Good Critical Thinking About Science And Modernity Vs. Superstition In Dracula
Dracula is one of the most popular science fiction novel authored in the 19th Century. The novel explores the story of “Count Dracula” a vampire that wreak havoc on a select group of people. There are many themes that characterize this novel, but the ultimate theme is that of modernity and science vs. superstition. The setting of the novel is the late 19th century England, a place that seems obsessed with modernity, science, and technology. People in this period have abandoned old superstitions and beliefs and fully embraced modernity. Everything is analyzed from a scientific and rational point of view, such that if any event that falls out of this thinking pattern, it is dismissed. It is this embracement of modernity and technology and the abandonment of superstitions and old beliefs that enables the Count to thrive and, therefore, continue wreaking havoc on the people of England. ‘
In the novel, it comes across that modernity has brought in a new wave of thinking that is governed by science and technology. The old system of beliefs and superstitions that governed Europe years before has come under great questioning. Modernity is observed as something that trolls over some of the ancient beliefs and superstitions. However, from the onset of the novel, it is clear that modernity may not be merely enough to deconstruct some of the ancient beliefs. For example, when Harker is in Transylvania in the beginning of the novel, he becomes quite uncomfortable in his lodgings (which have been provided by Count Dracula), of country Dracula and acknowledges that “unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their won which “mere” modernity cannot kill” (Stoker 30). This phrase is perhaps signatory of the battle between modernity and the traditional systems of belief. In fact, although the beginning of the novel is in a traditional setting (a ruined castle in a rural village, which is almost Gothic in nature), the action, however, moves to Victorian London. Here, the human’s blindness or perhaps its lack of belief in supernatural elements and the devotion to modern advancements are significantly responsible for fostering the relative ease in which the Dracula preys and wreaks havoc on the English society.
There are very many examples that exemplify this aspect. Mina and Seward are two characters who are blinded by modernity and who, therefore, fail to see what right in front of their eyes. Both witness the progressive decline of Lucy and even see the two marks on her neck which they dismiss to be needle stings. They do not even fathom the idea that Lucy could have been a victim of a vampire attack. Simply put, they are prejudiced towards rationality and consequently, they fail to understand the things that are happening right in front of them.
Jonathan Harker is the other victim of a narrow rational and scientific mindset. His orientation towards science and modernity is questionable because he is a character who has witnessed the supernatural firsthand when he was in Transylvania. However, he consciously chooses to consign what he saw to the world of imagination and dreams and chooses to side with science and modernity. He fails to realize that it is this blind devotion to modernity and science that fosters an environment where Count Dracula is able to thrive. It appears that science is overrated Sanders writes that “Although Dracula acknowledges (reifies) the occult, it is ultimately about the triumph of science and reason over its irrational seductions” (6). Sanders goes to quote Jann who is of the opinion that Dracula “affirms the status quo of scientific reasoning and aligns it firmly with the conventional bases of cultural power at the time” (Jann, 273)”.
In the novel, Count Dracula moves from Transylvania, which is in Eastern Europe and moves to Victorian London which is in Western Europe. This move can be seen to be motivated by the Eastern Europe’s blind obsession with modernity, an aspect that Count Dracula hypothesizes will favor his existence. Transylvania, which is in Eastern Europe, is quite superstitious and believes in things such as vampires, a characteristic that is obviously dangerous to his existence. This is visible from the quote stating: “The first four chapters, which constitute the first Transylvania sequence, paint a picture of Eastern Europe as a deeply mysterious world filed with folklore and superstitions offered to the reader through the narrative voice of Jonathan Harker” (Johnson 73). Therefore, Count Dracula moves from Transylvania, a world where most people are peasants and who devoutly worship and pray in shrines and who use charms and spells against supernatural things such as vampires. He moves to the modernized Victorian London where he presumes that modernity will foster his blossom and existence.
However, there are people in the novel who seem to acknowledge the existence of superstition and supernatural aspects in spite of the prevalence and dominance of modernity. One of these people is Van Helsing. Being a scientist himself, the natural expectation would that he would also orient towards the modernity side and completely dismiss superstitions such as the occult.
However, his admonishing of Jonathan Harker reveals otherwise. Jonathan, a man, is predominantly blinded by modernity, who possesses modern accessories, for example, his Kodak camera. In his admonishing of Jonathan, Van Helsing states “You are a clever man, friend John; you reason well, and your wit is bold, but you are too prejudiced. You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot? But there are things old and new which must not be contemplated by men’s eyes, because they know – or think they know – some things which other men have told them. Ah, it is the fault of our science that is wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of 7 new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but the old, which pretend to be young” (Stoker, 163). This statement by Van Helsing shows that he is an individual who obviously acknowledges that there are some things that cannot be explained by science and modernity, and he is asking Jonathan to acknowledge the same.
The individuals hunting the Dracula are occasionally rendered helpless by their blind devotion to science. In regard to the vampire hunters, Byron writes that science and modernity are essentially the “source of their helplessness and confusion in the face of supernatural forces” (49). What is meant by this statement is that although the hunters are after a mysterious killer, they cannot think subjectively simply because of their subscription to rationality and science. If something cannot be explained scientifically or rationally, then it is out rightly dismissed and is not given much attention. Therefore, when the people hunting Count Dracula come across supernatural forces, they are helpless and confused. This only accentuates the futility of their hunt for the mysterious Dracula.
In simple terms, Dracula poses a challenge to reason and science in multiple fronts (Helsabeck and Hinkleman, 3). “He is a supernatural being with magical powers, represents old powers and old ways, and survives attempts on his life with every scientific and technological means available” (Helsabeck and Hinkleman, 3). This is a further depiction of the people’s blind devotion to modernity and their failure to realize that it cannot explain everything or even counter everything. In fact, as Helsabeck and Hinkleman put it, it is only after the protagonists in the novel result to primitive technologies that they are able to defeat Count Dracula.
Dracula is a brilliant piece of literature authored in the late 19th Century that exhibits the clash between science/modernity vs. superstition and traditional beliefs. The main protagonist in the novel, Count Dracula is hunted by the protagonists who because of their blind obsession and devotion to science and modernity are unable to think subjectively and are therefore not able to come up with effective strategies for capturing the vampiric Dracula. The embracement of modernity and technology and the abandonment of superstitions and old beliefs enables the Count to thrive in Victorian London. In other words, the blindness of the society to modernity and science and its denial of the ‘existence of the supernatural” creates an environment that fosters the continued survival of Count Dracula and as a result, he continues to wreak havoc on the people of England.
Byron, Glennis. "Bram Stoker's Gothic and the Resources of Science." Critical Survey (2007): 48-62.
Helsabeck, Keith Hinkleman. ”Chasing After Monsters with a Butterfly Net:" The Victorian Approach to Vampires in Stoker's" Dracula". ProQuest, 2008.
Jann, Rosemary. “Saved by Science? The Mixed Messages of Stoker's Dracula” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 31 (1989): 273-287.
Johnson, Allan. "Modernity and Anxiety in Bram Stoker’s Dracula."
Saunders, Paul. "Yeats, Stoker, and “English” Modernity: Reading Dracula as a Response to the Irish Revival and the Threat of “Irrational” Violence."
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Dover, 2000
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