Gender, Sex and Vampires

Though the stories have change through the ages, one thing remains the same in many stories – opposing genders and vampires.  It seems like whenever a vampire is female, she seeks male victims, as in Let The Right One In.  When a vampire is male, he seems to seek out female victims, as in Dracula, and Dead Until Dark.

Since the vampire bite has become so sexualized over the last century, it makes sense that opposite genders would play the vampire and the victim in literary works involving vampires.  In more modern texts, like Dead Until Dark and Let the Right One in, there are homosexual themes in addition to heterosexual themes making up the vampire / victim relationships.  In Dead Until Dark the reader sees heterosexual relationships, homosexual relationships, flamboyantly gay characters and transgendered or transvestite individuals

These homosexual themes in current texts indicate the switch in societies views towards homosexuality.  Over time, society has become more tolerant of homosexuality than in previous decades, so naturally homoerotic themes would become more prevalent in literature, too.

Controversial Themes in Vampiric Works

A common theme I have noticed throughout the semester and after reading multiple texts revolving around vampires is that of controversial issues.  Early in the history of vampire novels, such as Dracula by Bram Stoker, controversial issues like pre-martial sex, foreign visitors and British Empire, and religion were showcased.

As society and civilizations evolved, so did literary works.  The most current vampire text, Let the Right One In, showcases some of the most controversial social issues including pedophilia, child abuse, bullying, and of course, vampires.  Many of these issues are also addressed in other modern works such as Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and Dead Until Dark, a Sookie Stackhouse novel, by Charlaine Harris.

Throughout time, the issues facing society change and evolve with technology, globalism, and other advancements that are made.  What was scandalous a century ago, would hardly cause the bat of an eye in today’s literature.  Whereas common themes used in literary works in the twenty-first century would have caused an uproar, scandal, outrage, and possibly even sparked a call for banning the book.  With the change and desensitizing of society, authors have to adjust their stories accordingly to get the desired effect.  Stories and topics have to become more dramatic, severe, and even more controversial than those of the past because of the changes in modern day culture.  This trait shines through stronger and stronger with each passing story, becoming more sensational every time, and thus accommodating and satisfying readers everywhere.

Small Town Vampires

Of everything we have read in literature, thus far, I have had a deeper connection and interest in “‘Salem’s Lot” and “Dead Until Dark”.  I think the interest and connection comes from the fact that both novels are set in rural America.  I grew up in a small town in Wyoming so I can definitely put myself into the setting and connect with the characters as I am reading.

In “‘Salem’s Lot”, my favorite passage is at the beginning of the novel when Stephen King begins to describe the town.  He begins by explaining buildings and the overall layout of town.  As he goes through the motions of the overall aesthetics of the Jerusalem’s Lot, he starts to describe things the way an old timer, or life-long resident of a small town would describe things.  For instance, when describing a particular neighborhood, a side story about someone who lived there might come out, including who they married, who their children are, or that time in high school when they toilet-papered the principal’s house.

Charlaine Harris takes a similar approach to small town life in “Dead Until Dark”.  However, rather than devote the beginning of the novel to explaining the town’s history, Harris gives details and side-story tidbits throughout the story, as they would naturally come out.

Personally, I prefer Harris’s style over King’s, even though I definitely think King did a great descriptive job, too.  I like Harris’s style of describing Bon Temps because it seems like the reader gets information the way a new visitor or resident would get information.  King’s style seems more like the information one might get if they sat down and interviewed someone about Salem’s Lot.  Whereas a reader could feel like they are just along for the ride with Sookie and she fills in the gaps as she goes.

Overall, both novels give great descriptors of small-town life in America and the impact that vampires may have on them, but to me, Charlaine Harris does more believable and practical job of such descriptions for the reader.

