The Vampire as a Metaphor for Social Desires, Anxieties and Problems in Fin-de-Siècle and the 21st Century. Comparing Bram Stoker’s "Dracula" and Alan Ball’s "True Blood"

Term Paper, 2017

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Analysis and Comparison: Dracula and True Blood
2.1. Origin of the Vampire and the Setting of the Plot
2.2. The Vampire’s Depiction, Powers and the Role of Blood

3. Conclusion

4. Works Cited

1. Introduction

With Dracula, Bram Stoker has created one of the biggest icons of modern literature. The ground-breaking novel has never been out of print since its release in 1897, and it introduced the figure of the vampire into the literary canon and also to mil­lions of readers. From the beginning, the evil Count was read — by scholars as well as the ordinary audience — not only as a frightening monster but as a metaphor for the deeply conservative, moralistic and patriarchal Western and Victorian society of nine­teenth century Britain. After a while of tranquility in terms of the vampire being a social phenomenon, it has regained its relevance since the end of the twentieth century by reaching a new peak of popularity, that lasts until today: books such as The Historian and The Twilight saga, movies such as the different film adaptations of Dracula and In­terview with a Vampire and TV-shows such as The Vampire Diaries and the more ma­ture True Blood show that the notion of the villain with the fangs enjoys much reso­nance amongst almost all age groups.

This brings up the question whether the vampire and its central characteristics still are a suitable metaphor and embodiment for repressed desires, passions and issues of today’s globalized and secular Western society, as it was the case with the original Count Dracula from 1897. This essay aims at giving an answer to the question whether the traditional role, idea and utilization of the vampire character established as an ex­pression of the latent social problems, fears and developments are still applicable today, and how the depiction of the vampire and especially the issues which it indicates have changed in today’s world. This will be done by by comparing Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Alan Ball’s show True Blood. Due to the limited extent of this essay, the focus will be concentrated on two aspects that are, nevertheless, significant and ostensive: one the one hand, the origin of the vampire and the particular setting of the plot; on the other hand, the vampire’s depiction, its powers and the crucial role of the blood. By that, this essays hopes to show — with a focus on Dracula — that the vampire is still an impor­tant metaphor, valve and symbol for contemporary ambitions, disputes and affairs just as it was over a hundred years ago for Victorian society.

2. Analysis and Comparison: Dracula and True Blood

2.1. Origin of the Vampire and the Setting of the Plot

The late nineteenth century was dominated by “the sense that the entire nation — as a race of people, as a political and imperial force, as a social and cultural power — was in irretrievable decline”[1]: the fear of criminality, infection, corruption, the disintegration of values and morals, foreign invasion and degeneration was omnipresent throughout Britain. The originator of that anxiety was universally determined as the “racial Other, who invades the country to disrupt the domestic order and enfeeble the host race”[2] and acted as a valve for relieving social pressure by ostracizing certain groups.[3] In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Count, being member of that other destructive archaic foreign power[4], poses a threat to the Western world. Summers states that “vam­pirism only appears in countries which are in a spiritually backward condition, as in some areas of Eastern Europe”[5] which is also the case in Dracula. Transylvania, which Dracula describes as “the whirlpool of European races”[6] and Harker as “one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe”[7] and home to “every known superstition in the world”[8], acts as a polar opposition to London: whereas London is the fountainhead of enlightened Western civilization, the Carpathians are a stronghold of superstition and also are unexplored, uncanny, foreign, barbaric and uncivilized.[9] This makes the area a breeding ground for the Victorian fear of an invasion of and hatred towards a foreign, wild and therefore, evil people, an inverted process of their own imperialism what Arata calls “reverse colonization”[10]. Another important aspect of Victorian racism was wide­spread anti-semitism. In Dracula, it is tightly associated with anti-semitism. In the “1880s and 1890s”[11] in England, Victorians developed hatred towards Jews; this is shown not only by the description of Dracula — which will be discussed later — but also in the way Hildesheim is depicted: “a Hebrew [...] with a nose like a sheep”[12] that can be bribed “with a little bargain”[13], showing typical Jewish stereotypes. This anti­semitism is based on the latent fear of invasion of a subordinate race — here the Jews — associated with the idea of them being parasitic. Stoker portrays the Count as an in­truder planning to infiltrate a country, to feed on the inhabitants poisoning them with his infected blood, to mirror the British imperialistic practice[14], corrupt the people gradually and eventually take over the country by undermining Victorian superiority. Harker states: “This was the being I was helping to transfer to London, where he might [...] satiate his lust for blood, and create a [...] circle of semi-demons to batten on the help- less.”[15] Just by considering his origin, the fact that he plans to invade London, the center of the British Empire, and to corrupt a whole nation, the vampire embodies the Victo­rian-feared foreign wellspring of evil and corruption, a “menace to Western supremacy”.[16]

