Portrayal Of Vampires In Literature
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"His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth" (Stoker, 1897). For many centuries this crude, bloodcurdling image prevailed what is now known to us as the blood sucking vampire. This description of Dracula, as illustrated by Bram Stoker in 1897, compares nowhere near the handsome, romantic, and charming figure vampires have become in modern day film and literature. Yet what is most interesting, in a rather peculiar way, is to see the irony of such a thoughtless creature becoming a prevalent reflection of modern culture; their unchanging, dead existence representing the ever-changing situations of our conscious and unconscious fears. This essay will seek to critically analyse two well known literary texts portraying vampires. Through the description of the vampire's appearance, role, function and purpose and the several motifs and cultural myths such portrayals and images are drawn upon, this essay hopes to provide several reasons for the human fascination of such creatures and further suggest vampires represent several cultural beliefs and actions implemented by human society.
An obscure sort of figure and a likely representation of "both erotic anxiety and corrupt desire, the literary vampire is one of the most powerful archetypes bequeathed to us from the imagination of the nineteenth century" (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997). Yet, interestingly as times change it seems each "age embraces the vampire it needs" (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997). Prior to the 1970s, the ideal vampire was a portrayal of Bram Stocker's Dracula; the captivating, cultured, yet evil Eastern European Count. Since then, as a result of numerous novel publications, including Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, the illustration of the vampire has changed, due to the "ongoing transformations in the broader cultural and political mise-en-scene" (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997). It is mainly through certain motifs and cultural beliefs, both of the past and present, in which the figure of the vampire has transformed. As a prominent figure of time, vampires have represented metaphors for sexuality and power. As of late, while still powerful and appealing, vampires have become a symbol for alienation, choice, society's attitudes towards illness, their definition of evil, and can also act as representations for individual obsession, free agency, self-control, sacrifice and faith.
Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976) and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight (2008), are just two texts incorporating the fascination of the vampire. However, the texts present several differences; each utilising contrasting ideas in the illustration, function, roles, and purpose of the vampire. Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire accounts the life of a 200-year-old vampire, Louis du Pointe du Pac. Turned into a vampire at the age of 25 by Lestat, Louis story gives audiences two representations of the vampire. Rice steers away from the old portrayal of the creature, captivating this through Louis and Claudia, while also using Lestat as an illustration of the evil, crude, and self-centred vampire. Lestat and Louis are two different vampires; in their appearance, their function, their roles, and their purpose. Louis is the good vampire; humane, genuine and honest. Depicted as beautiful, with "utterly white and smooth"(Rice,1976) skin, his face "a seemingly inanimate as a statue, except for two brilliant green eyes"( Rice,1976), his hair "black, the waves combed back over the tips of the ears"(Rice,1976), his "shoulders broad"(Rice,1976), his figure "tall and slender" (Rice,1976), his "lips silken and delicately lined like any person's lips, only deadly white"(Rice,1976), Louis is the image of a different vampire from the one normally envisioned. Lestat, on the other hand is described little in the novel. He is however the opposite to Louis. Illustrated in this book as being "6ft tall with curly blond hair and grey eyes, a short and narrow nose and a mouth that is slightly large for his face"(Rice, 1976)), Lestat is charming, attractive and charismatic, but evil. Throughout the novel, Louis relives the moments of "how he became indoctrinated, unwillingly, into the vampire way of life" (Rice, 2010). He also describes his longing to not hurt but rather to comfort Claudia, who is his only friend and his life. He somewhat becomes a father figure to her, taking it upon himself to care and love her "with the last breaths of humanity he has inside" (Rice, 2010). Both Louis and Claudia struggle to understand themselves, their purpose, their hatred of Lestat and both become "desperate to find somewhere they belong, to find others who understand" (Rice, 2010). This is in contrast to Lestat who believes "vampires are killers... Predators. Whose all seeing eyes... see a human life in its entirety, not with any mawkish sorrow but with a thrilling satisfaction in being the end of that life, in having a hand in the divine plan"(Rice, 2010). He believes his life has no purpose, a least none that involves being honest and caring, but rather a killer and a monster.
