NovelGuide: Dracula: Metaphor Analysis
Vampirism stands throughout the novel as a metaphor for promiscuous sexuality. Both acts involve desire, penetration, the flow and exchange of bodily fluids (blood, in the case of vampirism), and have similar physiological effects - namely, a temporary healthy-looking flush which soon gives way to feeling drained. The Count's threat to society lies in his ability to turn previously respectable and pure women like Lucy and Mina into voracious predators; and as an indirect consequence, to drive respectable men out of their minds with desire. It is noteworthy also that women who have been corrupted by the Count, like Lucy and the three vampire women, show anti-maternal behavior in preying upon children, thereby striking at one of the sacred aspects of Victorian womanhood.
By implication, what gives the Count such power is his great sexual prowess. One episode especially drives this home: the scene in Chapter 21 in which Mina is discovered hungrily lapping blood from the Count's breast and later admits that she had no desire to "hinder" him from drinking her blood; her husband, meanwhile, lies powerless next to her in a stupor. This picture makes clear that in awakening sexual desire and aggression in women, the Count renders their men impotent. It is no wonder that the men find it necessary to eradicate all trace of the vampires. They do so with the guidance of Van Helsing, who teaches them to destroy vampires by driving a stake (a phallic symbol) through their hearts. Symbolically, Van Helsing is restoring the men's lost manhood.
The three vampire women
The three beautiful vampire women who try to seduce Jonathan Harker in Count Dracula's castle are simultaneously the ultimate fantasy figure and the ultimate nightmare. Sexually aggressive and insatiable, they bend over the passive Harker in a pose suggestive of an act of oral sex. He is overwhelmed with both longing and loathing. He is saved by the intervention of the Count, who tells them that Harker is "mine" and placates them with a child to devour. The fact that these women eat children links them with the vampire Lucy's behavior in preying upon children and sets them in direct opposition to the maternal ideal of Victorian womanhood. The vampire women, like the Un-dead Lucy, threaten the fabric of society and are destroyed by Van Helsing with the usual phallic stake, which re-establishes male predominance.
The stake driven through Lucy's heart
The scene in Chapter 16 in which Holmwood destroys the vampire Lucy by driving a stake through her heart is filled with the symbolism of violent sex (some critics have likened it to gang rape): "He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it." The stake is a phallic symbol, and it is fitting that Holmwood, Lucy's bridegroom, is the one who wields it. Her body contorts wildly, and blood flows, as would happen with the 'deflowering' of a virgin bride. As vigorous sex would temporarily satiate the voracious vampire Lucy's lust, the staking of Lucy destroys for ever her predatory behavior in draining the blood of innocents. Lucy must be destroyed not only because she is a death-dealing vampire, but because she has the ability to drive honest men out of their reason with desire. She therefore poses a threat to respectable society and to its control by men.
The lunatic asylum
Seward, the director of the lunatic asylum, is hindered by his rational prejudices from understanding the threat posed by the Count - as Van Helsing, Seward's former teacher, points out: "You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear." It is significant that Seward and the other men - who are similarly handicapped by their over-reliance on scientific rationality - choose to run their campaign against the Count from the lunatic asylum. They live upstairs, while downstairs are the 'official' lunatics such as Renfield, who is, ironically, more aware than his master of the Count's machinations. The men's over-identification with rationality leaves them out of touch with the dark forces represented by the Count, which they cannot comprehend. Hence Seward's stubborn resistance to seeing what the Count is up to, even in the face of evidence. Rather than believe something that lies outside his scientific mindset, he would prefer to invent fantasy explanations for which there is no evidence, such as accusing Van Helsing of being mad.
The result of such 'half-witted' prejudice is a great vulnerability to the irrational and unconscious side of reality. Seward is paralyzed by emotion - grief and incomprehension - after Lucy's death, and only Mina's intervention in insisting that he makes his diary records of her illness available to the other men sets him back on a more constructive course.
Harker is also made vulnerable by his rational prejudices. He enters a state of denial during his stay at the Count's castle, in which he consigns his experiences to the world of dreams. The result is a nervous breakdown. Mina follows her husband's habit of denial when she reads his diaries. While the characters remain determined not to believe in the existence of vampires, they cannot take action against them, and the Count can pursue his plans unopposed.
The lunatic asylum is divided in the same way as the modern psyche: the half-witted rational people upstairs (in psychoanalytic terms, the conscious mind), and the half-witted irrational people downstairs (the unconscious mind). Only Van Helsing, at home in both worlds, can draw upon the total power of the mind, which is why he alone has the knowledge to defeat the Count.