Dracula: Theme Analysis
Briefly and broadly speaking, the themes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula might fall into two convenient categories: the safe and the provocative.
Since the novel is, on one level, an explicitly Christian text, readers can point to a “safe” theme such as the importance of love. The various men in Lucy and Mina’s lives demonstrate the kind of self-sacrificial, freely giving love for which Christian teaching calls in their willingness to donate their own blood and to risk their own lives to save these women from Dracula’s clutches. That they fail to do so in one case, Lucy’s, does not lessen the importance of this theme; for Stoker presents the destruction of vampiric Lucy as nonetheless a self-giving, loving act, mercifully delivering Lucy from eternal damnation: “God bless you,” Arthur tells Van Helsing after the deed is done, “that you have given my dear one her soul again, and me peace” (Ch. 16, p. 264). And, clearly, self-giving love does carry the day in the other case, Mina’s: Quincey Morris’ devotion to Dracula’s destruction costs him his life, but he counts that loss as gain, because he does not expire before he sees Mina cleansed of the blemish that Dracula had given her: “See! The snow is not more stainless than her forehead! The curse has passed away!” (Ch. 27, p. 444). Such love is the very antithesis of the dominating will to power that animates Dracula throughout the book, and is generally recognized as a noble, virtuous goal and aspiration. Stoker’s text, therefore, can be seen as an endorsement of this safe, proper theme.
On the other hand, as countless readers have recognized, even if only intuitively, Stoker’s Dracula is a highly dangerous, subversive text, thematically speaking. The theme of the simultaneous allure and danger of sexuality—specifically, female sexuality—is the clearest example of this tendency. Colin Wilson, in his essay on the book for Horror: 100 Best Books (eds. Stephen Jones & Kim Newman, New York: Carroll & Graff, 1998), summarizes the issue well: “It seems obvious that strange fires smouldered below [Stoker’s] dependable and trustworthy surface… It is because of this touch of paradox—one might almost say this whiff of sulphur—that Dracula remains one of the most oddly disturbing novels ever written” (p. 74). Dracula’s brides molest both Jonathan Harker near the book’s beginning and Dr. Van Helsing near its close, and both men find them at the same time tempting and troubling, repulsive and irresistible. Seward experiences a similar emotional reaction when confronted with the need to slay vampiric Lucy. And Lucy’s death is described in a vivid, detailed scene—far more detailed than the death of Dracula, that is accomplished in a mere sentence—rich in orgasmic imagery. The supposed “threat” of a fully sexual woman in the Victorian mind, then, emerges as one of the more problematic but also persistent themes in Stoker’s work.