Vampires in Literature as a Metaphor for Otherness

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Vampires in Literature as a Metaphor for Otherness essay
Important: This sample is for inspiration and reference only

Keywords: Vampires, Literature, Metaphor, Otherness, Gothic fiction, Supernatural beings, Horror genre, Social commentary

Vampires portrayal as the ‘other’ has been a universal theme in gothic literature, originating from Bram stoker’s late nineteenth-nineteenth-century novel ‘Dracula’ (1897), and is now present in the late twentieth-century novel ‘interview with the vampire’ (1976), by Anne Rice. The term otherness refers to the aspect and quality of being different to what is the general accepted social norm, for example: homosexuality. Rices ‘interview with the vampire’ offers a more humanised vampire family, that live in a world that is similar to our own but free from the stigmas of ‘otherness’, and is a universe that Rice creates based on true inner desires evoking a feeling of envy for the vampires in this story. Whereas Stokers’s ‘Dracula’ is a bloodthirsty battle of ‘good versus evil’ where Dracula’s otherness is conveyed through the idea that he’s an outsider to this society due to his foreigner status, strange appearance and homoerotic nature. As well as this Dracula targets Mina and Lucy, who are less like real people than two-dimensional embodiments of virtues, that have during the Victorian era, been coded as female.

It could be argued that the vampire has been conveyed as a metaphor for ‘otherness’ through their appearance. In Dracula, one of the key ideas that makes him terrifying for the characters in the novel is the fact he is emphatically foreign, which is played on by Stoker through Dracula’s imperfect English and strange accent to the point Van Helsing describes him as having “a big child brain” as in Van Helsing’s opinion he is inferior to him and his men. Some critics such as Stephen Arata, argue that ‘Dracula is an allegory regarding the collapse of British colonialism', and interpreting the novel in that sense would suggest that Dracula’s immigration to Britain is similar to that of an invasion, which at the time of writing was a major concern many people possessed as for the years Britain spent colonising and oppressing other cultures may have resulted in substantial backlash. This could then be interpreted as a warning, because if ‘Dracula’ represents traditions and superstition then effectively he is history coming back to haunt us. As well as this, the entirety of the novel is narrated by humans, and not once does the reader get to hear the narration of Dracula. Whereas in Rice’s novel ‘interview with the vampire’, the whole novel is narrated by Louis De Point du Lac about his two separate lives as a former human and now an immortal revenant, which give Rice’s vampires a far more humanised character make-up in comparison to Count Dracula. Though Rice seizes on Stokers visual likeness such as ‘distinguishable teeth, red lips and an undeniable chilling body temperature’ Rice’s revenants manage to encapsulate a human-like aura. For example, Louis is a self-destructive sceptic, Lestat is a sarcastic egotist and Claudia is arguably a person unsatisfied with their body and ridden with insecurity, which is a growing issue in many generations due to media influences.

All these traits within their character make-up effectively humanises these characters eluding them from the idea of being the ‘other’, as they still possess a vague sense of humanity unlike The Count Dracula, who is the sheer embodiment of the supernatural evil. Even though both writers vary in their portrayal of the vampires, both Rice and Stoker play on the idea of the uncanny as both Dracula and Rice’s vampires appear to be human and carry out human routines, but in actual fact these creatures are far from human as for example, all vampires consume human blood, which is an example of the abject. However, the most striking aspect of Rice’s novel is the fact she creates a world that is uncanny to our own, yet vastly different. Rice’s world seems to be the world that all human’s want to live in; free from the societal restrictions that the human world is full of. Rice’s vampires are truly a projection of the deepest inner feelings of many people, they are desirable and ultimately what they want to become. Glanced at, the ‘vampire’ resembles humans. Both Stoker and Rice’s vampires are: immortal, faster, stronger and undeniably attractive. These characteristics make the vampire impossible to resist to humans, hence why Louis’ interviewer at the end of the interview begs Louis to change him into one of them.

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On the other hand, it could be argued that vampires are portrayed as the ‘other’ through the reversal of typical gender roles. Both novels express the idea that vampirism creates a new gender binary that frees people from their previous social expectation. In ‘interview with the vampire’, the gothic theme of entrapment has been utilised in order to convey Claudia’s psychological imprisonment within her own body, from the outside she is nothing but a girl, embodying the weakness and passiveness associated with her gender role. Claudia’s mental prison leads to frustration and causes her to become desperate and make reckless decisions, such as when she killed their two maids. This event causes Louis to realise that Claudia has developed the mind of a woman, and that “she’s not a child anymore that will do what we say because we simply say it” but due to her exterior appearance, his perception of her is still skewed. Whereas, Lestat has no realisation and refuses to believe that she is a woman emotionally and psychologically, and is unwilling to teach her, or let her do anything “without my permission. I won’t tolerate it” as Lestat is still in denial about Claudia’s psychological maturity and continues to perceive her as his child, even though Louis has expressed to him that “she sees herself as an equal to us now, and us as equal to each other”. As a result of Lestat’s inability to help Claudia, and the knowledge that her body is an eternal prison, she decides that her only option is to kill Lestat. Klemen’s says, that in this moment their assigned gender roles have switched, and Lestat the strong alpha male, a fatherly figure, is coerced into being poisoned by Claudia, the weak passive girl. As a result of this, Claudia becomes a ‘phallic woman’, becoming aggressive and powerful, she creates a new gender role for herself.