True Blood is located within a slightly different genre which is crucial for the setting, the plot and the motives — the “Southern Gothic”[17] that includes traditional Gothic elements and joins them with distinct issues of the South, e.g. “madness, decay and despair, and the continuing pressures of the past upon the present, [...] and to the continuance of racial hostilities”[18]. The very origin of vampires as descendants of Lilith, the first vampire made by God[19], is an important issue in terms of challenging funda­mental Christian theology, but for the purpose of this essay, the focus will be on the set­ting of the show: the small-town Bon Temps, Louisiana, “with its complex history of slavery in discrimination, is the perfect setting for discussing the integration and segre­gation of the new race ‘vampire’ into American society”.[20] In Dracula, the vampire is one individual intruder, that infiltrates the Western world and culture; he brings his monstrosity and his despised Eastern-European culture with him in order to challenge, subvert and infect the civilized world to spread his own culture and kind. In True Blood, it is less straightforward: At the present time, there are many cultures in the world that influence each other without complete, compulsory and reciprocal obliteration. How­ever, globalization has shown that more dominant cultures are indeed able to supersede inferior cultures; in True Blood, that — possibly violent — elimination of their own cui- ture by the vampires is a fear shared by all humans. This is why vampires struggle with expressing their own culture and obtaining rights. Since they are not dependent on fee­ding on humans due to artificial blood, vampires struggle for the assurance of equal rights. This clearly is an analogy of the Civil Rights Movement where the vampires in­herit the role of the African-Americans. There are also similarly antagonistic — mostly religious motivated (“God Hates Fangs”[21] ) — groups that want to prohibit equal rights and prevent “the amalgamation of blood”[22] that is mostly strived for by vampire Bill and makes the vampire a symbol for the fear of interracial relationships. Tara questions Sookie’s physical relationship with Bill stating that people having sex with vampires “sometimes [...] disappear”[23] So, even a member of two minorities — namely blacks and women — rejects new culture for fear of its possible consequences: either culture or humanity itself might disappear. So, instead of helping vampires achieving equal rights and expressing of culture, humans of all major and minor ethnic and cultural back­grounds fight the vampires’ endeavor for appreciation, liberty and equality: vampires are denied equal rights and are incarcerated in concentration camps and are even hunted and lynched by paramilitary groups.[24] Although extremely racist and xenophobic thoughts and actions towards the vampires are expressed and shown, it is important to point out that there are also characters, like Sookie and Hoyt, who refuse to comply with that hateful and destructive attitude and fall in love with particular vampires. This illus­trates and change in the mindsets of many young Americans of the South for whom dif­ferences in color and race are no longer meaningful, so acceptance and tolerance are also visible in the Southern states.[25] Rabin calls this condition “post-race ideology” and states that True Blood criticizes it by showing that the existence of a multiracial society “does not equate racial justice, equality, or harmony.”[26] As shown, Dracula is clearly depicted as a hazard for the distinguished Victorian society by invading the civilized world in order to corrupt it by endangering even strong Victorian manhood, the epitome of Western civilization. The vampires in True Blood are already a part of today’s multi­cultural civilization even though their emancipation is impeded and they cannot express their culture freely yet. The evil Count is the very symbol of degeneration and the anguish of foreign parasitic invasion while True Blood criticizes that racism is still a relevant issue of today’s multiracial and -cultural world.

