Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening centralises on the characters of Count Dracula and Edna Pontellier in the respective novels, characters marked as the Other for their distinction in racial and cultural traits and their transgression to strict Victorian social codes of conduct in the late nineteenth century. This essay explores the role and presentation of the Other in Count Dracula and Edna Pontellier on the issues race, culture, marriage and how the Other is represented through literary techniques such as language, symbolism, imagery and narrative strategies.
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In Dracula, Stoker uses visual imagery in his description of the Count, of his strange and undeniable racial foreignness in his threatening appearance and physical features, where ‘his eyebrows were very massive…bushy hair that seem to curl in its own profusion’ (Stoker 17). In Jonathan Harker’s report, he further notices of Dracula: ‘Strange to say, there were hairs in the centre of the palm’ and ‘the nails were long…to a sharp point’ (Stoker 18), features associated with nefarious criminals and evil beings that lack spiritual values and moral standards. A criminal is what Professor Van Helsing describes Dracula as: ‘This criminal has not full man-brain…be of child-brain in much (Stoker 341), followed by Mina Harker: ‘The Count is a criminal and of criminal type’ (Stoker 342); Stoker models Dracula as a degenerate criminal that poses serious danger to the society and uses Dracula’s intimidating features to represent his criminality, compounding his racial Otherness.
In The Awakening, Chopin uses the same narrative technique of visual imagery where she describes Edna Pontellier as ‘rather handsome than beautiful…certain frankness of expression…contradictory subtle play of features’ (Chopin 5). Chopin brings out Edna’s racial foreignness by comparing and contrasting her beauty and body forms to that of Adele Ragtinolle, a Creole descent who is ‘the embodiment of every womanly grace and charm’ (Chopin 10). Edna’s distinct attractiveness, being an American from Kentucky and different from the physical exotic dispositions of Creole women stands her out as different, whose form of beauty attracts men such as Robert and Victor Lebrun as well as Alcee Arobin.
In his novel, Stoker portrays Dracula’s outsider status, contrasting his archaic Transylvanian cultural origins in Eastern Europe to that of modernized Western Europe where Jonathan Harker comes from. On his arrival in Bistritz, Jonathan describes the primitive land where things were new to him, such as the ‘peasant man or woman kneeling before a shrine’ and ‘Slovaks with their-coloured sheepskins…carrying…their long staves, with axe at end’ (Stoker 8). He compares the unfamiliar Eastern superstition to his native Western rationality when a woman offers him her crucifix for his safety against Dracula, for he has been ‘taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous’ (Stoker 5). Different in every respect from English nobles, Dracula asserts Jonathan’s and his cultural dissimilarity: ‘We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things’ (Stoker 21).
As a solitary American woman who marries a Creole from New Orleans, Edna experiences cultural dissimilarity and struggles to come to terms with the cultural norms of the Creole society, where a woman’s place and fulfilment is restricted in the domestic realm. Just as Adele Ragtinolle positions Edna as – an Other: ‘she is not one of us; she is not like us’ (Chopin 23), Edna is surprised by the Creole’s ‘entire absence of prudery’ and ‘freedom of expression’ (Chopin 12), where intimate conversations such as childbirth are openly discussed, sex to women are considered not for pleasure but rather for procreation and flirtations do not cross the boundaries of infidelity; such were the social codes in the Creole community which Edna feels growingly restrictive and eventually breaches. Where Dracula attempts to assimilate the cultural identity of the English, Edna resists the social conventions of the Creoles, yet in his assimilation and her resistance, both characters violates and threaten the social and cultural order of the society they are in.
Stoker combines the theme of sexuality with violence in Dracula. The Count is portrayed as a revenant with a bloodlust in the human body and is primarily a sexual threat not only to women but even to men. Dracula expresses his contempt for authority and Victorian order in the most independent means – through his sexuality. He possesses the hypnotic and seductive prowess that attract involuntary women into his clutches and holds the feministic role of reproduction, as his victims do not die but transform into vampires themselves, embracing a new racial identity and marking them as the Other. The magnitude of threat to the civilized society Dracula carries through his sexuality is illustrated first through Lucy Westenra’s transformation from an amiable Victorian lady to a voracious predator and then through Dracula’s grave personal invasion of Mina Harker in the very presence her husband, Jonathan, who lay asleep beside her.
