March 29th , 2010
Destabilizing Gender Norms in Dracula
In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, characters interact with each other in a number of different ways. Over the years this has lead to many different readings of Stoker’s novel, and it is one of the reasons that Dracula has survived for so many years as a noted literary text. In examining the characters, a multiplicity of layers seems to unravel themselves, one of which being the interesting relation they all have to one another. By examining the nature and interactions of the novel’s three main characters, Jonathon Harker, Mina Murray, and Dracula, the novel can be seen to engage and demonstrate a number of different gender constraints. These gender conflicts and constraints can be seen in the theories of theorists such as Judith Butler, Carl Jung and Chrys Ingraham. Each of Stoker’s characters fall into different aspects of theories of gender constraints, and based on their interactions, Dracula as a novel engages these matters and simultaneously destabilizes and affirms them.
As a text, Dracula is heavily concerned in matters of gender, but it engages it through a number of different layers. There are characters that function off the stereotypical archetypes of gender, such as the hyper masculinity seen in Dracula and Van Helsing, but there are also characters which do not fit so easily into these preconceived moulds. These gender conflicts can be noted primarily in Harker and Lucy, who not only act in ways opposing their physical gender, but they also mirror each other in their gender queerness. Whereas Harker is a feminized male, Mina is a masculinised female. Judith Butler examines these constraints and conflicts surrounding gender. In her book, Bodies that Matter, Butler says that “’sex’ is an ideal construct which is forcible materialized through time... [it] is one of the norms by which the ‘one’ becomes viable at all, that which qualifies the body for life within the domain of cultural intelligibility” (Butler 1). In this, Butler is proposing a clear relationship between the biological sex of an individual, and the socially constructed gender of that same person. Butler’s theories invite us to think of gender not as an absolute, which is rooted in the biological features of a person, but as an ever-changing identity, which is subject to the ebb and flow of social influences. In many ways, Dracula can be seen to engage these theories.
Looking firstly at Harker, while he is a biological male, there are many instances within the novel in which his physical gender is subjugated by his emotional and personal gender, from which he emerges as a female. One of the most obvious examples of this displacement occurs early in the novel as during the scene where Harker encounters the wives of Dracula. Confronted by these beautiful women, Harker feels carnally inclined towards them, and wishes that “they would kiss [him] with those red lips” (Stoker 52). As the dominant masculine presence in this scene, Harker should exert his dominance and have his way, but contrarily, it is Harker who ends up dominated, as he “lay quiet, looking out from under [his] eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation... [waiting] with beating heart” (Stoker 53). In this scene, Harker’s is suppressed, both physically and within the realm of gender. Though he is a biological male, his natural inclination is to be dominated by these women. He does not rise to dominate them, rather he is laying on his back and allowing the women to hold him down, suppress and do with him what they please. Butler would say that this illustrates Harker as a character who is “not properly gendered” (Butler 10). Since Harker does not assert his masculinity, he does not fulfill his cultural and societal obligations to the characteristics of his gender.
Mina, on the other hand, functions oppositely to Harker. Whereas Harker is a physical man with the demeanour of a female, Mina is...