Human Monsters: Frankenstein and Dracula

July 29, 2009 at 12:00 am 6 comments

Not the sexy kind of vampire, thats for sure.

Can you tell me why the tortoise lives more long than generations of men; why the elephant goes on and on till he have seen dynasties; and why the parrot never die only of bite of cat or dog or other complaint? Can you tell me why men believe in all ages and places that there are some few who live on always if they be permit; that there be men and women who cannot die?

Immortality: every human wishes for it at one moment or another. No matter how logically we tell ourselves that living forever actually would be a special kind of hell (as illustrated in Tuck Everlasting), the temptation is still there.

Perhaps that’s why stories about the undead tend to fall into two categories: horror and romance. The romance aspect obviously places more emphasis on the attractions of immortality, which normally include being with one’s love forever and ever. Love would literally conquer death, in this case.

However, in Victorian novels, immortality essentially meant giving up salvation, an eternal heavenly life, in favor of an eternal life on Earth. Victorians, therefore, always seem more than half horrified by it; for Mina Harker to live forever, she has to separate herself from the love of God, and the state or existence of Frankenstein’s monster’s soul is unclear.

Dracula and Frankenstein are, as Corey has pointed out, generally grouped together as ‘monster’ books — after all, they are both about the undead and what that means for both the host’s body and soul. Additionally, they both pose the question, if a person is undead, are they still a person? Can a human be immortal and still truly human?

Frankenstein tends to answer those questions in the positive. Contrary to the movie portrayals, Mary Shelley’s monster is articulate, social, and is only an outcast because of his appearance. It’s not even really his physical features that are the problem, as Ms. Shelley makes a point of saying that all of the monster’s limbs are by themselves beautiful, and in fact chosen for that very reason. The problem seems to be that the monster does not look quite human enough — maybe the earliest example of the Uncanny Valley in literature. Emotionally, though, the monster commits acts which are horrible and violent, but he is goaded into them by Dr. Frankenstein, the man who created him and cast him out to live his eternal life alone. The book comes to the conclusion that it is Dr. Frankenstein who is the monster, and the monster is the human, undead or not.

Dracula is, I think, a little more focused on telling a suspenseful story than ethical or moral dilemmas. It’s hard to say how much Count Dracula can be held accountable for his actions, and therefore how human he is. This dilemma is illustrated by the death and undeath of Lucy, who turns from a very sweet young woman to a blood-sucking, child-killing siren and literal lady of the night. The answer may be that the vampires are possessed by demons, and hence the second ‘killing’ of the bodies that Van Helsing recommends releases the demons and allows the person’s soul to be freed.

But as an examination of the problem of immortality, the only answer Dracula offers is that to be immortal is to lose one’s humanity and become pure evil. Lucy and Mina do not choose their undeaths, but they suffer the consequences regardless, and if not for outside assistance, they would not find any sort of redemption whatsoever. At least Frankenstein‘s monster is allowed some human attributes along with his immortality…

…and that’s what makes Dracula truly horrifying, in my opinion. Frankenstein is, oddly, a little more optimistic. Even though technology can turn scientists into monsters, apparently, at least those monsters wish to communicate with us, interact with us, and learn to love, whereas with Dracula, there is always the possibility that a perfectly normal God-fearing young lady could at any moment turn into an unearthly demon and suck the blood from those around her. Fun.

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Entry filed under: Horror. Tags: , , , , , .

A Themeless Teaser Tuesday Loving the Undead

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  July 29, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Good points. I never thought about the horrifying randomness of Dracula as compared to the purpose of Frankenstein. It’s a very interesting way to look at it and another well-thought-out difference between these two “monster” books.

    Reply
  • 2. KT  |  July 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Eh, not one of my favorite posts, but it will do :P The subject needed more thought than I was able to give it at 10:30 last night, I think!

    Reply
  • 3. Corey  |  July 29, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Tish! I liked it!

    On a related note, don’t you hate it when you have a great idea for a short essay/post and then you realize you’ve bitten off far more than you can chew and it’s actually more suited to someone’s lengthy dissertation? Frustrating!

    Reply
  • 4. KT  |  July 29, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    YES. It’s like, how awesome would this post have been if I examined maybe the reasons why Stoker and Shelley thought so differently, did some critical research, and actually punched out an informed essay on the topic? Pretty awesome, but no one has that kind of time, and anyway, it would have been around 60 pages long if I really wanted to do an exhaustive study. Sooooo I resorted to mediocrity again. :P

    Incidentally, have you ever read The Princess and the Goblin?

    Reply
  • 5. Corey  |  July 30, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    I have read The Princess and the Goblin but it was a very long time ago! I remember being briefly infatuated with the name “Irene” as a result, much to my mother’s chagrin. Have you read it?

    Reply
  • 6. Greg  |  July 24, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I dig the last line. Great post!

    Reply

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