Dracula: Religion As An Instrument Of Influence On Society

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In the book Dracula published in 1897, author Bram Stoker explores the theme of salvation and the hold that Christianity maintained over late-Victorian society. The novel revolves around Dracula, a vampire who strikes fear and terror into the hearts of all he encounters, and the Crew of Light, a group of people who wish to triumph over Dracula. Salvation and damnation were two fears that played heavily within the minds of late-Victorian society, faced by the constant influences of the Church and the power it wielded over society, controlling much of their thoughts and behaviours. Many laws and beliefs were dictated by faith, and with a lack of scientific evidence or free speech, the Church set the norm and opposition was suppressed. Additionally, under the guise of vampirism, Stoker addresses much of the battle between good and evil with the Crew of Light and Dracula, for although their motives may be different, many of their actions are similar. This has many moral implications with the attribution of “good”/”evil”.

Christian symbols and icons are scattered throughout the novel, and their significance in defeating Dracula is akin to the significance of Christianity and the prevalence of its icons/symbols in society. When Jonathan Harker is initially journeying towards Dracula’s castle, he is handed crucifixes by the Eastern European peasants and farmers, as a defence or protection from Dracula’s evilness. Van Helsing bases much of his knowledge of defeating vampires upon folk tales, myths and traditions. This leads him to the belief that Christian symbols, full of preternatural powers, will be able to defeat Dracula; much as the same way the peasants and farmers Harker encountered believed that crucifixes would protect him from Dracula. Van Helsing wields crosses and “sacred wafers” (Communion wafers blessed by a priest) which he uses in the mission to defeat Dracula. These Christian symbols are commonly referenced and used by the Crew of Light in their quest to defeat Dracula, showing how their determination is driven by religious fervour. Without guidance and help from religion, the Crew of Light would be helpless in the face of evil. Although this is a very direct connection, Stoker uses Dracula to indirectly comment on society’s dependence on religion, in a way that would have been acceptable at the time.

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The sacred wafers used by Van Helsing play a large part both symbolically and as part of the story, representing the power of Christianity and also the consumption of another in order to gain power. As part of the Christian faith, the rite of Holy Communion was started by Jesus during the Last Supper. With the knowledge that he would die the next day, he referred to the bread as his body; the wine his blood. Communion is performed by all Christians, however there is a slight difference in the Roman Catholic Church as they believe the bread and wine change to become the body and blood of Jesus. This is particularly important as Van Helsing is Roman Catholic and thus believes in the sacred wafers changing to become a part of the body of Jesus; so that although their appearance is of bread/wine, they actually hold the power of Christ inside them. Thus the wafer contains such strong holiness that it manages to injure Mina (As he had placed the Wafer on Mina’s forehead, it had seared it—had burned into the flesh as though it had been a piece of white-hot metal. Page 316). The rite of Communion confers the power of Christ into the consumer, in a way similar to the vampire nature of consuming blood in order to survive and gain youth. They form a strong example of opposites that are strikingly similar – the consumption of another for power, yet one is for good and one is for evil. Stoker juxtaposes these two behaviours alongside the use of Christian iconography to highlight the moral questions that arise when assigning “good” and “evil” to behaviours.

In a way, these icons of “good” become a harrowing echo of the salvation promised by the faith – the vanquishing of sin/evil/darkness leading to salvation and eternal peace. Dracula’s appearance is classically reminiscent of Satan as described in the Bible, with eyes that burn aflame, pointed ears and long, sharp teeth. Vampires provided adequate blood, are able to live on eternally through a physical body without a soul. This is the polar opposite to the salvation promised by Christianity – eternal life for the soul, without a physical body. The undesirability of Dracula is symbolic of damnation; burning in the fires of hell eternally without your soul achieving peace is similar to the life Dracula leads. As physically existing is secondary to eternal life, after becoming vampires, only through death is it possible to achieve peace. Van Helsing explains that it is necessary for them to kill Lucy Westenra in order for her soul to reach salvation (‘But of the most blessed of all, when this now Un-Dead be made to rest as true dead, then the soul of the poor lady whom we love shall again be free.’ Page 229). Only upon her second death was she transformed into a vision of “unequalled sweetness and purity”, as her soul is returned to her, as is a “holy calm” that “was to reign forever.” Similarly, Dracula’s face assumes a “look of peace, such as Mina never could have imagined might have rested there.” These salvations only occur after death, as the “un-dead” are unable to reach eternal peace while they still exist. According to the beliefs of late-Victorian society, Stoker mirrors these fears of damnation through Dracula…

Towards the end of the book, Van Helsing describes the Crew of Light as “ministers of God’s own wish.” (Page 340) This further illustrates the importance of religion and how the belief in it perpetuated the cycle of obedience and control of late-Victorian society. Throughout Dracula a variety of different events and icons are used to mirror the widespread fear of damnation in late-Victorian society.   


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