Literary Criticism

Friday, October 29, 2010

In Dr. Kathy Davis Patterson’s essay about I Am Legend, the key point is the fact that in the novel there are very clear racial undertones.  She brings up the fact that I Am Legend was actually written the same year that the Supreme Court decided that segregated was unlawful.  She also brings up the fact that vampires in various novels (She uses the Count in Dracula as an example) often reflect whatever social turmoil happens to be occurring in the time period.  The fact that at the time of this book’s publishing white people were just adjusting to the new idea that African Americans were going to be interacting with them in everyday life, may have lent to the racial undertones.  Dr. Patterson sees the vampires as being black, because they are seen as ‘invading’ society (portrayed as Robert Neville) as it was known.  It is essentially two cultures shown at war with each other, one doing whatever is possible to keep the other out and the other trying to overtake and destroy the other. 
          It’s interesting to read the story while being aware of the racial undertones.  The fact that Robert is avoiding the vampires as much as he can takes on more meaning that just survival.  It begins to be viewed as white society avoiding the black society, and perhaps viewing them as a necessary evil. 
          In one passage of her essay, Dr. Patterson talks about how the vampires are seen as the “threatening Other” (Patterson).  She says “Thanks largely to the lasting impact of slavery and its attendant prejudices, the black African in this context is constructed as a monstrous Other that threatens the dominant society” (Patterson).  This passage is significant because it explains why the racial tone of this book is the way it is.  White society was threatened because, in a way, their way of living was over.  Slavery was abolished, and segregation was unlawful.  Everything they had been told about black people being less than people had to be reversed and they had to accept them into their society.  Their fears definitely play out in how the vampires keep attacking Robert Neville’s house, and demanding to be let in.  
          Another interesting passage in this essay is the one in which Dr. Patterson talks about the ways that vampires attempt to invade Robert’s space.  She mentions violence, but “The most dangerously effective strategy, however, is sex. Female vampires can rouse Neville’s lust with ease” (Patterson).  Though he feels lust towards them, he refuses to act upon his desires.  It reflects how people felt about interracial couples at the time, and how they still somewhat feel today.  It was unheard of to date someone of another race, and even now interracial couples are rare.  She goes on to say “For Neville, mating with a vampire would involve the penetration of his body not only by vampire fangs, but by the bacteria vampires carry. In his world of strict binaries, this type of mixing is a possibility he refuses to allow. His blood remains uncontaminated and he is determined to keep it that way” (Patterson).  The fact that having sexual relations with a vampire would contaminate him also shows the feelings of white society at the time.  They did not want to be contaminated by people of another race.  It also shows how white society viewed themselves as ‘pure’ while everyone of a different race was ‘contaminated’.  This is also show later in the essay   “In Neville’s worldview, hybrid blood equals contaminated blood. His obsessive studies of blood and his efforts to identify, prevent, and possibly cure blood contamination reflect a desperate desire to restore homogeneity and, with it, a social order that he recognizes.”  (Patterson).  As she says, this is a desperate attempt to preserve the society as it once was, before it was introduced to vampires.  It’s interesting how far people will go to bring back something they recognize, so they feel safer.
          Another passage focuses on the way the Robert violates the female vampires.  She points out that although Robert kills them, he does not sexually violate them in the traditional way.  However, the fact that he stakes the vampires carries a sexual tone.  “The phallicism of the stake, however, ensures that the sexual connotation remains.”  (Patterson).   She says “The Otherness of these women precludes their suitability as sexual partners and marks them as perceived threats to Neville’s life, to the sanctity of both his body and his home. As such, they become expendable.” (Patterson).  It’s interesting that because if something is viewed as a threat to us, we find it alright to kill it.  This can even be seen today in the issue of self defense.  If we feel threatened by someone and do something to defend ourselves, it is seen as acceptable in our society.  Even if defending ourselves mean killing another.  This brings the interesting question of when it is acceptable to end another human life.  Apparently, it is okay when we feel threatened, but what of racial crimes of our society’s past?  The white society felt threatened, and sought to eliminate that threat.  However, this was seen as wrong.  Since it was an elimination of a threat, what distinguishes this from a self defense from, say, a murderer coming in the night?   The vampires were considered a threat to Robert, and he kills them.  In the same passage, Dr. Patterson includes this quote from the book “Usually he felt a twinge when he realized, but for some affliction he didn't understand, these people were the same as he.” (Page 39).  He is able to look past the differences and actually realize that basically, they were the same.  However this does not stop him from killing the vampires.  It is saying something though, that he was able to see them as the same as himself. 
          As a whole, I do agree with Dr. Patterson about the racial subtext of I Am Legend.  It’s easy to see how the vampires and Robert are seen as different races, and their differences basically facilitate all the conflict between them in the novel.