However, her child-like surrounding still remains unaltered. Similarly, in ‘Dracula’ the idea of stereotypical gender roles being warped are conveyed through the three vampire women who live with Dracula, and are often referred to as Dracula’s three brides. During Harker’s stay at Dracula’s castle, he comes close to having his blood sucked dry by Dracula’s vampiric temptresses. In this position the female vampires are in a dominant, penetrative role generally associated with males, whilst Harker lies on the bed he is emasculated by the three brides and takes on a female passivity that isn’t associated with his gender role. Likewise to Claudia, the three brides have surmounted their social conventions and Stoker has arguably reinforced this through the act of bloodsucking. The act of bloodsucking has been discussed by critics to resemble a form of sexual intercourse, as the elongated fangs of a vampire penetrate the skin of a humans neck. It could be suggested that the canine teeth of a vampire are in fact a form of separate genitalia, and when a new vampire is created they become similar to a hermaphrodite, as a result of their new genitals. This ideology is present with in Stokers ‘Dracula’ as the three vampire seductresses corner Harker in his chamber and “she arched her neck, and she actually licked her lips like an animal…lower and lower went her head”. This connotes the imagery of a sexual encounter, but also draws the readers attention to the fact these provocative women are in charge of this affair, and Harker is subversive to their male-like dominance and control. It also shows . The danger of this escapade is clear to the reader as the vampire brides heads go “lower and lower” which could suggest that they’re about to drink Harker’s blood. The phrase “lower and lower” effectively conveys the movement of oral sex, and that the act of bloodsucking is the vampires alternative to coitus. The simile “licked her lips like an animal” accentuates their prevalent sexual assertiveness, while also illustrating animalistic behaviours, as though they are ready to sexually devour Harker. These sex-crazed she-devils are the opposite to the chaste, innocent victorian maidens that are prized by men, in fact these women are more so a disturbed fantasy that arouses yet repulses Harker as he awaits in “languorous ecstasy”.

However, it could be argued that the vampire has been portrayed as a metaphor for ‘otherness’ through the use of sexuality. Both writers convey the idea that vampires sexuality can be extremely fluid. This is seen in ‘interview with the vampire’, through Louis’ transformation and “how the movement of his lips raised the hair all over my body, sent a shock of sensation through my body that was not unlike the pleasure of passion”. This scene conveys a sense of intimacy between the vampire Lestat and his victim Louis, reinforcing the idea that a vampire hunting and sucking the blood of a human is highly erotic. The use of the phrase “movement of his lips raised all the hairs on my body” connotes the possible idea that Lestat is kissing Louis’ neck, like a form of foreplay, before he ultimately penetrates Louis’ neck, fortifying the idea that there are clear homoerotic undertones between Louis and Lestat from the point of Louis’ metamorphosis into a vampire. Then from this point onwards critics such as Schopp identify Louis and Lestat as a couple, with a highly disturbed relationship, which according to critics like Benefiel, Lestat attempts to fix through the transformation of Claudia to play the role of their daughter, and in actual fact Louis does then remain by Lestat’s side for a further sixty-five years. Nonetheless, the dynamic of their family becomes highly blurred and doesn’t constitute the typical nuclear family humans are accustomed to, in fact Benefiel states “the vampire family, incestuous and blurred as it is, presents a subversive alternative model to the nuclear family”.

The concept of sexual fluidity is further demonstrated in their ‘vampire family’ as Louis arguably takes the role as Claudia’s mother, but also her lover. This is shown when Claudia enquires to Louis what it is to make love as a mortal and Louis responds that he “think(s) it is in the pale shadow off killing” which connotes the sheer erotic nature of a vampire kill. In an attempt to become Louis’ lover she begs him to “kill with me tonight” which evidences the distortion between familial bonds and romantic bonds in their relationship, creating a sense of incest. Likewise, in Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ the idea of sexual fluidity is demonstrated through The Count’s homoerotic possessiveness over Harker, when Dracula’s three voluptuous brides attempt to attack Harker, Dracula orders them to stop as “this man belongs to me!” which could be interpreted to have strong homosexual undertones. Which is arguably a prevalent theme played on by Stoker between Dracula and Harker as Christopher Craft argues “Dracula’s desire to fuse with a male, is most explicitly evoked when Harker cuts himself shaving, subtly and dangerously suffuses this text” as well as this Harker is the only male in the novel who is threatened with the prospect of vampirism, unlike the others, which could suggest that Dracula sexually desires Harker. In addition to this, the interpretation of Dracula’s homoerotic nature is strengthened when he proclaims that “your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine - my creature, to do my bidding and tone my jackals when I want to feed”. This could suggest that Dracula utilises the female vampires to mask his homosexual intentions in a distressed time regarding same-sex relationships, which illustrates that women seem to be the method in which homosexual men perform their infractions. It is also important to note that Dracula targets oppressed human females and transforms them into dominant male-like creatures further emphasising The Counts homoerotic desires, as it affirms the idea that in a bid to mask his homosexual tendencies he employs females to take on more male characteristics.