Similarly, Twilight, a novel written by Stephenie Meyer, further illustrates the idea set by Anne Rice in her novel. When Bella Swan moves back to her childhood home in order to be with her father, she discovers some things that she never thought were possible. She meets the very mysterious Edward Cullen, who while irresistible and charming, has a certain past which he would rather keep hidden. Determined to find out his dark secret, Bella befriends Edward and the two become close. What she does not "realise is that the closer she gets to him, the more she is putting herself and those around her at risk" (Meyer, 2008). Although Edward warns her on several occasions that he is not the good guy he seems to be, soon Bella puts together the pieces and comes to the evident conclusion that is a vampire. Meyer's vampires are in certain ways very different from Anne Rice's image in Interview with the vampire. While "chalky pale, palest of all the students"(Meyer, 2008), with "dark eyes"(Meyer, 2008) yet "all their features were straight, perfect and angular"(Meyer, 2008), their "faces all similar, yet different; devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful"(Meyer, 2008), as Louis in Rice's story, the Cullens are humanised with features most cannot resist. To add to the already humanistic vampire image, Meyer also gives her characters gifts "above and beyond the norm" (Meyer, 2008). In subtle ways these gifts represent their role and function, and as Edward explains "their strongest human traits" (Meyer, 2008). Each character brings their gift for good; Edward with his ability to read minds, Alice with her gift to see the future, Carlisle brings his compassion, Esme her ability to love, Emmett his strength, Rosalie her tenacity and Jasper his ability to control people's feelings and emotions. As with the characteristics of the vampires, Meyer challenges the image of the old vampire by means of changing their purpose. Part of the story revolves around what is means to be a vampire. Constantly, Edward is reluctant to befriend Bella as he still believes deep down he is not superhero, but rather the bad guy. He struggles with his existence, describing himself as "the world's best predator", "dangerous" (Meyer, 2008) and even at one point he confesses to Bella of his struggle to keep himself from killing, to control his thirst for blood. He does still however feel, as any human, revealing to Bella numerous times he "cannot live with himself if he killed her"(Meyer, 2008), sounding in a way confused and saddened at the prospect. It is important to also mention the Cullen philosophy. It is explained through Edward's father, Carlisle Cullen that their kind are not killers. Carlisle "rebelled against being a vampire, he went to great lengths to destroy himself" (Meyer, 2008), fighting hard to resist drinking other people's blood and looking for an "alternative to being the vile monster he feared"(Meyer, 2008), finding a way to "exist without being evil" (Meyer, 2008).
Both Interview with the Vampire and Twilight, utilise several motifs, metaphors, and cultural beliefs to illustrate the existence, images, and purpose of vampires. The vampire can in several ways, provide a metaphor for sexuality and power, but can also represent alienation inflicted by society, society's attitude towards illness, its definition of good and evil and can even reinforce individual feelings of obsession, free agency and choice, self-control, sacrifice and faith.
Present in both texts, however more profoundly in Anne Rice's novel, the original representation of the vampiric metaphors, images and purpose related to sexuality and society's attitudes towards illness are explored. It is interesting to see the close similarities between the idea of death from a vampire's bite and the death by disease, associating to a vampire's "wasting, with paleness, with blood flow from the mouth, night restlessness and alternate burning and chills" (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997). Interview with the Vampire is of the two texts more inclined to present audiences with the vampire-as-a-disease metaphor, coincidently incorporating cultural events and beliefs present in America at the time. Rice utilises the metaphor to illustrated society's awareness of AIDS and homosexuality. This "changing metaphor of sex and violence leads to the homoeroticism of Least and Louis'" (Grey,2003) relationship, encouraging mainstream audiences to accept this new way of society and "accept homoerotic protagonists with fewer qualms that normally evincible" (Grey,2003). It also uses sexuality to reinforce the image of the old vampire's seduction, its ability to attract both men and women, and of the vampire taking the life of its victims. Twilight however, while describing Edward as attractive and mesmerising, it is important to note the metaphor of a vampire being a crude creature is not heavily present in this novel. Instead, Meyer uses the vampires as metaphors for kindness and sincerity, even in some respect using Edward as a figure of goodness and love. "Their romance, cosmically disproportionate, is a parable or transparency of the inequalities and responsibilities of the divine-human synergy" (Granger, 2009). Edward's love for Bella is forever unchanging and respectful, while Bella's love for him in return is selfless and sacrificial. Written from a religious point of view, the choices which both Edward and Bella make support the idea of free agency; the power for humans to make their own decisions and at the same time be responsible for these choices. Both of them pay the consequences for their choices, whether good or bad.
