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A Marxist Interpretation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”

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A Marxist reading is one which interprets history as a series of class struggles. Marxists believe that, within a society, people think and behave according to basic economic factors. These factors are derived from the dominant class imposing their beliefs on the lower classes in order to make them conform to the standards and beliefs of the dominant class.

Bram Stoker’s novel, ‘Dracula’ represents a class struggle not between the bourgeois society and the proletariat society where the proletariats would attempt to rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie, but rather between the capitalist bourgeois and the character of Dracula as a monopolist.

Dracula worked in relation to bourgeois fears of domination from above – from a monopolistic Dracula. Franco Moretti has argued that this text “was a desperate attempt to articulate anxieties about the crisis of liberal capitalism which was taking place within the 1890s, and the challenge to the hegemony of the professional bourgeoisie which it entailed”.

Earlier in the century, Marx himself had used the vampire metaphor to discuss the workings of capital: ‘Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”

Dracula is, as Karl Marx describes, a form of capital which sucks the life from the working proletariat class.

Dracula has no life himself, but maintains himself by living off the life of others. It is for this reason that while Dracula is a representation of the capital which Marx describes.

Dracula is not capital itself, but a particular form of capital which was emerging in the 1890s: monopoly capital. As Moretti puts it, ‘Dracula is a true monopolist; solitary and despotic, he will not brook competition.”

The professional bourgeoisie had established its hegemony by challenging feudal despotism with a concept of individual freedom for all. The proletariat were offered contracts in which they owned their own labour.

The bourgeoisie had combated the forms of hound labour associated with feudalism with the concept of the labour contract. The capitalist had no inherent rights over the labour of the worker as had been the case with the feudal lord. By contrast, the capitalist and the worker engaged in a contract in which they were, in principle, free and equal participants. Workers could not only choose the employer to whom they sold their labour, but their labour was also only sold for a fixed period. The worker had rights over his own labour. This was the accepted ideology in the late nineteenth century however Bram Stoker’s character, Dracula, opposed these accepted conventions through his feeding. Dracula accepts no such rights or choices, even in principle. Once one is his, one is his completely and forever.

Through feeding he converts his victims into his slaves. His nature as Marx says “compels him to make ever more victims, just as the capitalist is compelled to accumulate. His nature forces him to struggle to be unlimited, to subjugate the whole of society.” He does not feed upon them for the pleasure of it, but in order to survive; it is his nature. The more he feeds, the younger and stronger he becomes, but his feeding also extends his domain.

monopoly capital sought to eliminate competition, and by extension the professional bourgeoisie’s concept of individual freedom and independence. Monopoly capitalism (represented in the text by Dracula) threatened the era of liberal or laissez faire capitalism through the concentration of ownership. More and more of the population became employees who were dependent on the monopolies for their livelihoods. This relates back to the text as Dracula’s spreading of his power through his feeding.

Dracula sees himself as above the levels of the proletariat as he says the peasant is “at heart a coward and a fool” p29.

The distinction between the public and the private spheres of life was also intended to protect individual rights – or at least, the individual rights of the male. in the western world, sex and sexual entities are regarded as very private matters only to surface behind the closed doors of the bedroom. The bourgeois employer only had rights over the labour of the worker, not his whole being. Aspects of the worker were defined as private. The employer could control the labour of the worker for which he had paid, but nothing else. The worker could also escape the world of work within the private sphere of the home. The home was a place of privacy and individual sovereignty.

Dracula not only threatens the public sphere, but the private sphere too. He invades the bourgeois home, the bedchamber, the body, and finally, the will. It is for this reason that while he converts the free subject into a slave who is compelled to act according to his will, the manner of his attack is clearly sexual. This sexual manner of attack is beyond what was seen to be accepted in the customs of the western civilised world.

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