Racial Tensions in “Dead Until Dark”

The novel “Dead Until Dark” by Charlaine Harris brings vampires into modern America, where they are attempting to mainstream into society.  Throughout the novel, the vampires face issues directly relating to their integration.  The integration and “de-segregation” of vampires is symbolic of racial integration that is still going on in America, as well as the de-segregation of blacks in the 1970s, and resulting backlash in some communities.

For example, in “Dead Until Dark” vampires are fighting for (and gaining) civil rights for which blacks once had to fight.  Vampires are coming out of the coffin, so to speak, and are trying to live as humans.  At certain points in American history, blacks were not truly considered to be whole people.  Evidence of this shows up in early American censuses, where black slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person.  They were considered to be people, but not whole people, for all legal purposes.  In addition to this, blacks were not allowed to own land or vote.  Even after the civil war, blacks and whites were still legally segregated for a century.

In the novel, vampire Bill remarks that he has come back to Bon Temps to claim his family home, because he is now legally able to do so.  Although not expressly written, one can assume that not too long in the past, vampires were not legally able to own real estate property.  Bill is really the only vampire in the story that we know to live in Bon Temps.  Other vampires seem to live in larger cities, or far from towns – perhaps in the “nests” Malcolm’s group of vampires live in, with little human contact.  Bill is one of the few who is truly trying to settle into human life, living in town, socializing at the local ‘human bar’, and even remodeling his home as humans would do.  He encounters some problems – mostly strange, scared, glances at Merlotte’s or dismay at his ‘inter-racial’ relationship with Sookie.

Many people seem to accept or tolerate his presence perhaps out of fear, or glamour.  Certainly, blacks would have experienced strange or rude glances when eating dinner at a restaurant that had formerly been a ‘whites-only’ establishment after desegregation.  Even today, there are many people who look down on inter-racial relationships, just as Sam and others had been shocked by Bill and Sookie’s relationship.  On the contrary, the vampires do not seem thrilled by the inter-racial relationship either.  It seems that racial tensions run high both with humans and vampires.  As is the case throughout the world – not just with white southerners – many people have issues when it comes to inter-racial relationships still to this day, no matter what race they may be.  This is mirrored in the fact that both humans and vampires are uncomfortable with Bill and Sookie’s relationship – not just the majority group.  In addition, the humans who chase after vampires for sexuality are labeled with a derogatory nickname – fangbangers.  There are many racial epitaphs for people of one race who pursue members of another race for prospective dates.

Finally, throughout the novel, we are confronted with several grisly murders of human women.  At the end of the book, the reader finally discovers that such crimes are actually hate-crimes, committed by a human man who simply cannot wrap his mind around the idea of female humans having sexual relations with male vampires.  Because of his hate for vampires and inter-racial mixing, he brutally murders the women involved with them, as a type of sick payback for the crimes he feels they have committed against humanity.  Certainly even in 2010, hate-crimes occur against all types of minorities and sub-cultures.

“Dead Until Dark” could be classified into a few different literary genres and certainly studied under several different themes, including gender roles, sexuality, rural American life, the Deep South, and race.  To me, the most interesting theme is certainly race.  Charlaine Harris’s twist on racial tension in the south using vampires is truly interesting – and entertaining.

The Emperor of Ice Cream

I sometimes have a difficult time understanding poetry, particularly at first read.  “The Emperor of Ice Cream” is no exception to this personal phenomenon.  Re-reading the poem, along with the passage that references the poem later (on page 600 of “‘Salem’s Lot”), I can only come up with a guess as to why Stephen King not only used the poem as the entry to Part Two, but also later used it toward the end of the novel.  I can formulate an idea about why King chose this particular poem, based on the context of the poem, in relation to the context of the novel, itself.

Analyzing “The Emperor of the Ice Cream” is a somewhat challenging feat.  To me, the second stanza is more profound, and more relatable to the context of “‘Salem’s Lot” because it seems to be about a dead person and the preparation of the body after death.

Take from the dresser of deal,

Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet

On which she embroidered three fantails once

And spread it so as to cover her face.

If her horny feet protrude, they come

To show how cold she is, and dumb.