In earlier vampire literature, it is important to note vampires were considered related to the Devil. Very few people befriended such creatures, rather using certain symbols to eliminate them. As a result, the belief of faith and religion can be related to the figure of the vampire. The most common for "victory were few: armed with crucifixes, wooden stakes, holy water, garlic and occasionally fire and sunlight, good always prevailed" (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997). Before long anything capable to fend off the vampire, meant those against them possessed great faith. "This implied that symbols of faith, when handled by those of less-than-perfect or non-existent faith, might prove ineffective". (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997) As in the 1960s and 70s, culture took on a secular view of the world, victims died because of their lack of faith. But as society quickly confronted its loss of faith, vampires lost their ability of their "magical arsenal" (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997). Little is seen of a vampire's ability to transform into bats and wolves, to crawl on surfaces and disappear in a puff of smoke. And as Louis explains in Rice's novel, no such myths exist any longer. The more contemporary vampire exhibits little of the metaphysical, magical, anti-Christian act, but rather his/her own acts are "expressions of individual personality and condition (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997). This decrease in focus on the vampire's metaphysical and religious status supports a loss in the past folkloric characteristics of the vampire. The change from the "metaphoric Anti-Christ to secular sinner, from magical to mundane permeates the appearance of and indeed, permits the existence of good as well as bad" (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997) vampires. And as Edward states in Twilight "just because we've been dealt a certain hand... it doesn't mean we can't choose to rise above- to conquer the boundaries of destiny that none of us wanted. To try to retain whatever essential humanity we can." (Meyer, 2008)
Many argue the contemporary vampire story often represents the very intriguing condition of what we now known as postmodernism, this idea of good and evil. And what better example than the most central motif present in Anne Rice's novel. Lestat represents the vampire of the postmodern era; he dismisses any faith, except faith in himself. On the other hand, Louis is the vampire which struggles against becoming the postmodern, evil creature, taking his loss of faith as an illustration for his loss of humanity. The book also portrays Louis as being aware of the question of good and evil, of struggling to accept Lestat's philosophy and belief. Claudia also finds herself in a situation where she is caught between two different examples of what a vampire could be and as a result becomes determined to find out the origin of her existence. Good and evil also appears a central theme within Twilight. Meyer uses the Cullens as the good vampires, who harm no one, and James and Victoria as the bloodsuckers and murderers. On a more personal level, Edward battles between good (his human desire to not harm) and evil (the fact that he is a vampire) suggesting an example of a conscious and human thought process. Thus, it is not what you are born as or what you are made to be that defines your existence, but rather what choices you make based on your own ideas and identity.
The vampire today has transformed from an figure of super evil to being simply an "alien other, no longer embodying metaphysical evil, no longer a damned soul" (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997), but rather an metaphor for "our awareness of multiculturalism merely ethnic, a victim of heredity" (Zanger, 1997 in G&H). Both Interview with the Vampire and Twilight depict vampires as outsiders. In Twilight Bella describes her feelings towards this alienation, feeling pity towards the Cullens, "pity because, as beautiful as they were, they were outsiders, clearly not accepted" (Meyer, 2008). The idea of being alone is also evident in Edward's distance from his family and his school friends. While his brothers and sisters have moved on and formed close relationships, he remained alone. Incidentally, vampires are forced to live away from society in order to keep their existence a secret. Interview with the Vampire also suggests Louis and Lestat are not accepted within society, constantly being illustrated as outcasts, needing acceptance from society but it seeming as if this acceptance can only be found in another of his kind. This theme speaks to almost every individual, as almost everyone has felt alone or alienated at some point in their lives and illustrates society's attitudes towards certain groups of people.
Sacrifice, self-control and obsession are several other themes which vampires represent in both texts. Sacrifice is a dominant theme throughout Twilight. While Bella sacrifices everything to be with Edward, it is Edward who makes a decision to be with Bella, to trust her and her intention of keeping his secret. He sacrifices his secret to be with Bella, and while he may be at a loss, his sacrifice can be seen as acceptable when it may be a free choice to gain something greater. Again, the same takes place in Interview with the Vampire, when Louis makes a decision to leave Lestat and sacrifice his life to take care of Claudia and to find more of his existence. Self-control is equally evident in both of the texts. Self-control is very important in Twilight, as it is closely linked to free agency. In order to have free-agency, the Cullens must have self-control, and as a result self-control is in this case a way of overcoming their instinct and a way to create one's wanted life and principles. Vampires in both of the texts are not saints, but just like real people they have flaws. And just like real people, they are under the driving force of obsession. Bella's love for Edward, Louis' cling to humanity and Lestat's belief to kill goes beyond reason, beyond practically. In a way all of these attributes apply to society today, from the ways we make choices, to the sacrifices we make for those we love and our obsessions with love, humanity, and death.
The literary vampire has entertained and captured audiences for many years, changing but never completely disappearing. For it is evident every ages does seem to "embrace the vampire is needs" (Gordon & Hollinger, 1997), guiding us along our paths of socialisation, separations and individualisation. Whether the fears are personal, societal, internal, or external, the vampiric metaphor transforms as time passes. The themes of sexual desire, disease, political and social indifference, religion, alienation, good versus evil, and many more represent the vampire figure. All of the themes discussed mirror our current views of boundaries between individuals and society, between one group and the rest. How intriguing it is to see that such social anxieties and personal beliefs are represented through such a creature, one that breaks boundaries between life and death, good and evil, love and fear. And how interesting it is, that the vampire lives on in this modern society of constant conflict, between what is real and what is not, between what is private and what is public, in such a way as helping to dissolve the numerous conflicts and the fixed boundaries by means of representation and example. Vampires encourage creative thought and emotional stability, they act as beings we would all rather be, even examples of how we should be. Providing us with a desire to be good rather than evil, vampires have captured the imagination of the twenty-first century. Like flowers perfuming our dreams and beliefs, vampire will continue to capture us with anticipation and dread for years to come.