Dracula in Society

The 1800s were a time of change in Dublin—but this was true for the rest of the world as well. The United States was changing its views on slavery, the powers of women were increasing, and social norms were shifting. The world was becoming smaller and travel more frequent. Those in power were facing a reduction in power, and the world was feeling the effects of more widespread democracy.  Kilfeather writes specifically about how Frederick Douglass came to visit Ireland during the summer of 1845, and how he found a friend in Daniel O’Connell—both were opponents of slavery and oppression and supporters of temperance and freedom. Together they spoke and met with other supporters of their causes.  However, Douglass personally wrote about “the extreme poverty and wretchedness of the poor of Dublin” and the “world that seems to regard them as intruders” (pg. 122). This detection of the conditions in Dublin by Douglass shows that the world was starting to take notice—both within the city of Dublin and around the world, people were growing more vocal and supporters of change were growing in number. It would still take twenty years from the time of Douglass’s visit for slaves to gain their freedom in the United States, but the movement towards freedom began well before the laws were changed.

Stoker’s novel was written about forty years after Douglass’s visit—but it took place almost exactly between the abolishment of slavery in the United States (1965) and women gaining the right to vote in both Ireland and the United States (1918 and 1920, respectively) and prohibition in the United States (1920). Looking at the contents of the novel, I don’t think that this is surprising. Dracula represents many different things, especially things which are repressed—and things which are repressed are exactly what society was reevaluating during this time. Society was fundamentally changing, and people didn’t always know if those changes were good. Stoker plays with this idea of what is “normal” in society, and what ideas are “acceptable”—sometimes giving us clear examples of what should be celebrated and what should be scorned. Other times, Stoker seems to use Dracula to play on the fears of that time period, giving examples of undead women completely overhauling societal norms of motherhood and sexuality. In this instance, the men’s solution is to kill these women to return them to a state of peace and tranquility. Stoker uses Dracula as an example of how modern thinking can limit those who fail to remember ancient beliefs and traditions, and how men have begun to realize the power of a woman’s mind. It is very true that the themes and symbolism in Dracula can be applied to many situations and is still very relevant today—but its connections to Dublin at the start of the 20th century should not be overlooked.

1 Comment

  1. I really like this historical context you bring to interpreting Dracula. The idea that Dracula preys on the fears present in society is a great point. A lot of literature, especially fantasy and science-fiction draws upon the fears of society, making fears and worries into literal monsters. For example, one book that comes to mind is the Island of Dr. Moreau. This book took the fears and questions surrounding the scientific experiments happening at the time and turned them into literal terrifying monsters.

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