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 physically a female who acts in the dominating, asserting way of a male. The validation for Mina’s masculinity can be found in the ways she is regarded by the other dominant masculine forces in the novel, Van Helsing and Dracula. Of the few female characters in the text, Mina is the only one who either Van Helsing or Dracula actually regard with any form of respect or regard as an equal. Contrarily, this type of respect is never shared with Harker, who unlike Mina, does not embody any aspect of masculinity. In the scene where Van Helsing finds himself at the mercy of Mina for her diary, this regard and respect towards her character can be clearly seen. Further in the narrative, as Dr. Seward and Van Helsing are reflecting again on the great help Mina’s diary has yielded, Van Helsing again sings her praises, he says that “she has man's brain, a brain that a man should have were he much gifted, and a woman's heart” (Stoker 321). Dracula too, regards Mina unlike any male regards any female throughout the course of the text. When Dracula attempts to turn Mina into a vampire, it is a very curious moment that he invites her to drink from his chest. Compared to the dominating way in which he transformed Lucy, this seems to be an invitation of equality. Dracula drank from Lucy, but with Mina he invites her to drink from him. This key difference once again affirms the respect and elevated regard in comparison to Harker that Mina commands from the men in this narrative.
In his book, Aion, Carl Jung discusses the phenomena of gender confusion or queerness in his own terms. Similarly to Butler, Jung acknowledges the notion that biological sex is not the sole determining factor of a person’s gender. However, he attributes this disparity between the physical and the social interactions as one that comes down to repression, which “illustrates the nature of the collective unconscious” (Jung 13). To Jung, the suppressed female within a man is referred to as the anima, and the repressed male within a female is the animus. The anima within a male is a repressed urge to embrace Eros, or to “touch reality, to embrace the earth and fructify the world the fields of the world” (Jung 12). He takes cue from the Eros, which he retains from his mother. In regards to the female, the animus “corresponds to the paternal Logos” (Jung 13), which can be interpreted as an enhanced cognitive function, which she takes from her father. Jung continues to specify that the repressed gender does not have to be only an intrinsic force, it can assume an extrinsic appearance in the form of a projection. These projections take the form of other human beings, who represent and embody the little bits of our repressed selves. When a person encounters their projection, or their animus, one of two things can happen. They can either be uncontrollably attracted to them, or utterly repulsed or pushed away. This relationship presents itself within the triangular relationship of Harker, Mina and Dracula. In one another, these three characters identify with different parts of their own personal anima or animus, and in some situations, they are drawn to each other, and in others – meet with utter revulsion.
The relationship between Harker and Mina is one of compelling love, and devotion to one another. As they are both characters that function along both genders, they identify their repressed personas in one another. They are both two-spirited individuals, which falls under the terms coined by the Natives, berdache. In Native beliefs there are not just the two genders, masculine and feminine. They believe there are an additional two genders, which fall outside the conventional binary, the masculine-feminine and the feminine-masculine. Mainstream society and culture would refer to this as a type of gender-queerness, but to the Natives, berdache individuals are simply an example of gender-hybridity, where the lines are blurred and an individual is able to mediate between the binaries. Both Harker and Mina are berdache characters in the text. It is because of this gender-queerness, that Harker and Mina are the two people who Dracula seems to prey the most on.
