Dracula and Science, Superstition, Religion, and Xenophobia

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There are many debates in the United States that have been ongoing for decades, and some for even centuries. Some of these issues are in relation to science, religion, and some are even a combination of the two. Film and other media outlets have commonly been used to address these types of issues ever since these outlets were started. In the film Dracula, directed by Tod Browning in 1931, many controversial issues of the 1920s and 1930s including science, superstition, religion, and xenophobia are addressed.

An argument that has been extremely controversial and debated for centuries is science versus religion. Dracula takes the side of religion in this debate, which is shown throughout the novel. Many times the protagonists attempt to stop Dracula, but one of the only ways that they can hurt Dracula is through religious objects. The two religious objects that harm Dracula are the cross and the communion wafer. The cross is a replica of Jesus Christ, and the communion wafer is representative of the body of Christ by Christians. These objects’ ability to cause harm to Dracula, while science cannot, shows religion’s power over science.

Another example of science being insufficient in this film is the analysis of Renfield’s mental illness. The doctors proclaim he is a zoophagous, and that it is a known mental illness which he has, which we know is completely untrue. He acts as a zoophagous because of Dracula’s control and influence over him. The diagnosis created by the scientists makes sense, and would in pretty much any other case be considered to be absolutely acceptable, but this film continues to attempt to show that science by itself is not enough.

The character Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula is prime example of how this film believes in religion’s power more than science’s. Van Helsing is a scientist, but he is also a believer in Christianity. This provides an interesting set of circumstances because he has a mixed view of the world. The fact that a man of science and religion chooses religion as his power against evil helps to exemplify the idea that Dracula encourages. This is showing that not only is religion stronger for those who are uneducated, but that even for someone who’s profession is based on science, religion is still what he relies on. One way that the argument between science and religion relates to the time period that this film was made in is through the Scopes Monkey Trial. The Scopes Trial was a trial in 1925 that occurred in Dayton, Tennessee. This trial was about a teacher who was accused of teaching evolution to students, which violated Tennessee’s “Butler Act,” which made it illegal to teach evolution in public schools. This became one of the most famous legal cases of the 20th century, and was one of the most media covered trials of all time. The Scopes Trial is widely considered one of the classic debates of the 1920s. This argument between fundamentalists and modernists was one of the defining moments in the longtime debate between science and religion because it was one of the few times that the argument was made in the court of law. In this case the modernists won, and the teaching of evolution became more widespread and apparent across the entire United States. What is it that many religions are founded on, but is often considered silly and foolish? Superstition. Superstition has always been thrown aside as foolishness, but in Dracula it is one of the characters’ greatest powers. The superstitions prove to be right in every situation and only fail when they are meddled with. One example of this is when Van Helsing puts the wolfbane flower around Mina’s room, and later that night Dracula forces the maid to take it down from the window and off of her neck as well. This proves that the superstition was correct, and that the old world logic it comes from is factually founded.

The region that the superstitions that save Mina come from is Eastern Europe. The reason...
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