Themes and Characters

Stoker explores the conflict of good and evil throughout the novel and does not allow good to triumph until the last few pages. In the meantime, all of the characters are drawn into the conflict and divided into two camps: the good forces led by Dr. Abraham Van Helsing and the evil forces by Count Dracula.

The first and larger group, the good characters, forms around Van Helsing, a doctor of medicine, philosophy, literature, and more. He arrives from Amsterdam at the request of his former student Dr. John Seward to help with the diagnosis and treatment of Lucy Westenra. Van Helsing is older and more educated than the rest of the group, and he becomes a father figure and leader. Unlike the others, he is familiar with the folk stories about vampires and the ways to combat them.

He is assisted by a band of young men, most of whom have some relationship to Lucy. Dr. John Seward, an unsuccessful suitor for Lucy’s hand, is the director of an insane asylum. Another unsuccessful suitor is Quincey Morris, a Texan whose major characteristic is his physical courage. The final suitor-Lucy receives the three proposals in a single day-is Arthur Holmwood, whom she accepts. Arthur’s father dies during Lucy’s illness, and Arthur inherits his title and becomes Lord Godalming. These three young men have shared adventures in the past and are drawn closer together because of their love for Lucy. The last member of the group is Jonathan Harker, the lawyer whose journal of his trip to Dracula’s castle forms the first part of the novel. After his recovery, he marries Lucy’s friend Mina. Harker’s earlier experiences with Dracula make him particularly helpful to the group.

The group’s two young women are introduced by means of their letters, which follow Harker’s journal. Although they are associated with Van Helsing and his band, both are pulled over to Dracula’s side. Lucy is extremely beautiful but has little strength of character; after Dracula transforms her into a vampire, her sweetness changes into seductiveness. Her friend Mina, more firmly under male protection because of her marriage to Jonathan, manages to survive Dracula’s attack and serves as the group’s secretary and inspiration. Her exchange of blood with Dracula actually has positive consequences because it provides the band with information about Dracula’s actions and whereabouts. Dracula’s death frees her completely from his influence.

The characters on the side of evil are all related to Dracula. As the novel begins, he has been a vampire for many centuries and has great strength and power. He accomplishes his evil purposes mainly through weak links: women, an insane man, and an unsuspecting, unprotected foreigner. His “children,” the vampires he has created, are all women, including the lovely female vampires who live with him at his castle. They are presented as unnatural women. They prey on children and behave aggressively and seductively toward men. Lucy acts in this manner after she becomes a vampire.

Dracula’s major accomplice is Renfield, a patient at Seward’s asylum. Renfield is obsessed with the idea of the food chain, feeding flies to spiders and spiders to birds, and so is an appropriate admirer of Dracula, who in feeding on humans belongs at the top of the food chain. While Renfield at first welcomes Dracula, becoming increasingly more excited the closer Dracula gets to the asylum, he later recovers his sanity and is fatally injured in attempting to stop the count.

The evil characters are not only defeated but also redeemed by the good characters, illustrating Stoker’s theme that good is ultimately more powerful than evil. Dracula seems at first invincible, but his weaknesses become apparent throughout the novel. He can be stopped by consecrated wafers (literally, in the Roman Catholic Church, the body of Christ) and by other religious symbols, such as the crucifix. In the end he is destroyed by knives. Moreover, characters with sufficient spiritual strength can survive his attacks, suggesting Stoker’s view of an individual’s control over his soul as well as his life.

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