christian, and therefore the one opposition to the Church; such opposition was therefore a new concept to English Christians (with the exception of the Protestant-Catholic conflict). At the same time, there was an underlying sense of the uncanny in that Judaism shares its foundations with Christianity, and Jews were now pledging allegiance to the same land as Christians. Of course, these ideas result once again in the uncanny character of the vampire  human yet not human, Jewish and thus anti-Christian, anti-Christian and yet strongly associated with Christ himself. The regal vampire figure rests so neatly on the negative spectrum of all things properly “Christian”  in this case, an evil Eastern European Jew that he is a parody of what was expected of Christian nobility at the time. Jules Zangler concludes in his essay “A Sympathetic Vibration: Dracula and the Jews” that the “insistent Christian versus anti-Christian cast Stoker impressed upon his vampire story gave it particular relevance at a time when so many non-Christians were intruding so visibly and threateningly into the popular consciousness” .

The Character of the Vampire: The Correlation with Christ Himself

Dracula’s association with Christ is embodied in many different ways, beginning with the traits he shares with the “Wandering Jew,” which can also be applied to a different perspective. Dracula may be viewed as the ultimate single-soul missionary. His home, which is essentially a shrine for times gone by, is the altar at which he worships; he reveres not a higher power, but rather the glory of bygone days when he was at the height of his power, as he reveals to Jonathan Harker when the two of them discuss history (Stoker 31). Dracula’s massive mansion is abandoned but for his lusty brides and is thus implied to be a sort of commune for vampires, of which there seem to be few in the modern world. As Christ says in the Gospels, in his Father’s house there are “many rooms” (John 14:2), empty spaces awaiting the welcome of eager souls and new additions additions such as Jonathan Harker. Dracula’s mansion is his protected dwelling place, a place where he is in control. He takes the chance to leave it, however, in order to begin his conversion of souls to his preferred afterlife, spreading his gospel of death as he goes, calling those to follow him just as Jesus called his apostles. He summons Lucy from her bedroom to his grasp, and she becomes his subject. He summons Renfield to be his servant in preparation for his arrival, and the madman presumably transforms into the equal of Biblical prophets, referring to the Count’s arrival as the coming of the “Master” (Stoker 56).

Like Christ, Dracula thrives on conversion, which can only be performed once his prospect (or victim) submits him- or herself to the process. This method involves the exchange and the corruption of blood, though he would probably view it as purification. Blood as a motif is especially vital in observing Dracula’s relationship to Christianity “as Jesus Christ’s literal and transubstantiative blood has been a mainstay of the Christian Church, the vampire figure’s insertion within the paradigms of Christianity is a logical extension” (LaPerriere 1). Rather than exchanging his own blood for the lives of his subjects, Dracula performs the ultimate perversion of transubstantiation by extracting blood from his people in order to sustain himself as well as bring his converts into the fold of vampirism. Just as the traditional Christian relies on the blood of Christ to save him from eternal suffering, so does this “Christ” rely on the blood of his “Christians” to survive.

In a mirroring moment, the transformed Lucy, declared dead and now a vampire, is discovered feeding on the blood of a child (Stoker 103). She is a representation of reverse motherhood, an image of a woman taking life rather than giving it. That portrayal smacks of commentary on the nature of Christianity and calls attention to the weight that both the Catholic Church and Protestantism place on tradition. Bram Stoker’s era was one of discovery and invention, a time in which the status quo seemed to be quickly and constantly evolving. Daily life and philosophy during that time may have proven to be challenging when compared with organized religion, a prevalent element of English life that did not appear to be evolving at the same pace, and which may have even slowed the advance of social constructs and scientific discovery. The sapping of lifeblood from humankind in order to maintain power may have been a theme intended to strike a chord with English readers frustrated by the disharmony of progress and convention. Once again, all of this commentary is made flesh in the character of Dracula and the function of the vampire.

Interestingly, in selecting his intended, the Count tends more towards women. Dracula’s attraction to women seems natural enough since he appears in human male form; it may nonetheless be valuable to note that he primarily targets women rather than men to join him in his vampirism. For example, he spends much time charming and wooing Lucy from her pleasant life into his trap, and three women his brides  reside in his castle. Dracula toys with Renfield, but he does not seem interested in Renfield’s fate, ultimately crushing him for his betrayal. It is also worth mentioning that the Count keeps Jonathan trapped within his castle for some time, probably with designs on his soul. Jonathan’s diary, however, reveals effeminate qualities as well as his strange fear and affection for his host. Still, the Count never acts on his desire for Jonathan to join him as he does with the women of the story. This preference for females could be construed as a reference to the Bible’s depiction of the symbolism inherent in marriage between men and women as a representation of humankind’s closeness with God; in the parable of Christ, Jesus is portrayed as the bridegroom and humankind as the bride (John 3:29). The two are destined for each other just as Lucy is destined to answer the call of the elusive vampire and join him forever in his own personal eternity.