In addition to this, it could also be argued that both writers present vampires as a metaphor for ‘otherness’ through their behavioural traits. The gothic theme of ‘good versus evil’ is an overriding motif within both novels that has been centralised by both writers. In ‘Dracula’ there is essentially a typical battle between the ‘good’, being Van Helsing and his men, and the ‘evil’, being ‘Dracula’ and his creations. Similarly, in ‘interview with the vampire’ the battle of ‘good versus evil’ is present, but the battle at hand in this novel is more a battle of morality, between what remains of their humanity and their new found instincts to indulge in vampiric transgressions, such as, killing. In ‘Dracula’ the battle of ‘good versus evil’ is an overriding theme throughout the novel, with Dracula being the unambiguous evil and Van Helsing’s ‘Crew of Light’ being the unambiguous good. Dracula’s role as the antagonist of the novel is made apparent from beginning when Harker’s “feelings changed to repulsion and terror when I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window, and begin to crawl down the castle wall” this is Harker’s first hint that The Count isn’t quite human and possesses a repulsive, evil, allure that is distinctly prominent, reiterating the point that ‘Dracula’ is an outsider to society and he enforces nothing but “repulsion” within people. An essential part to play in the war against Dracula is modern technological advancements, that Van Helsing ensures to utilise to his advantage because arguably, The Count embodies the traditions and superstitions of the conservative world. Therefore it is only possible to destroy him with the use of conventional Christian methods, such as, garlic, rosary, holy water, and a host (Strube 74).

Critics like Putz, compare the likeness of vampires to an antithetical figure of Jesus. Due to the fact that, both rose from the dead but carry out very different routines for example: Jesus gave his blood for the salvation of his followers whilst vampires consumer the blood of humans, as well as this, many vampires originate from aristocracy and wealth while Jesus was nothing more than a son of a carpenter born in a stable. Accordingly, it only makes sense that Dracula cannot be destroyed with the use of modern technologies and science, but only be defeated with the use of Christian symbols (Strube 74). Potentially Stoker is creating a debate within his novel regarding what a more powerful force, modernisation or history. As arguably, though it was Christianity that ultimately killed ‘Dracula’ it could be argued that the the ‘Crew of Light’ wouldn’t have been able to devise a plan to kill Dracula without being able to study and report on Dracula through the use of typewriters and phonograms which weren’t explicitly available till the late nineteenth century.

In conclusion, both writers succeed in conveying the point that vampires are a metaphor for ‘otherness’, by creating them free from societal restrictions, and allowing them to live their lives freely without being controlled by patriarchy and what is expected of their gender role.

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This essay effectively explores the theme of 'otherness' in vampire literature, comparing Bram Stoker's "Dracula" with Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire." The writer presents a detailed analysis of how both novels portray vampires as outsiders, discussing aspects such as appearance, gender roles, and sexuality. The essay demonstrates a clear understanding of the subject matter and provides relevant examples from the texts to support the arguments. The comparisons between the two novels are well-presented, showcasing the distinct ways in which vampires represent 'otherness.' The discussion on the use of Christian symbols in defeating Dracula and the vampires' embodiment of contrasting figures like Jesus adds depth to the analysis. Overall, the essay effectively explores the metaphorical role of vampires in reflecting societal norms and challenges.
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What can be improved
Introduction Clarity: Reframe the introduction to clearly state the purpose of the essay and introduce the concept of 'otherness' in vampire literature. Thesis Statement: Revise the thesis statement to concisely encapsulate the main argument of the essay and guide the reader's expectations. Paragraph Structure: Organize the essay into well-structured paragraphs, each focusing on a specific aspect of the comparison between the two novels. Transitions: Use smoother transitions between paragraphs and ideas to improve the overall flow of the essay. Evidence Integration: Integrate direct quotes or specific examples from the novels to reinforce the arguments and enhance the credibility of the analysis. Conclusion Strength: Strengthen the conclusion by summarizing the key points discussed in the essay and emphasizing the overall significance of the theme of 'otherness' in vampire literature.
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