2. 2. The Vampire’s Depiction, Powers and the Role of Blood

Dracula’s immense physical strength; his undead state, making him immune to conventional types of attack[27] ; his ability not only to control the weather, waters and also nocturnal animals like rats, wolves and bats, but to shapeshift into these animals and a cloud of mist[28], as well, and his capability to exert powerful hypnosis and mind- control[29] and evoke hysteria[30] make him a exemplary projection of Victorian fear of di- abolie corruption and inhumanity. This notion continues in the depiction of the vampire. Apriori, the Count, with his strong “aquiline”[31] face, “thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils”[32], “lofty domed forehead”[33], massive eyebrows and ״bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion”[34] corresponds even stronger with Victorian hatred towards Jewish people than mentioned already, as Halberstam remarks that in the nineteenth century, “degeneration and Jewishness [...] were not far apart”[35] This, Dracula’s com­plexion of “extraordinary pallor”[36] and foremost his “peculiarly sharp teeth”[37] evoke the concept of evil which broaches Lombroso’s theory of “the physiognomy of the born criminal”[38] that claims that all degenerate criminals could be identified by “abundance of hair”, “flaming red eyes” and other “atavistic [and animal-like] feature[s] of born criminals.”[39] Despite combining all that, Dracula has a strong impact especially on women, becomes an over-sexualized source of attraction and acts as the “catalyst of sexual desire”[40] for gaining female sexual independence, which was strongly repressed. According to Schillace, Senf sees Dracula as an equivocal respondence to the “New Woman”, a “champion for women’s rights, socially and sexually”[41] and was therefore seen as a danger for the patriarchal-impregnated sexual moral of Victorian England; this is why Lucy — being turned into a vampire and thus, being sexually liberated — has to be killed by a group of honorable young British men in a strongly sexually connoted scene in which Holmwood penetrates Lucy’s body with a stake resulting in her screaming, quivering and twisting in “wild contortions”[42] and eventually death. From a Victorian point of view, liberated, free female sexuality must be eradicated to keep pa­triarchal law and order. Furthermore, the New Women challenged discussions about venereal diseases, as Dracula is a verdict for sinful vampiric women, an equivalent to prostitutes due to their repulsive sexual desire and infection and contamination virtuous men.[43] According to Hughes, there is a relation between Dracula’s blood, sexual activity and infection which revitalizes the fear of contagious diseases that terrorized Europe for centuries[44] — Syphilis in Dracula’s case. This is why vampiric sexuality, due to its characteristic of being “hyperproductive of disease”[45], must be destroyed. Blood is being bestowed the major role in the process: “as sustenance is taken out, degeneration is injected in”[46] The manner in which this happens is, on the one hand, strongly sexual­ly connoted since it resembles rape. On the other hand, it also can be perceived as a metaphor for the transmission of parasitic diseases: Dracula’s teeth strongly resemble “the proboscis of the mosquito, long thought to transmit tropical diseases.”[47] This con­solidates the connection between — foreign and dangerous as opposed to pure English — blood. Hence, the blood transfusions are applied: Van Helsing needs the blood of (English) men to extrude Dracula’s blood out of the Western bloodstream by replacing it with the healthy blood of strong Victorian masculinity — “You are a man, and it is a man we want.”[48] Sex, the liberation of female sexuality and the danger for patriarchal society resulting from that and parasitic diseases like syphilis and malaria, all these fac­tors are analogies for social and moral degeneration and decay. They reinforce Dracula’s position as the origin for said menaces since he transfers the detrimental substance into the Victorian bloodstream.

The vampires in True Blood share Dracula’s immense physical strength, speed, ability to fly[49] and power to hypnotize — euphemistically called “glamouring”[50] — ex­pressing the well-known fears of being overpowered, manipulated and corrupted by an alien entity. As opposed to this, True Blood’s vampires do not share many of Dracula’s weaknesses: no damage is inflected on them by religious objects, and they are not vul­nerable to neither garlic nor are they lacking reflection in mirrors (a rumor distributed by vampires for self-protection[51] ); that discarding of superstitious properties made it


[1] Stephen D. Arata, “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization”, Victori­an Studies, 33:4 (1990), p. 622.

[2] Monika Tomaszewska, “Vampirism and the Degeneration of the Imperial Race: Stoker’s Dracula as the Invasive Degenerate Other”, Journal of Dracula Studies, 6 (2004), p. 3.

[3] ib., p. 1.

[4] cf. ib., p. 3.

[5] Montague Summers, The Vampire in Europe (Milton Park, Abindgon, Oxon, 2011). p. 119.

[6] Brain Stoker, Dracula: Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Maurice Hindié, Preface by Christo­pher Fravling (London, 2003). p. 36.

[7] Stoker, Dracula, p. 8.

[8] ib.

[9] see all peculiar utensils the villagers give to Harker in order to keep İlim safe. cf. Stoker, Dracula, p. 11.

[10] Arata, “The Occidental Tourist”, p. 623.

