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October 26, 2006

Vampires, Part II

Discussing Dracula with my students yesterday was actually quite fun. They were excited to talk about it, and I was able to help them contextualize it, which I think is the first step to reading a novel as a primary source. What shocked me was that many of them hadn't picked up the fact that blood sucking is a metaphor for sex. It is pretty obvious when you read the book: male vampires suck women; female vampires suck men; the female vampires are described as sexually alluring; the sucking happens at night, often in bed, and, of course, it involves the exchange of bodily fluids; it also results in the creation of a vampire "race." Granted, Stoker's language is Victorian, and hence restrained, but it is still pretty obvious, particularly for anyone who has seen Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film version. My mostly-nineteen- and twenty-year-old students were pretty embarrassed when I pointed it out to them, and most of them hadn't seen the movie. After all, they were only five or six years old in 1992!

What I love most about being a GSI is how much I learn, either directly from my students or from the act of teaching them. Through the three discussions yesterday, it became apparent that Dracula is a commentary on modernity. I typically think of the turn of the twentieth century as kind of the triumph of modernity. Reason was in; superstition was out. Technology was all the rage and Britons viewed themselves as the most "advanced" nation in the world. At the same time, however, middle-class Brits hungered for a sense of meaning that science and reason did not provide. Alex Owen's The Place of Enchantment charts the rise of occultism in Great Britain at precisely this time. In Dracula, Stoker suggests that science and reason can't account for everything in the world. Some phenomena have no logical explanations, and some dangers can't be averted with modern technology. The heros of Dracula certainly needed modern technology to catch him -- typewriters, phonographs, telegraphs, railroads, and Winchesters -- but in order to truly defeat him, they had to depend on religious symbols, and not just any religious symbols, but those of Catholicism -- the host and the crucifix. The novel thus suggests that science, reason, and technology are necessary developments, but not, in and of themselves, sufficient tools with which to engage the world.

Posted by eklanche at October 26, 2006 09:21 AM


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