Some literary critics, like Susan Zieger, have described vampirism as being analogous to addiction (see "Best of the Web" for a link to Zieger's book). After all, vampires could be said to be "addicted" to blood – they might not want to feed on human blood, but they're physically compelled to do so. (Hey, even Edward Cullen Twilight's "vegetarian" vampire relates his desire for blood to an addiction.) Addiction was a hot topic in late-nineteenth-century Britain – it had only recently been defined as a physical condition. Before, doctors used to see symptoms of withdrawal from patients who had been taking laudanum (a mixture of opium and alcohol) for headaches, and simply prescribed more laudanum. It was only in the late 1800s that medical experts put two and two together and realized that it was the laudanum itself that caused the withdrawal symptoms. Considering Stoker's interest in keeping everything about Dracula very contemporary and up-to-date, reading it as an allegory about addiction seems pretty plausible.
Questions About Drugs and Alcohol
- Why, exactly, does a vampire need to drink blood in the world of Dracula? Is it a physical dependence, or an emotional dependence?
- There sure is a lot of opium in Dracula. Who uses it, and for what purposes?
- Characters who take opiates as sleeping aids (this was totally legal in 1897, by the way) tend to be easy targets for Dracula. Why is this? Is it just because their physical defenses are lowered when they're asleep?
- Can vampirism be seen as analogous to drug addiction? Why or why not?
- If you interpret vampirism as analogous to drug addiction, does this change your sympathy for the vampires in the novel? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Casual opium use for the treatment of nerves, insomnia, and headaches forms the backdrop of Dracula, suggesting that drug use and addiction is an appropriate lens through which we can understand vampirism.
In Dracula, Stoker registers a common British anxiety about the sources of drug addiction: as a foreign immigrant to Britain, Dracula brings with him a highly contagious addiction – vampirism – that threatens to sweep the nation.