*Responses to Reading: Students discuss the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker
Throughout the opening chapters of Dracula, Bram Stoker utilizes first person narrative to introduce Jonathan Harker, a 19th century Englishman whose perspective sheds light on the skewed social landscape of the Victorian era. The story begins with a series of journal entries, as Harker, an English lawyer, recounts his travels to Transylvania where he goes to execute a potential business transaction with Count Dracula.
From the first two chapters it is difficult to get a complete gauge on Harker. How do we feel about him? Is he a total biased prick or is he just uncomfortable in a region that is entirely new and unknown to him? Ultimately, I would contend that it is too soon to discern. Sure, at a glance Harker represents many of the biases and presuppositions that are so characteristic of English society during the Victorian Era. For one thing, he is sexist. While it may be nice that Harker keeps a journal for his fiancée, Mina, within that journal he takes down recipes that he expects her to cook for him when he returns home, which indicates a tendency toward gendered thinking and conceptualization of rigid gender roles.
Furthermore, it is clear from his encounters with the people of Eastern Europe that Harker feels a strong sense of cultural superiority. Harker’s attitude toward the natives is not unlike that of Kipling’s in “The White Man’s Burden”: he views their superstitious customs as foolish and third-world. This is evident when the old lady at the hotel gives Harker a crucifix. This is a kind-hearted gesture but Harker is reluctant to accept the gift because he was “taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous.” However, although Harker embodies much of the broken ideology of Victorian England, it is hard to say from the first two chapters that he is an inherently ill-natured person. Much of what Harker experiences is odd or off-putting, and many of us would most likely develop a similar view of Eastern Europe if we were exposed to wolves, creepy castles, and strange foreigners who frequently feel the need to bless us.
Much information can be gathered about Jonathan Harker from reading the first few chapters of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Harker is a young, bright, and hardworking solicitor sent from London to Transylvania by his boss to assist in a noble’s purchase of a London estate. Harker’s predicament is that his trip thus far has been rather frightening, and he senses something off about his host that makes him fear for his safety. He even goes so far as to say, “I fear I am myself the only living soul within the place.” Through Harker’s actions and internal dialogue, it can be inferred that he has many prejudices. Harker is very much a man of his time because of his classist, sexist, and judgmental attitudes. When first encountering people of the new country, he calls the women “pretty, except when you got near them” and “very clumsy about the waist,” the Slovaks “more barbarian than the rest” and “picturesque” but not “prepossessing,” and he wonders why Count Dracula, a noble, does not seem to have servants. He lumps women and the Slovaks into groups, giving them the same characteristics, as if they do not have any individual qualities. He even says that he was told that all Slovaks are “very harmless and rather wanting in natural self-assertion.”
Harker also has many judgments towards the beliefs of the people. Before arriving in Transylvania, he hears that the people are very superstitious and remarks that the place is like “the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool.” Harker does not see the people’s beliefs as valid, which is clearly evidenced by discomfort when some of the locals feared for his safety, especially the landlord’s wife, whose behavior he found “very ridiculous.” His dismissiveness of their beliefs could be very harmful to him when he encounters more of the evil forces the people fear.