In the theme of sexuality in The Awakening, Chopin paints a picture of Edna as a woman trapped in a stifled marriage and who is plagued by a mixture of feminist and psychological issues. Unlike the mother-women of the Creole community who are protective of and ‘idolized their children’, Edna’s motherly instincts are seemingly weak and is uncharacteristically distant from her two sons (Chopin 10). ‘If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble…he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms’ (ibid.). Edna’s discovery of her dormant sexuality stirs her longing desire for liberty and independence from the confines of male domination and a marriage she feels disillusioned with. Her outward sexuality ensues with her forbidden declaration of love for Robert Lebrun to Mademoiselle Reisz (Chopin 90), and also her act of adultery with Alcee Arobin for her growing need for passion, which breeds immorality and transgresses the conservative social values of the New Orleans Creole community.
In Stoker’s novel, blood symbolises the basis of life to Dracula, which he feeds off his victims that not only sustain his physical but soulless existence but also provides its mythical ability to preserve beauty, as Jonathan noted in Dracula’s youthful transformation in a coincidental encounter in Exeter, England (Stoker 172). Stoker then symbolises blood with racial contamination because of the close connection between the vampire and blood, with all its implications of purity and genetic intimacy. Stoker also creates a symbolic contrast between English modernity in science and technology and Dracula’s embodiment of the primitives and superstitions, where Dracula’s threat hinges on the advance of modernity which brushes off the very reality of such a revenant as Dracula himself who seeks to destroy the society.
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Chopin similarly uses symbolism in the very introduction of her novel, where caged birds bear symbolic reference to Edna’s restricted and subservient role as a wife and mother that society presses upon her and in the same way the birds cannot escape from their cages, Edna too cannot fully release herself from her obligations. Before Edna drowns in the conclusion to the novel, she notices a bird ‘with a broken wing was beating the air above…disabled down to the water’, perhaps symbolizing Edna’s unsuccessful attempt at escaping the limitations and boundaries in her role as a woman and foreshadowing her impending demise (Chopin 127). The ocean also represents a source of new life and a symbol of liberation for Edna, in where she feels rejuvenated and assertive upon her self-actualization of her dissatisfaction in her life and of her roles. Her acquisition in the ability to swim symbolically empowers her of her sexuality and her chosen identity and not one decided by the society.
There is no single authorial voice in Dracula; rather than adopting a continuous narrative voice, Stoker’s writing style is straightforward and immediate, interlinking extracts from the journals of various characters that creates ambiguity but adds much realism to the story. Dracula is not given a narrative voice and his actions and mysterious whereabouts are only revealed by the progress other characters, in such a way that unambiguously positions readers as jury in the realm of the good in the battle against the evil Other in Dracula.
A single authorial voice is adopted by Chopin in her novel in the form of a distant third-person omniscient. Chopin’s formal prose relays a sense of solemn gravity to the story and she adopts a writing style that is perceptive and concise. In her narration, she alternates between being specific on some occasions and vague on others, for example: ‘It was the kiss of life…that kindled desire’ and ‘Edna cried a little that night after Arobin left her…There was with her an overwhelming feeling of irresponsibility’, which strongly suggests their transgression of societal conduct through their phase of adultery (Chopin 92). However, Chopin uses implicit details to guide readers, perhaps to mitigate the foregone conclusion to which her text implies, in a her time when Victorian values still prevailed.
Both Stoker and Chopin uses several literary techniques in Dracula and The Awakening, including foreshadowing, symbolism and imagery that reveals the Otherness in Dracula and Edna in their difference in fundamental ways from the society accompanying them. Through artful imagery and language that convey perceptive descriptions and ideas, characters and scenes in both novels come to life, making a vivid reading experience.
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