Let the lamp affix its beam.

The only emperor is the emperor of the ice cream.

-Wallace Stevens

This stanza seems to tell of a dead woman, who may not entirely be human, as her feet are described as horny.  Out of a dresser, the narrator tells us to take a sheet and cover the face of the dead body, and presumably the rest of the body, too.  The narrator then says that the body is cold and dumb (dumb meaning that she can no longer speak).

I am not positive why King chose to use “The Emperor of Ice Cream” as the opener for Part Two, or later as a reference in the context of the book.  However, I can say that since “‘Salem’s Lot” is about vampires – the un-dead – and the people they kill, it makes sense that King would reference this work of poetry that seems to deal with death, as well, although I still and not sure who the Emperor of Ice Cream might be.

Foreshadowing

I must admit that my primary reason for taking this literature class was to fulfill an elective requirement for my B.S. in psychology degree.  I figured it would be an entertaining class, and at worst, I could at least pick up some new novels that I might not have otherwise ever read.  I have learned throughout the semester though, that I have picked up another literary mechanism that has been grilled into me since my early education.

Until recently, I have never really picked up on or understood symbolism or foreshadowing in novels.  I would get irritated during class discussions, thinking “how do we KNOW this is what the author intended?” or ” maybe the author just liked the idea of a dark, dingy setting – it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how the book will unfold.”  As a pop culture reference – I remember watching an episode of “Friends” when the character Phoebe (who is pretty ditzy and never attended high school) attends literature night classes at the “New School” in New York City.  In the class, she learns about “Wuthering Heights” and as Phoebe explains the novel to Rachel, she remarks “I totally get symbolism!”  I used to think, “Phoebe gets it, why don’t I?!”

I am really enjoying reading the novels and short stories this semester because I am finally starting to understand foreshadowing and symbolism.  In “Dracula”, the daunting, dilapidated castle, and frightening landscape as Jonathan travels to the castle foreshadow the terrifying events to come.  In “‘Salem’s Lot”, the eerie-ness of the Marston house, as well as the mystery surrounding the death of Ben’s wife, and the tragic death of his mother, as well as the town’s shady history indicate that pain and sorrow are yet to come in the novel.

In short stories, like Carmilla, we see the mysterious and creepy setting unfold into a mysterious and creepy story.  The classic gothic characteristic of broken down settings intertwines most of the stories we have read, and will probably continue throughout novels we have yet to read.  I am excited to find out!

Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” from 1992

My husband and I rented the 1992 version of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” this past weekend.  I was delightfully surprised to see how closely the movie actually followed the novel.  Of course, with any movie adaptation, a few scenes were slightly altered, or combined, however, I felt that overall, it was a great movie (particularly since I was able to reference the novel).

The one thing that really seemed different than the book, was actually not “different” per say, rather it was more dramatic than the book.  Although the novel definitely had sexual undertones and themes, I feel like they were just that,…undertones and themes.  In the movie, the sexuality is very over the top.  From the start, one notices that Lucy dresses more provocatively than Mina does, exposing her shoulders and cleavage.  Mina is usually dressed in very heavy dresses, with high necks and many layers.  Lucy’s dresses are often made of flowing, sheer material, and when they aren’t she is showing much more skin than Mina, as previously mentioned.

In addition to the clothing, the sexual scenes were more intense, I felt.  Of course, it was probably only what Stoker had envisioned for the scenes, but was not able to write about because of the day and age he lived in.

I wonder if the changes came into play because of when the film was shot.  Based on other media entertainment we have seen in the last twenty years, I am not sure that audiences would have been satisfied without the more graphic sex scenes.  I do not feel like producers changed the story line much, if at all, but they did elaborate on scenes and ideas that Bram Stoker gave them with his novel.

I believe that the 1992 film version of “Dracula” was a great adaptation of the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker.  The producers did a great job of keeping the integrity of the story, while incorporating minor updates for modern audiences.