Archive for the ‘Monster Theory’ Category

Gender Role Blurring In Dracula

As an Urban Fantasy writer, vampires are often on my mind, here is another blurb on the social implications and the meaning of Vampires and Vampirism, especially in Dracula (one of my favorite vampire novels of all times!!)

In Dracula, several characters are seen following roles and actions that are usually reserved for the opposite sex, these situations allow for the Victorian reader to understand that this is a special situation and that something is not right. In clearer terms, the switching and blurring of gender roles allows for a greater sense of strangeness and wrongness for the novel to continue successfully as horror fiction.

Jonathan Harker is the first character we see allowing himself to be feminized, firstly when he is captured by the Brides of Dracula and his reactions are entirely passive and feminine: “I lay quiet, looking out under my eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation” (Stoker, 32). Eventually he manages to escape them, only to end up in a bed, ill, not only physically from the Brides’ blood drinking, but also mentally as his reality is altered and he believes himself to be going insane: “. . . In his delirium his ravings have been dreadful; of wolves and poison and blood; of ghosts and demons.” Jonathan’s hallucinations and symptoms fit what physicians would attribute to hysteria, which is generally a woman’s ailment. (OED). His six weeks in bed allow him to regain himself and therefore bring him back into the normal boundaries of manhood, this rehabilitation is fully realized and sealed by his marriage to Mina.

However, the character who challenges traditional gender roles the most is Mina. She uses a typewriter, and is economically stable on her own. She is also able to act as one of the men, helping plan out situations and make sense of the chaos that Dracula brings to London. It is her notes and her work that ultimately lead to the death of Dracula. Her actions are reflective of a modern woman, as compared to a traditional Victorian woman; however she is still bound to her culture: “Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man’s brain-a brain that a man should have were he much gifted-and a woman’s heart. The good God fashioned her for a purpose, believe me, when He made that so good a combination” (Stoker, 201). In this case, Mina’s masculinity is acceptable because she is still a woman who plays by the rules that she is meant to follow, that is, she marries and is, unlike Lucy, controllable by her husband.

Dracula, on the flip side, cannot be controlled by anyone, and his own sexuality and gender roles are even more questionable than Jonathan’s or Mina’s. When Jonathan  find himself a victim to the Brides, it is the Count, a man, who comes to his rescue, but his intentions are not in order to save a fellow man (as a general protective motion towards masculinity itself) but because: “This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you’ll have to deal with me!” which brings his intentions into question, and further inquiring (or hinting at) about his sexuality as the narrative continues: “Then the Count turned, after looking at my face attentively and said in a soft whisper:- “Yes, I too can love;”(Stoker, 33). This is after Jonathan finds himself being served dinner by Dracula, rather than the brides, although he does not seem to find this behavior strange, which serves as a set up for the question of the Count’s own sexual roles, as later he goes on using deceptive techniques to seduce the women whose blood he drinks. In the Victorian society that the novel is set, it is women who use the deceptive techniques and the secrecy. Men like Quincy, use strength, and other men, like Van Helsing, use knowledge, but not cleverness or seduction.

Three main characters are portrayed in ways, or in situations where gender roles are reversed. The view of Mina as a modern woman, although with traditional aspects, is shown as she is considered to be at times, one of the group of men. Jonathan often finds himself a victim, in very weak and feminine situations, but it is the Count himself who pushes the lines of sexuality: in role, in taste and in  attitude.

Grendel and the Higgs Boson

I’ve just finished reading John Gardner’s Grendel and I had to write a short blurb about it. This is what I wrote, I intended to make it longer, but I had a page limit.

The Higgs Boson.

Grendel’s attitude and his behavior are highly elegant and philosophical. And as Ayn Rand once put it, “all work is an act of philosophy” and extending the assumption further, all existence is an act of philosophy as well, especially Grendel’s. It is because of this that Grendel is the only solid character and the only defining thing in the entire novel. The story is entirely defined and dependant on him.

If it were not obvious from the title of the novel, Grendel asserts himself as the stronger (and almost only) force in the work. Unlike in other works, where titular characters are unaware of their situation or their influences, Grendel is aware of his situation: “Nothing was changed, everything was changed, by my having seen the dragon (Gardner, 75)” He is aware of both the fact that for the world around, him, everything remains exactly the same, yet as for himself and the dragon, everything is different. Grendel is incredibly aware of the changes, or rather, the flux, of his existence and its ultimate meaninglessness. Grendel’s world is reduced to himself, although this discovery, this philosophy, does in no way stand against its opposing force: the importance of the self and the individual.  His voice then, characterized by short, descriptive clauses: “I blink. I stare in horror (Gardner, 5)” sets the tone for the further expression of his ego, and allows for the reader to understand that the world is reduced to Grendel because he considers himself to be the only thing worth noticing.

Grendel’s reductionist philosophy takes him down a nihilistic rabbit hole: “nihil ex nihilo (Gardner, 150)” Out of nothing, nothing exists, except for the observer, that is, both Grendel and the reader. This is exemplified and clearly pointed out in the one statement that defines him: “I understood that the world is nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly place our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or that I push against, blindly- as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back. I create the whole universe, blink by blink. (Gardner, 21-22)”

Each sentence containing the word ‘I’ is then set apart, not merely as a causality, but as a rigid, undeniable and unquestioning statement of Grendel’s unshakable sense of life. It is obvious, that Grendel Is. Like the Higgs Boson, Grendel gives existence to himself and it is only when he tricked by Beowulf that he shows any sign of losing his control, even then as he lies bleeding to death, his final words haunt and define the future of his destroyers: “So may you all (Gardner, 174)”