As with the traditional perception of Christ, Count Dracula offers his version of “love” and eternal life. Of course, the fine print details the fact that this love comes only through physical and mental pain and this eternal life comes in the form of a hellish, never-ending existence on earth. The vampires in the novel do not appear happy in their survival, but lonely. Dracula’s brides seem bored and thirst for new flesh, and the appearance of Jonathan in their territory is cause for great excitement. Dracula himself seems melancholy at times as well, clearly enjoying Jonathan’s company and insisting that he stay within the confines of the mansion. In the time leading up to her transformation, Lucy suffers her own pain with great difficulty, eventually surrendering to her new “life.” Turning to vampirism allows the convert to last forever, but in Hades rather than Heaven, in literal darkness rather than light. “On the one hand,” Christopher Raible observes, “such a desire denies any hope of a life after death. On the other, it devalues the meaning of life on earth” .

Once again, this motif is far too specific to be coincidental in its references to the traditional ideas of conversion and Christianity. In the end, though the Count may have the ability to live forever, Dracula’s vampirism is equivalent to captivity. It is alluring in both imagery and concept, but the nature of the vampire is ultimately undesirable and meant to be feared; vampiric nature is much more capable of control than reason can hope to be. Is this an allusion to the Christian Church, perhaps a comment on the captivating essence of its history but the constriction of its nature? Could it be an indication of dissatisfaction with promises perceived as false or a disgruntled statement about what may have seemed like incestuous, overly contained fellowship within English churches at the time? The significance of the text may well respond to all of the above. The novel’s primary focus, however, appears to be the danger of powerful forces, especially if those forces have mysterious, indecipherable qualities  much like those of Christian religion, a powerful society that, at Stoker’s time, generally rejected the advance of culture and thrived on the authority that the English government had bestowed upon it.

Though Dracula’s pull is powerful   much like that of the religious Christian community and Christ Himself as described in Scripture  he does suffer and is ultimately conquered. Seemingly all-powerful, the Count struggles regardless, attempting to find his way in a new world in which he has little experience. Dracula has no place in a modern society, where documents may be exchanged at great speed, communication and transportation are advancing every day, and the wisdom of doctors and the scientifically savvy make the Count’s operations progressively more difficult to conceal. Jonathan documents his experiences with the Count to be pored over in the event that another must come face to face with him; Lucy is somewhat girded by the protection of medicinal service, the perceptiveness of her doctor fiancé, and the wiles of the knowledgeable Van Helsing, all of whom use modern technology. Dracula knows that in order to accomplish his goals, he must take leave of his castle-haven, but he spends a good deal of time in study and preparation for the journey as if reticent about attempting the trip. He keeps research materials in his library and learns from the studies of his unfortunate guest, Jonathan, about the inner workings of this new world; though he is successful at navigating it for some time, he cannot maintain his poise, and his undoing begins with the slaying of the vampiric version of Lucy, who is destroyed by the skills of none other than the doctor Van Helsing.

Interestingly, it is not the pressure or horror of modernity that helps fight off Count Dracula, but rather knowledge of antiquity: it is the power of the ancient techniques studied by Van Helsing that proves to be Dracula’s undoing. Primitive in function, the vampire is met with his equal in his destruction and achieves the crude death of an old creature in an acknowledgement that what belongs to the past has no place elsewhere. It is curious that Stoker did not choose to do away with his great figure by way of technology; in keeping with the Christ-Dracula comparison, however, it seems like a fitting conclusion to the saga. Stoker is not condemning of history; he in fact encourages it to be examined and sees many uses for it. In his creation, the false and dangerous element of the past  the Christ figure and the perceptions attached to him are finally vanquished by an examination of practicality from the past. It is only thanks to the past that one recognizes the value of the present, and only through failed experimentation that mankind is alerted to the solution that will lead to success. As John Steward states, “We learn from failure, not from success!” (Stoker 124). That may be the most pivotal sentiment found in Dracula: one can only overcome the mistakes of the past by confronting them; one may only elevate themselves by releasing the persistence of haunting. And indeed, “haunting” may very well be Stoker’s idea of Christianity’s method of staying afloat. In the end, its floating centerpiece   the Christ  is outdated and must be gotten rid of or altered in order for the glory of the new age to commence. Like Dracula, this god of the past is only a crack in the construction of a new edifice of beauty and social and scientific triumph.

Religion As Presented in Dracula

One of the most interesting qualities in Dracula that supports the argument for the Count as Stoker’s answer to Christ is the distinct style in which the novel is written. In keeping with the grand tradition of Gothic storytelling, Stoker utilizes the gimmick of including stories within the story, each serving to reveal part of the overall tale of Count Dracula’s journey to London. This method is referred to as a “Chinese box structure,” and though it originated in the Gothic genre with Melmoth the Wanderer, in Dracula, its manner of expressing each character’s individual perspective, primarily through lengthy letters and official documents, draws very close comparisons to none other than the Bible. Though unified by one main purpose   to tell the story of Jesus Christ and all that came before and after -- the stories of the Bible are revealed according to a great number of sources and perspectives. Descriptions differ, but they ultimately provide a cohesive viewpoint. Dracula functions the same way, revolving around the enigmatic, magical figure of darkness as perceived by multiple observers, and every observation culminates in a final agreement on the subject of his existence and ultimate destruction.

