The Views On Women In Bram Stoker’s Dracula And Its Connection To Modern Society
In many stories’ authors will write about the society they live in, especially when major controversy surrounds them. I believe an author whether it is intentional or not, will add these social commentaries into their writings. Stories are often filled with stereotypes and social commentary and it allows us to understand the time the story came from. We also get to see the author’s views on the subject matter. I believe that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an amazing example of taking apart a story that is about monsters and the undead and understanding the true meaning of the story. The hidden message to me was all about women. I think he shows the views on women in the 1800s in a way that is extreme and hyperbolic, but still can get a clear message across. Society had very clear “rules” on how a woman should act and what is seen as ideal at the time.
Reading this story really opened my eyes to those views, but I do not believe it is a thing of the past. There are modern stories that show similar views on women. In books, TV shows and movies of today, we see directors and authors bringing events of the day into their work. There are also things happening in the news stories and our pop culture that show these ideas as well.
Since Dracula was written in 1897, I wanted to talk about women’s lives during that time. We see that women had very limited freedoms and were typically expected to stay in their homes to the housework. “Not only was it their job to counterbalance the moral taint of the public sphere in which their husbands labored all day, they were also preparing the next generation to carry on this way of life”. They were expected to be mothers, which meant having children and taking sole care of them. They also were expected to do anything their husbands said. At the time, men saw women as lesser than them, which led to men everywhere expecting submissive wives. Women lived in a man’s world.
Women’s society given goal was to look for someone to marry, have his child, and then take care of the family for the rest of their lives. Contrary to today’s society, women who did not follow this cycle were looked down on and seen as lesser by the community. Women did not have the right to ownership of the home, money, or anything else of value. Women did not even have ownership of their own bodies. “Women were assumed to desire marriage because it allowed them to become mothers rather than to pursue sexual or emotional satisfaction” (Hughes, 5). For women in this time period, divorce was not an option. Marriage was final and there no way to out, even if that meant living an unhappy life. There was even chance of being punished by law for divorce. All these societal rules meant women had no rights or freedoms with their bodies. They had their voices in the matter taken away.
In this time, women were not allowed to partake in their own activities that did not involve looking after her family. Because the husband was the only source of income, he was the only person who could make her secure in a monetary sense. This caused women to feel that if they left their husband or never got married in the first place, they would be “unprotected”. Women felt completely dependent on their husbands which led to the creation of a cycle that future generations would follow.
“For the next 50 years, woman suffrage supporters worked to educate the public about the validity of woman suffrage. Under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other women’s rights pioneers, suffragists circulated petitions and lobbied Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to enfranchise women”. Due of the adversity these women faced, there finally came a time where they decided to make changes. The women began to rise and start social movements to improve their lives and gain the rights they deserved.
Towards the end of the 1800s, women won their right to vote in the United States. This amendment caused for many changes in what women had a say in. They won the voice they had been lacking for so long. This allowed them to seek an education, which led to them being able to make money to support themselves. From this started independence and separation from men.
“Girls usually married in their early to mid-20s. Typically, the groom would be five years older. Not only did this reinforce the ‘natural’ hierarchy between the sexes, but it also made sound financial sense. A young man needed to be able to show that he earned enough money to support a wife and any future children before the girl’s father would give his permission”. Marriages were mostly out of necessity and men wanting to show off their wealth and status. Women were expected to follow exactly what their husband said just for the chance at a happy marriage, but because of their new rights and freedoms, women were able to get out of their unhappy marriages and into better, healthier ones.
Dracula was written in the same time period that was previously discussed. I believe that this story was written to speak on many of the controversial topics of the time period. During this time, women had many concerns about their roles and place in society. Two of the main female characters in Dracula are Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra. Three lesser known, but still very significant characters, are Dracula’s daughters. Bram Stoker shows females in an interesting way, which can be compared to the way women were viewed in the time period. I believe that by looking at these female characters we can understand the significance of this story within this time period.
In Dracula some women are depicted as being openly sexual in nature, while others are very pure and chaste. I believe you can see this through the different female characters. In the society of the time period, women were expected to be pure and chaste, and those who were not were outcasts and did not join in public events. Stoker takes these societal views to extremes in making the pure women the heroes of the story while making the unchaste women the villains.
Mina is seen as one of the pure women. In the society in which the story takes place, she was the ideal woman. In the novel she is described as “one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven… so true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist…”. Mina is smart and caring and knows her role in her world. She is used as a baseline character that others are compared to.
As the story goes along, she becomes a more independent, stronger character when her lover, Jonathan is in danger, and she provides the stability for him that most men provide for women. At the end of the story however she goes back to being a faithful mild-mannered woman. Mina represents the ideal woman from this time period because she does everything to help her husband and remains faithful to him throughout the entirety of the story. She is also viewed as the ideal woman for this time period because she is not sexualized.
We see Mina as being an ideal woman, while Lucy is a character that begins like her and changes over time. Lucy and Mina are similar in upbringing but differ greatly in their values and actions. Lucy has three men fighting for her hand in marriage and she plays with all of them. Whereas Mina suggests only one relationship, Lucy continues to see all of them and even asks why she cannot marry all three. She is noted for her beauty and her looks are often described in detail. Although she is openly flirtatious, she is not an overly sexualized character at the beginning of the novel. Lucy is fueled by desire, and only acts upon that desire by kissing all three of her suitors. I believe that her desires lead to her downfall.
