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“Gothic writing frequently explores the battle between good and evil” Discuss how far you agree with this statement using Bram Stoker’s Dracula as your main reference.
Gothic literature, which was popularised at the end of the 18th century, frequently explores the battle between good and evil as its unconventional approach to the natural world often blurs the lines of morality. Bram Stoker’s Dracula explores these lines as although many could interpret these lines between good and evil as distinct, others would interpret the grey areas by starting to question whether the inevitable corruption of goodness is truly evil. Gothic fiction also tends to possess irregularities that broke all the rules of neoclassicism that dominated society in the latter half of the 18th century. Due to this, gothic literature was controversial to the society at the time as it started to change people’s perception on good and evil; it often contained dark themes which slowly became subject to admiration as it sparked feelings of awe and dread at the sublime and inevitability of the end of civilization.
Gothic writing frequently explores a battle between good and evil to an extremely substantial extent especially through the character of Count Dracula. The Count is portrayed as a manifestation of pure evil whilst the Crew of Light is made to represent everything good and is the antithesis of Dracula’s evil. This black and white interpretation of good and evil entwines with the concept of structuralism and binary opposition as it suggests that with all good there is evil to balance out the natural world and often the gothic genre seeks to break the barriers of this. Right from the start of Dracula, it becomes apparent to the readers that the concept of evil is heavily woven into the natural world; “when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway.” A semantic field of opposition is clear here with night and day which could arguably correlate with the nature of good and evil - highlighting how evil is such a powerful force in the novel and only an extremely powerful force of good would be able to combat it. In several gothic texts, evil is often attributed to anything that is not within societal norms and good as any measures taken to stop this evil. This could link to the concept of otherness prominent in Dracula through the Count himself and in texts such as Jekyll and Hyde with the otherness being a manifestation of Hyde. This concept can refer to any person that is perceived by a group as being threatening or as being different in a fundamental manner. This is vital when viewing the battle between good and evil as it raises the question of whether something is truly evil purely due to it being misunderstood and feared by society. A psychoanalytic theorist could comment on how the otherness could represent one’s repressed desires manifesting themselves in the main antagonists. The concept of otherness could arguably be interlinked with xenophobia which was extensive in the society at the end of the 18th century when Gothic Literature was popularised. This fear of the foreign could be associated with a battle of good and evil to a substantial extent as it paints evil as someone who is different in a society dominated by white supremacy.
The battle between good and evil is often framed by Christian morality particularly in Dracula as Catholic sacred objects and practices are utilised by the main protagonists to defeat the Count. Crucifixes feature heavily in Dracula as an effective tool used to protect and restrain from evil. Religion, in particular Christianity, was extremely prominent at the end of the 19th century when Dracula was written, and the Christian take on good and evil is entwined throughout Gothic Literature; The belief in Original Sin is potentially interlinked with the Count’s evil as he is portrayed as this irredeemable antagonist. Furthermore, the Christian practice of Holy Communion is heavily distorted in Dracula as the Count often seeks to drink the blood of his victims and is presented as a form of evil. Additionally, fin de siècle anxieties such as advancing in science and technology threatened long standing religious practices. Science paired with religion is a key factor that drives the defeat of Dracula as the characters operate tools such as blood transfusions, trains, and telegrams; in this, Stoker was ushering in a new age. The struggle and unity between science and religion is prevalent in gothic literature as it is heavily interlinked with the battle between good and evil, especially in texts such as Frankenstein which demonstrates how the pursuit of science and technology without considering societal consequences can have disastrous results.
Throughout gothic literature, the idea of the tainting of women is often attributed with the theme of good and evil. This concept is highly prevalent in Dracula as the Count who is the embodiment of evil corrupts innocent and goodhearted women such as Lucy and Mina by transforming them into vampires. This was written in a time of fin de siècle anxieties which often alluded to concerns about the “New Woman”, as women were starting to explore their sexuality and freedoms. One could interpret that these concerns are portrayed through the character of Lucy as, when she becomes corrupted by Dracula’s evil, her descriptions become increasingly sexualized; She attempts to seduce Arthur by saying “Oh my love, I am so glad you have come! Kiss me!”. A feminist critic could criticise how Gothic Literature heavily links women’s exploration of sexuality with male corruption and evil as it regards it in a negative light. Furthermore, Lucy receives three blood tranfusions and she also desired three different men, suggesting that blood transfusions could be representative of sex and how modern technology is allowing sexual promiscuity. When Mina says “unclean, unclean,” the literary allusions to Lady Macbeth are distinct here as Lady Macbeth’s inner turmoil could relate to Mina’s inner battle of good and evil as she is terrified of whether Dracula’s corruption is inevitable. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter also begins to draw a link between the tainting of woman through male corruption and sex as the protagonist is presented as a good-hearted virginal victim whilst the Marquis as a powerful evil figure that corrupts her. Modern readers would not regard women’s sexuality with evil but would recognise how Gothic texts such as Dracula are able to give an insight into Victorian thinking.
A theme of liminality is vital when interpreting good and evil in gothic literature, as the blurred lines of morality that the gothic genre brings to light often reside in liminal spaces. The Count Dracula can be regarded as a liminal being as the nature of a vampire itself is described to be as the “Undead;” A vampire often expresses characteristics of both an animalistic predator and a common man. The liminal state between Lucy’s predatory instincts as the “Bloofer Lady” who stalks and hunts the children and her previous goodhearted nature could suggest that the lines between good and evil are distorted; many would interpret Lucy’s character as a victim subject to inevitable corruption, therefore would not regard her as either distinctly evil or wholly good. The idea of the corrupted becoming the corruptor is prevalent here and would go against a structuralist interpretation of good and evil as it suggests that evil is not something established from birth and one’s morality is molded by societal impacts. The battle of good and evil in Gothic literature also boils down to the question of human nature. One interpretation could be that gothic literature often promotes a conservative viewpoint on human nature as in an authoritarian society, many would have believed that humans are inherently immoral and only a rigid structure would be able to combat it - presented with the Count Dracula and the Crew of Light. However, another reader could interpret how these liminal spaces in morality prevalent in gothic literature have connotations of liberal views as it suggests that humans are inherently good people who make good decisions but have the potential for corruption.
In conclusion, gothic writing frequently explores the battle between good and evil to a significant extent due to societal, political, and religious influence that would have evolved through the centuries therefore modern readers would interpret gothic literature’s battle of good and evil in a contrasting way to readers of the 19th century due to this evolution of society
As someone who's not familiar with Gothic Literature, I feel that you've explained it well.
On a scale of 1-10 for grading, I'd give it a 7.
Please note I'm not an English literature teacher, and just a random stranger who got a GCSE C at English :P
But it was a very interesting read.