Of course, this exploration of darkness is constantly associated with powerful imagery by casual readers: the caped vampire, a coffin made for slumber, a Gothic castle in Transylvania. The most memorable images of all, however, are religious in tone: primarily the crucifix meant to stave off the approach of vampirism. But it is not Christ or Christianity that the Count shrinks from, as mentioned previously; rather, it is only symbols of the past. Once again, at close examination one makes the discovery that this imagery is just that: imagery. Pomp and circumstance has long been associated with Christianity, especially within the Catholic Church, and here, in keeping with Stoker’s depiction of religion as belonging to an older age, the Church is evaluated as mere antiquity. Here it is boiled down to symbols that affect only the Count and his memories of past lives.

Another very striking issue with regard to the style of Stoker’s novel lies within what is not mentioned. There is a peculiar absence in the novel of any exploration of religious faith. True faith in God, Christ, or vital trust placed in organized religion is not explored or rewarded. Though the story is rife with the aforementioned religious overtones -- and though Jonathan and Mena are prone to sayings such as, “We are all drifting reefwards now, and faith is our only anchor” (Stoker 254)  there is very little specific mention of Christianity or its ability to battle the evil at hand. Mena and others mention prayer, but only in passing and often in prattling, helpless distress, not with the confidence one would expect to see placed in such a spiritual tool.

The country nuns who provide the only significant connection to the Church are trustworthy but inconsequential. While they are helpful in nursing a scarred Jonathan back to health, they are horrified by his staggering tale of the Count’s castle and impotent with regard to the vampire’s defeat. That is an unusual observation at first, especially considering the dramatic Catholic imagery used throughout the tale. There is no religious ritual or power of God, however, that battles the unexplained supernatural power of Dracula; in the end he is slain by mortals, thus furthering the conceit that he and his converts are the only supernatural forces found in the story. In Stoker’s world, the Church holds no real power, a fact that enriches the notion of the novel as a challenge to the oppressive tradition of organized religion and strengthens the figure of Dracula as a perverse interpretation of Christ himself.

Still, there is a small but fascinating thread running throughout the story that draws a certain amount of attention to the relationship of the Catholic Church to the Protestant Church, and it appears as though Stoker is challenging his readers to reassess their assumptions. Both Jonathan and Mena are moved by the care of the peaceful nuns, but even more interesting is Jonathan’s attraction and attachment to the crucifix that an old woman presents to him. After being in Dracula’s home for a time, Jonathan writes:

Bless that good, good woman who hung the crucifix round my neck! For it is a comfort and a strength to me whenever I touch it. It is odd that a thing which I have been taught to regard with disfavor and as idolatrous should in a time of loneliness and trouble be of help. Is it that there is something in the essence of the thing itself, or that it is a medium, a tangible help, in conveying memories of sympathy and comfort? Some time, if it may be, I must examine this matter and try to make up my mind about it” (Stoker 53).

Finally, in order to bring about Dracula’s defeat at the end of the novel, each of the characters come together to battle their common enemy in spite of their many different religious affiliations. In a novel so heavily laden with religious overtones, this fact does not seem insignificant. M. West, in her article “Hauntings in the Church: Counterfeit Christianity through the Fin-de-Siècle Gothic Novel,” suggests that Stoker felt as though “the ideas of redemption and salvation… were more important than what he perceived to be trivial arguments about doctrinal variations” (West 35). If this is so, then Jonathan’s affiliation with Protestantism and his attraction to the Catholic Church are also not without significance  in fact, his feelings aid the argument that Stoker’s construction of a Christlike figure is meant to illustrate the failure of organized religion to succeed, suggesting that faith and goodness rather than staunch theology and law will be triumphant in the end.

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In conclusion, with a bit of perspective and research, the typical equivocation of Count Dracula to the devil grows less and less certain, and indications that the definitive vampire may draw more comparison to the Christian savior’s antithesis become more apparent. Though no one may ever know whether Bram Stoker’s true intent for his Gothic masterpiece was to criticize the outdated yet powerful functions of Christianity that permeated his country, there are many hints to that effect. Regardless, the vampire has been slain. There is no place for him in the modern world, Stoker implies. Respect for the useful things that the Church has given us is important, but one must not allow oneself to be suckered in by the romantic idea of this figure, this perverted Christ, who promises eternal life only to capture those who trust him and use them for his own purposes. In the modern age, there are great plots at work, and without the accessibility of a Chinese box-style guide to the world, it is important to be on guard so as to not to be overtaken by the power of the past.


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