Once Dracula gets into Lucy’s head, he turns her into a vampire, and she becomes an extremely sexual character. “Your girls that you all love are mine already, and through them you and others shall yet be mine”. I believe this quote shows that once you become a vampire, you will stop at nothing to get what you want. This was similar to Lucy’s behavior as a human, which is now heightened as a vampire. She is described as having “the sweetness turned… to heartless cruelty and the purity to voluptuous wantonness”. Stoker uses Lucy to show what happens to an “ideal woman” when you allow desires to take over your life. Sexualizing Lucy and her actions show the other side of the society’s views on women.
Dracula’s daughters are another example of extreme sexual characters in the novel. They openly act on their desires, which directly goes against the views of society at the time. The way that Jonathan interacts with these women represents how most viewed open sexuality like this. “I was afraid to raise my eyelids but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees and bent over me, simply gloating, there was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive…”. He was unable to handle their advances but was unable to handle his own desires even more.
A lot of people of this time thought that women like the three daughters were “evil” for the way that they could control men. These women could be upsetting the balance of the home life of a family. I believe these are many of the reasons Stoker ties sexual behavior in women with them being evil.
I saw a more modern example of this topic in Orwell’s 1984. In the novel many women, if not all are portrayed negatively. Many believe that he writes the story in a very misogynistic and stereotypical way regarding women. The character Julia is a great example of this. She is viewed as a stuck up, unintelligent person with no drive to learn. Even though she is a main character, she seems to have little impact on Winston, while other minor characters greatly influence him.
The first description of Julia we get to see is obviously negative. “She was a bold-looking girl, of about twenty-seven, with thick hair, a freckled face, and swift, athletic movements. A narrow scarlet sash, emblem of the Junior Anti-Sex League, was wound several times round the waist of her overalls, just tightly enough to bring out the shapeliness of her hips. Winston had disliked her from the very first moment of seeing her. He knew the reason. It was because of the atmosphere of hockey-fields and cold baths and community hikes and general clean mindedness which she managed to carry about with her. He dislikes nearly all women, and especially the young and pretty ones”. I believe that Orwell is trying to portray women as having very little impact on men in the world he created. And if the women made an impact it was usually a negative one.
Orwell also writes about women as objects to men. “The girl with dark hair was coming towards them across the field. With what seemed a single movement she tore off her clothes and flung them disdainfully aside. Her body was white and smooth, but it aroused no desire in him, indeed he barely looked at it. What overwhelmed him in that instant was admiration for the gesture with which she had thrown her clothes aside.” In this scene, Winston desires to make love to Julia not because he is attracted to her, but because he wants to escape the oppression brought onto him by his government and act out in rebellion. Every depiction of a woman and every interaction with Winston they have is either negative or desired for the benefit of a man. This brings the question of whether Orwell deliberately wrote like this. Whether he meant to do it as social commentary, or to portray personal belief, he still put it in the story. This is just another example of how society can affect writing.
In today’s society, I believe we still have expectations of women that are based off a man’s opinion. In Dracula, the vampires who were openly sexual scared Jonathan. In that time period, women who could be called “unchaste” were feared because they might ruin a family. In 1984, men made assumptions about women and decided to hate them based off those assumptions. Even though these are all stories, and moments of the past, they are still relevant today.
Just as in Dracula and the 1800s, fear of a group still affects society and their views. I see this in society’s view on the LGBT community. When people allow fear to direct their views on people, they don’t know anything about, it always turns out negative. With all the confusion and misunderstandings, especially from older generations, we fall into the cyclical patterns of our parents, and those before them. If more people were more educated about the LGBT community, they would feel less threatened by what they don’t understand.
I believe that just as Jonathan was scared, but desired something from the three daughters of Dracula, we too desire something from the LGBT community. Just like Lucy allowed herself to be free and follow her desires, the LGBT community has done that. They all express themselves as they please, which to me is similar to the vampires in the story.
I also see that just as the families in the 1800s were scared “unchaste” women would break up their families, we are scared the LGBT community will cause young observers to become “one of them”. Bonny J. Dow said, “that DeGeneres’s coming-out narrative, in both its ‘real’ and fictionalized forms, has had a profound effect on public discourse can hardly be questioned”. People will do what they want, and we can’t fear that.
In 1984, we see the men making assumptions about the women based off superficial qualities. It created a world of hate in the story that seemed aimed at women. I see something similar going on with men hating “radical” feminists. Feminism at its core is fighting for equal rights for women compared to men. For men to hate these women is such a sad thing. Feminists aren’t saying they are better than men, they just want to be at the same level as them. It’s hard for men to make superficial judgments and then decide to hate women off something they don’t know about.
In these stories we see the authors using the world around them to influence their writings. In Dracula, we see a direct correlation from how the society viewed women to how Stoker wrote about women. In our society today there are many similarities between how people in the past viewed the world and how we view the world today.
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