[11] Carol Senf, Bram Stoker (Cardiff, 2010). p. 63.

[12] Stoker, Dracula, p. 371.

[13] ib.

[14] cf. Emilie Taylor-Brown, “She has a parasite soul! The Pathologization of the Gothic Monster as Para­sitie Hybrid in Brain Stoker’s Dracula, Richard Marsh’s The Beetle and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Para­site ”, in: Monsters and Monstrosity from the Fin de Siècle to the Millennium. Ed. Sharia Hutchinson and Rebecca A. Brown (Jefferson, 2015), p. 23.

[15] Stoker, Dracula, p. 60.

[16] Johanna Passos, “Postmodern Gothic: Teen Vampires”, in: Dracula and the Gothic in Literature, Pop Culture and the Arts. Ed. Isabel Ermida (Leiden, 2015), p. 224.

[17] Glennis Byron and David Punter, The Gothic (Malden, 2004). p. 116f.

[18] ib.

[19] cf. “Authority Always Wins”, True Blood, created by Alan Ball, season 5, episode 10, HBO, 2012.

[20] Evangelina Kindinger, “Reading Supernatural Fiction as Regional Fiction: Of ‘Vamps’, ‘Supes’ and Places that ‘Suck’”, Onlinejournal Kultur & Geschlecht, 8 (2011), p. 9.

[21] “Intro Scene”, True Biood, every episode.

[22] Nicole Rabin, “True Blood׳. The Vampire as a Multicultural Critique on Post-Race Ideology”, Journal of Dracula Studies, 12 (2010), p. 3.

[23] “Strange Love”, True Blood, season 1, episode 1.

[24] cf. “Hopeless”, season 5, episode 6.

[25] cf. Victoria Amador, “Blacks and Whites: Trash and Good Country People in True BI00ď\ in: Investi­gating Vampires and Southern Gothic. Ed. Brigid Cherry (London, 2012), p. 125.

[26] Rabin, “True Blood”, p. 7.

[27] Stoker, Dracula, p. 60.

[28] ib., p. 252.

[29] ib., p. 204.

[30] cf. Daniel Pick, “Terrors of the Night: Dracula and Degeneration in the Late Nineteenth Century”, in: Reading Fin de Siècle Fictions. Ed. Lyn Pykett (Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, 2013), p. 154.

[31] Stoker, Dracula, p. 24.

[32] ib.

[33] ib.

[34] ib.

[35] Judith Halberstam, Skill Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Durham, 1995). p. 93.

[36] Stoker, Dracula, p. 25.

[37] ib., p. 24.

[38] Pick, “Terrors of the Night”, p. 158.

[39] Tomaszewska, “Vampirism and the Degeneration of the Imperial Race”, p. 2.

[40] Nancy Rosenberg, “Desire and Loathing in Brain Stoker’s Dracula”, Journal of Dracula Studies, 2

(2000), p. 1.

[41] Brandy Schillace, “Children of the Night: Dracula, Degeneration and Syphilitic Births at fin de siècle”, in: Unnatural Reproductions and Monstrosity: The Birth of the Monster in Literature, Film, and Media. Ed. Andrea Wood and Brandy Schillace (Amherst, 2014), p. 273.

[42] Stoker, Dracula, p. 230.

[43] cf. ib.

[44] cf. Passos, “Postmodern Gothic”, p. 227.

[45] Schillace, “Children of the Night”, p. 274.

[46] Tomaszewska, “Vampirism and the Degeneration of the Imperial Race”, p. 5.

[47] Taylor-Brown, “She has a Parasite Soul!”, p. 17.

[48] Stoker, Dracula, p, 131,

[49] cf. “Frenzy”, season 2, episode 11.

[50] “Shake and Fingerpop”, season 2, episode 4.

[51] cf. ib., “Burning House Love”, season 1, episode 7.

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The Vampire as a Metaphor for Social Desires, Anxieties and Problems in Fin-de-Siècle and the 21st Century. Comparing Bram Stoker’s "Dracula" and Alan Ball’s "True Blood"
University of Bamberg  (Institut für Anglistik)
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Dracula, Fin-de-siecle, Victorian True Blood
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Jan Hurta (Author), 2017, The Vampire as a Metaphor for Social Desires, Anxieties and Problems in Fin-de-Siècle and the 21st Century. Comparing Bram Stoker’s "Dracula" and Alan Ball’s "True Blood", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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