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The Language of Mistrust and Fear

Essay Topic: ,

From the beginning, Bram Stoker makes it clear that Count Dracula should be viewed as The Other, a psychological distinction that has been used to describe the way people view the world in “them” and “us”. Stoker uses the concept of The Other to show how different Dracula is from the English and to create an underlying tension between the remaining characters and the vampire. He also uses the psychological distinction as a means of preventing the characters from determining the nature of the vampire earlier as they are aware that they have societal differences from the count.

The characters choose to overlook many of the first warnings of the oddness of the Count because they were afraid they were acting out of a misunderstanding about the cultural differences. Stoker manages to establish Count Dracula as the other easily within the first chapter of the novel. In the first chapter, the impressions we have of Count Dracula all come from Jonathan Harker’s journal and Stoker establishes early on that Harker is uncomfortable with his surroundings.

“The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most western of splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule” (Stoker, Chapter 1).

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Even in his writing, Stoker decides to play up the strangeness of the land with the strange spelling of Budapest as Buda-Pesth. He establishes immediately that Harker is leaving the civilized world and going to a completely different land.

He uses the lure and the mystique of “the East” to establish the difference all within the first paragraph of the book that Count Dracula is different from everyone else. As Harker travels inland, we learn that the count is from the edge of Hungary near the Carpathian Mountains, “one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe. ” (Chapter 1) This is another attempt by the author to establish that Dracula is weird, and unlike the other characters. By claiming that he is from a wild and unknown region, Stoker is relying on the themes of Romanticism to imply that he is potentially evil and dangerous.

And just a few paragraphs later he tells us that “I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting. ” (Chapter 1). These lines establish clearly that Harker believes the people of Hungary to be less educated and different from the people of England. Furthermore, by establishing that he has heard they are a superstitious folk, he can justify their odd behavior to himself and not question the decisions that he is making (going alone to the Count’s castle despite their warnings).

Throughout the novel, Stoker relies on the concept of the other to isolate his main characters from the world around them and never is this as evident as in Harker’s initial journey to meet the count. All along the way, Harker is the tourist, intrigued and yet critical of local population. “The women looked pretty, except when you got near them, but they were very clumsy about the waist. ” (Chapter 1) He describes the traditional dress and the more rotund nature of the populace as “clumsy about the waist” emphasizing the fashion of the time in Britain to be very thin with corsets cinching the waist in even farther.

And, to the men, he is even less generous. The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who were more barbarian than the rest, with their big cow-boy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers, white linen shirts, and enormous heavy leather belts, nearly a foot wide, all studded over with brass nails. They wore high boots, with their trousers tucked into them, and had long black hair and heavy black moustaches. They are very picturesque, but do not look prepossessing. On the stage they would be set down at once as some old Oriental band of brigands.

They are, however, I am told, very harmless and rather wanting in natural self-assertion. To the average reader at the time of this writing, Stoker’s words about the people of Europe would have been strange and more than a bit fearsome, driven by the fear of the unknown. The author, realizing this, includes that very observation in Harker’s journal, when he hastens to explain that despite the many odd things in his journal, he had not overindulged in either food or drink, going so far as to list what he has eaten.

There too, Stoker attempts to make the reader revile the locals with a comparison of their dinner to the “simple style of the London cat’s meat! ” (Chapter 1). Having established the physical differences between the inhabitants of Eastern Europe and those in London and draw attention to their different manner of dress and food, Stoker is ready to cut the last tie which might bind the two groups together: religion. On the eve of Harker’s approach to Dracula’s castle, the innkeeper’s wife attempts to prevent him from going.

She relays the fear that something untoward will happen to him at the Castle and begs him to take her crucifix. I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind. She saw, I suppose, the doubt in my face, for she put the rosary round my neck and said, “For your mother’s sake,” and went out of the room. I am writing up this part of the diary whilst I am waiting for the coach, which is, of course, late; and the crucifix is still round my neck.