Works Cited
Echoes of Dracula: Racial Politics and the Failure of Segregated Spaces in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.  By Dr. Kathy Davis Patterson

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1995. Print.

Dracula 2

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Following my last blog post, I have decided to write about Mina’s journey into vampirism and how it is similar and different to Lucy’s.

Dracula first visits Mina when she is staying alone.  It is kind of ironic that he visits her then, since the men are away.  It seems that Dracula is taunting the men and their inability thus far to destroy him.  Mine, however, is clueless to what is happening to her.  “The gas-light which I had left lit for Jonathan, but turned down, came only like a tiny red spark through the fog, which had evidently grown thicker and poured into the room.  Then it occurred to me that I had shut the window before I had come to bed.  I would have gotten out to make certain on the point, but some leaden lethargy seemed to chain my limbs, and even my will.” (page 227).
She believes this meeting to be only a dream, though she does after some time realize that she is “dreaming” of Dracula. 

It is evident that Dracula has been draining the blood from Mina, because she wakes up so weak.  Renfield even commented on it.  “I don’t care for pale people; I like them with lots of blood in them, and hers had all seemed to have run out.  I didn’t think of it at the time; but when she went away I began to think, and it made me mad to know that He had been taking the life out of her” (page 245)

Mina’s relationship with Dracula seems to be more intense than Lucy’s ever was.  Lucy was just used, and he blood taken.  However Mina actually gets into the act as well, drinking Dracula’s blood too.. even though it seems like it was forced on her.  After the fact, she is very upset and calls herself unclean and says that she should not be able to touch her husband any longer.

It’s interesting that Mina was so much more connected to Dracula than Lucy was. It seems to me to go back to the fact that Dracula is taunting the men.  This is especially clear because in the scene where Mina is drinking Dracula’s blood, Jonathan is lying helpless nearby. The men in this book seem very protective of Mina, for example, they don’t let her know of the progress of their mission is, and don’t tell her any details relating to Dracula.  This actually works in perfect favor to Dracula, who is able to manipulate her without her knowing the details of him. 


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

There are two radically different types of female characters represented in Dracula.  One type represents everything that the ideal Victorian woman should be which essentially is virginal.  The other is the polar opposite, not virginal but also not sexually committed to anyone, which is frowned upon in Victorian times. This difference in female characters is especially interesting being Lucky starts to turn into the latter.

The brides of Dracula are described as beautiful women.  “All three had brilliant white teeth, that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips.  There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear.  I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.” (Page 42).  These brides are the definition of vixens, sexually attractive to entice humans into letting the brides ‘kiss’ them, or bite them.

Mina and Lucy are displayed as proper virginal Victorian ladies.  Mina’s job even follows this description, as the note at the bottom on the page states “Mina is a working woman, but not, in the 1890s, and improper one.” (Page 55).  However, she differs from traditional Victorian women by the simple fact that she does work.  She even intends to help Jonathan by studying shorthand.  Lucy doesn’t have a job, and thus fits the traditional stereotype more than Mina does.  She talks extensively about the people she has met and how deeply she is in love.  

Lucy’s journey through this book is interesting, starting out as a woman who by all accounts seems well cared for and fits perfectly into the traditional Victorian role of women.  This starts to change, however, when her sickness begins.  She starts sleepwalking, and shortly after begins to have wounds on her neck.  Mina is the first to notice these wounds, saying “I must have pinched up a piece of loose skin and have transfixed it, for there are two little red points like pinpricks, and on the band of her nightdress was a drop of blood.” (Page 89).

As Lucy’s sickness continues, it becomes apparent how much blood she is losing.  The audience does not know this yet, but ever time her blood is lost (by Dracula taking it) she steps closer and closer to becoming her opposite.  The sucking of her blood can also be seen as a sexual act, thus making her not a ‘proper’ Victorian woman anymore.  The fact that she also receives transfusions from three different men also carries a sexual theme, as stated on Colleen’s blog.  This further disintegrates her character, as it implies that she has sex with all three men, making her more like Dracula’s brides than what she was previously.

This culminates in Lucy dying and actually turning into the vixen that her character has become, ending her journey.