Dracula, Frankenstein and the Return of the Repressed

The concept of repression is elemental to Gothic fiction in general and Gothic horror specifically. Very closely associated with the idea that what is repressed always seeks to rise to the conscious mind is the idea of the Other. Otherness in general is a representational figure of that which the prevailing ideology sees as a threat to the status quo. Maintenance of the status quo is utterly dependent on the suppression and repression of ideas that run counter to that ideology and that have the potential for introducing chaos, disorder, and even anarchy into the structure of everyday life.

The Other can be successfully dealt with through avoidance for only so long. Just as it does not pay off in the end to avoid any problem facing you on an individual level, so can maintenance of societal order rest upon the vain hope that Other will simply go away for only so long. Eventually the Other must be dealt with in order to ensure the stability of the power structure and this can only be done in one of two distinct manners: assimilation or annihilation. Gothic texts are among the most predictable genres of all and the intrusion of something rare and unique into the narrative typically stands out to the point that it is actually, alas, annihilated. Of all the rare occurrences you will ever come across in Gothic texts, perhaps the rarest of them all is assimilation of the Other into the mainstream. Frankenstein and Dracula are both quintessential examples of how that which has been repressed is annihilated rather than assimilated for eventual transformation into a conventional replica of the Self.

The Other exists in an existential manner on multiple levels of being; it is both external to the culture while also, through the subconscious repression of it, an essential functionary within the establishment and future course of society. The Other is is therefore most often represented as a being that has escaped the confines of repressed consciousness to take shape as a physical being and, more importantly, as a being existing precisely because it has become external and can therefore be renounced and rejected. By locating the Other as a monster to be hunted down and destroyed, society is better able to discredit its connection to the collective consciousness; it is always easier to fight a foreign agent than one that is homegrown. Both the creature in Frankenstein and Dracula exist as counterparts to the distinct Christian milieu in which they were written and the hunt for both creatures to destroy them represents an attempt by those societies to contain and then annihilate dangerous parts of themselves that have been repressed for too long.

Dr. Frankenstein’s creature is a more explicit example of the Other than Dracula by virtue of the means of his creation and subsequent rejection by his creator. Otherness as a psychological term is essentially equitable with abnormality and is an expression of the belief that abnormality is not just something that looks different, but it is actually a threat to the social construction. Whenever this threat of the abnormal appears, such as in the case of the creature, society responds by bonding together to destroy it, but first the Other must be firmly established as being not only apart from the norm, but a threat to the norm. The distinguishing of the Other is a process that begins with naming games that separate the Other from its place within the Symbolic Order. The Other must first be disparaged through epithets and insults and Frankenstein enunciates this with severely Gothic language when he describes his own creation:

“‘Abhorred monster! fiend that thou art! the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil!”

The creature is a symbolic personification of Frankenstein’s own desires in an attempt to remake himself, but the creature’s gruesome appearance serves to immediately distance him from Frankenstein’s flights of wonder and fancy to the point that he actually begins to create fear and that fear springs from the prejudicial perspective felt toward an image created in one’s likeness that, unfortunately, fails to satisfy expectation. The same approach to castigating Dracula with language that serves to cast him as something abnormal and dangerous is taken: “The Thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous blood-curdling scream came from the opened lips.” The vampires and the creature are both subjected to constant barrages of prejudicial language that place them in opposition to the Symbolic Order.

Repression is a necessity for the progression and development of society, but it is possible to create such a thing as a surplus of repression for the sake not of developing society, but rather for containing and controlling progress. What is repressed differs according to society and in the 1800s the ideological confrontations that produced the creature created by Dr. Frankenstein and Dracula as the Other are located in the arena of Victorian ideals regarding humanity. Frankenstein’s creator becomes a creature of dread and fear because his bizarre and monstrous manifestation is essentially linked to the ungodly manner in which he was created. Fantastical ideas about the nature of God and evolution can clearly be seen as part of the hatred directed toward the creature.

It is worth nothing that Frankenstein’s creature is a monster that arises in opposition to the iconography of traditional Gothic texts because there is nothing supernatural about him; unlike Dracula the creature is purely a creation of rational science. And yet both Dracula and Frankenstein’s creature contain elements of Gothic preoccupation with the mystery that may remain unsolved. The fear and loathing directed toward the creature is easily read as a rejection of Darwinian ideas about the ability of man to do God’s work. At the same time Dracula is also, though far more supernaturally inclined, a violation of God because his very existence violates the basic tenet of God’s will: mortality for all creatures. The ultimate aim of Frankenstein and the team of vampire slayers chasing Dracula begins with distancing them from society through language, but the ability to destroy the monsters rather than to attempt assimilation rests upon their ability to utterly dehumanize the Other.

Contemporary society is much better suited to assimilating the Other than Victorian society. Assimilation requires the effort to turn the Other into a more suitable replica of the prevailing order so that it may be allowed to operate both within society and without it. This is accomplished by enforcing social standards upon the Other, while placing it into locales where it exists on a daily level in the company of those who resemble it more than the power structure of the Symbolic Order. Clearly, this cannot be done in the world of either the creature or Dracula; London may create a ghetto for the Chinese or Pakistanis, but what of a ghetto for reanimated men or vampires? Frankenstein and Van Helsing and his followers recognize that the best way to deal with the personification of the repression of ancient values and Christian beliefs about the mortality of man and his elevated place as the living image of an omnipotent creator is to destroy it rather than contain it.

Ultimately, then, gothic texts utilize the supernatural, the uncanny, and the mysterious to illuminate Christian doctrine that man is beyond the powers of darkness because he was created in the image of a far more powerful supreme being. All the monsters and evils found in Gothic texts are simply shadows that can be overcome by rational thought, but rational thought endowed to humanity by God. The creature and Dracula represent extreme visions of the corruption of the idea that man is something less than God’s special creation. A divine law is operating within the confines of Gothic fiction and the monstrous violation of divine law that is represented by Frankenstein’s creature and the vampires in Dracula are the ultimate in the realization of the repressed Other springing to life in Gothic fiction.

In many cases, that which has been repressed in society as a whole has been prefaced as oppression and only through persecution of the individual does repression become a fully realized component of the Symbolic Order. In the case of Victorian society the Other represented by the creature and Dracula has been repressed as a result of the systemic persecution of heretical thought by the Christian power structure. As Gothic monsters, Frankenstein’s reanimated essence of humanity and the walking dead vampires of Transylvania act as unpleasant reminders of both the potential for questioning of divine law and the unholy persecution of those whose questions in the past were oppressed through violent persecution.

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