(Chapter 1) In this short passage, Stoker firmly establishes that the Hungarians are not like the English, establishing them firmly as The Other, but he also manages to establish their humanity. When the woman asks him to take the crucifix, “For your mother’s sake”, Stoker overcomes the barrier between them, pointing to a common bond among all humans, the love of a mother for her child. This is done for two reasons: first, to illustrate to the reader that the oddities of the count are in fact unnatural and second, to begin to create a mood, to explain the beginnings of the fear that Harker feels as he approaches the castle.

The reader is meant to feel that Harker’s observations about his trepidation as he approaches the castle at midnight are justified, that he is not merely some frightened little boy who starts at the darkness. This concept that the fear might be justified is building all along Harker’s journey to the castle and might have built more if he had understood the languages his fellow passengers spoke, Stoker writes, again playing to the classical definition of the other as someone outside our normal understanding, separated by culture, religion and sometimes, by language.

Then, in a subtle criticism of the Carpathians, another form of creating distance between groups, Harker observes that the roads and rough and that the driver seemed to “fly over it with a feverish haste. ” (Chapter 1) This observation is meant to again set the people apart from the English who, it is implied, would never think of driving at such a pace and would have most certainly kept the road in better repair. “I was told that this road is in summertime excellent, but that it had not yet been put in order after the winter snows.

In this respect it is different from the general run of roads in the Carpathians, for it is an old tradition that they are not to be kept in too good order. Of old the Hospadars would not repair them, lest the Turk should think that they were preparing to bring in foreign troops, and so hasten the war which was always really at loading point. ” (Chapter 1). Even in his discussion of the fear of the Turks, Stoker is driving a wedge between the English and the Hungarians, as the British never feared invasion from aggressive neighbors thanks to the fact that they were on an island.

This is just another means of driving a stake between the two cultures. For the normally reserved British, the thought of strangers giving Harker gifts along the way also helps to establish the difference between the cultures. “One by one several of the passengers offered me gifts, which they pressed upon me with an earnestness which would take no denial. These were certainly of an odd and varied kind, but each was given in simple good faith, with a kindly word, and a blessing, and that same strange mixture of fear-meaning movements which I had seen outside the hotel at Bistritz– the sign of the cross and the guard against the evil eye.

” (Chapter 1). This passage actually plays on English attitudes in two matters: First, it would have been unconscionable to give a random gift to a stranger and make him feel that he must accept it. Second, the fact that they were actively demonstrating their religion and superstition was an act the British of the time would have found completely unacceptable. The British largely believed that church, the Church of England, was something you did when you went to services and not something to be practiced at any other time.

Furthermore, the concept that you would let someone catch you making a hex sign of any sort was simply unbelievable. The British would simply be too polite to have anything in common with these heathens, further establishing them as The Other. In the end, Stoker’s work is masterful at clearly establishing the differences between class lines and cultures and creating The Other on numerous different levels. He establishes that Mina and Jonathan are the others when compared to Lucy and her well-to-go friends, both of them having been raised with next to nothing.

He establishes Renfield as the other via his madness and his actions during his fall to Dracula’s control and even Lucy is somewhat established in this manner, being the least learned and scientific of the group. Stoker made each of the characters unique and bound them to one another, but also invested in making clear divides between them to create an additional tension and confusion in the book that is just complicated by the arrival of Count Dracula. Upon the count’s arrival in London, he is regarded as exotic and interesting, a facet as completely a portion of The Other as the fear and trepidation.

Often we are fascinated by those things that are different from us and we desire to see them, to learn more about them and even to imitate them while still holding them at a distance, knowing that they are not like we are. The fact that Stoker felt it necessary to establish this extreme difference when Dracula could easily have become the other certainly by virtue of being a creature of the night implies that Stoker was perhaps attempting to force the scholars that would read his novel to recognize a certain xenophobia within their culture.

His depiction of the Eastern Europeans as highly different, almost medieval compare to the bustling and modern London can hardly be considered accidental. Stoker clearly had some thoughts about the way that the British observed the world around them and made Harker the extreme viewpoint of that British charm. Harker had to be an extreme, the most British of British subjects in his observations for stoker to force his audience to see how absurd such characterizations could be. Works Cited Stoker, Bram. “Dracula” Accessed at http://www. literature. org/authors/stoker-bram/dracula/chapter-01. html, December 9, 2007.

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