Being the title character of the novel, Dracula is the rooted character around which everyone revolves. But out of all the characters for his choosing, it is Harker and Mina who Dracula torments the most. Faced by Dracula, both Harker and Mina find their projections. Through Harker’s eyes, Dracula is the dominant, aggressive and assertive male that he fails to be. As he identifies Dracula as the man he cannot be, he is revolted, yet he wishes he could be him. Butler would refer to this as his inability to perform his gender properly. The socially constructed characteristics of gender surrounding Harker demand that he fulfill the set of norms that define masculinity, but he fails to do so. Throughout the course of the novel, Harker fails to properly perform his gender, and is rendered completely impotent. It is not until he slays Dracula that Harker emerges as a masculine figure. While Dracula lives, Harker is unable to reprise his role in Mina’s life, and while Harker may claim throughout the text that he feels it is his duty to, “rid the world of such a monster” (Stoker 71), he in fact needs to kill Dracula to retake Mina’s heart. Mina is the measuring stick of Harker’s masculinity, and since he is unable to protect his woman, Harker is emasculated. It is not until Dracula is removed from the picture that Harker can assume his role as a male in the narrative. Mina, likewise finds her projection in Dracula. However, unlike Harker who sees what he is not in Dracula, Mina sees both what she is, and what she wants to be, though is unable to. Like Mina, Dracula is assertive, clever and manipulative. He has the power to sway the emotions of those around him, as Mina does; everyone loves and respects her. However, unlike Mina, Dracula is unbridled and does not obey the social and cultural constraints around him. Whereas Mina is a feminized woman in a constrictive society, Dracula operates outside the realms of these limitations, and is free to do as he pleases. It is this freedom that draws Mina to Dracula, and renders her helpless to his seduction.
In his paper, "One is not born a bride, How weddings regulate heterosexuality" Chrys Ingraham investigates this restrictive nature of society on gender. He expresses his concern with a concept he calls heteronormativity. It is a concept which, “represents one of the main premises underlying the heterosexual imaginary, again ensuring that the organization of heterosexuality in everything from gender to weddings to marital status is help up both as a model and as ‘normal’” (Ingraham 199). Ingraham’s notions of heteronormativity play into Dracula’s appeal to Mina. She is drawn towards his freedom to operate outside of the limitations of normalcy, and unlike Dracula, she is bound by the restrictions of heteronormativity. When she does finally embrace Dracula, she removes herself from the socially normal characteristics of her world. To join Dracula means to leave Harker, and ultimately to leave the world of conventional matrimony. Dracula represents a world that transcends socially constructed norms. Even in marital conventions, he is a polygamist. He is unbound by the conventions of society that deem that a man should have only one woman, and he defies these standards and attempts to pull Mina into his world. For Mina, “[imagining herself] outside of this category is to live a life outside of the boundaries of normality and social convention” (Ingraham 199), and if she does this, she must succumb to vampirism and leave the human world of her husband and her friends behind.
Dracula is the centrepiece of this narrative, whose connection to every character represents a complex relationship of tensions. The relationship between Dracula, Harker and Mina is one that is built on conflicts between socially constructed norms and expectations around gender. The works of Judith Butler establish that ideas around gender are not as deeply rooted in binaries as we may think. Gender functions along the lines of socially constructed ideals, and as a result, are subject to far more depth and consideration than it is usually credited. Within the characters of Dracula, this depth can be clearly seen. Both Harker and Mina can be interpreted as Jungian models of gender-queerness. They mediate the lines of masculinity and femininity and fall under the category of berdache. Neither husband, nor wife can be earnestly identified within the binary realms of gender, and it is this gap between the reality of their gender and the expected binaries that makes them so alluring to Dracula. This attraction illustrates Carl Jung’s theories of repressed gender, and the way that individuals are either wildly attracted or repulsed by facing the projection of their unconscious selves. It is the way Dracula operates outside of the limitations of Chrys Ingraham’s heteronormativity which makes him such a desirable character, and it is as both Harker and Mina strive to reach Dracula’s freedom, that they both distance themselves further from social and cultural norms. Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, has been for many years noted as a fine literary text. Through the scope of Butler, Jung and Ingraham, Stoker’s text engages many themes of gender-queerness and the normativity of sexuality in society, and through the highly complex relationships between Count Dracula, Jonathon Harker and Mina Murray that the text not only engages gender tensions, but it simultaneously destabilizes and affirms them.
Aion. New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1959. Scribd. 26 Sept. 2008. Web. 7 Feb. 2010. .
Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.
Ingraham, Chrys. "“One is Not Born a Bride: How Weddings Regulate Sexuality." The New Sexuality Studies: A Reader. London: Routledge, 2006. 197-201. Print.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995.