Study Guide

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Duty

By Seth Grahame-Smith

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Most of these were so-called honor killings, such as duels or family squabbles. In most cases, no charges were brought. The laws of the early nineteenth century were vague and, with no regular police force to speak of, loosely enforced. It's worth noting that killing a slave was not considered murder, no matter the circumstances. It was merely "destruction of property." (1.16)

Remember this when your grandparents start get nostalgic about the old days. Yeah, things were so much better when people killed each other and there were no police to get involved and nab the bad guy. Back then, it might be your duty to get some revenge in a duel.

As was often the case on the frontier, families pooled their resources and talents to increase their chances of survival, planting and harvesting crops together, trading goods and labor, and lending a hand in times of illness or hardship. (1.45)

Like tennis, duty can be more complex than it seems. Duty isn't just a one-on-one thing; it can be communal, as here, where people in a community band together (doubles tennis anyone?). And duty isn't all sacrifice and toil. Sure, people might pool their resources, but they're getting something out of it.

I hereby resolve to kill every vampire in America. (2.86)

Okay, that's a grand promise and all, and we appreciate his willingness to take on the toothy things on behalf of the rest of us, who are less handy with an ax. But really, why does he make this promise? To whom does Abe owe this duty? Is this a promise to his dead mom? Or is it a promise to himself?

A sickness came over me. A rage—directed more at myself than she. How dare I sit idly and let this boy be taken? How dare I allow something as petty as fear—as insignificant as my own life—keep me from what must be done? No! No, I should sooner die at her hands than die from shame! (3.28)

No one actually dies from shame in this book. Phew. But Abe really is putting his life on the line by following his sense of duty here. Duty may not be the same as sacrifice, but there are real costs and dangers.

"Ask yourself... are we so unalike, you and I? Are we not both unwilling servants of my condition? Did we not both lose something significant to it? You a mother? I a life?" (3.78)

Ah, the budding friendship between a would-be president and an old, bitter bloodsucker. Here we see Henry attempt to explain himself to Abe, but Abe is still tied to the bed so he won't kill Henry. (This is how all best friendships start.) Henry wants to make a connection with Abe over their shared sense of loss, which might be difficult, given the fact that he's holding Abe captive. But maybe he should be appealing to Abe's sense of duty, instead. After all, Abe's loss has given him that sense; he has to kill all vampires since a vampire killed his mom.

And in keeping with customs of the time, any wages he earned belonged to his father until his twenty-first birthday. (4.21)

Some duties aren't chosen by characters, they're just the duties that are expected in a certain society. So, back in Abe's day, parents (usually fathers) owned whatever the kids made until the kids turned 21, which may or may not have caused some problems for Macaulay Culkin. This sentence just lays out the situation, but the rest of this chapter points out how much Abe totally resents this obligation. Is that just because he doesn't get along with his dad or is it because this is a duty that Abe didn't choose for himself?

That I am being used to further the unseen ends of one vampire in particular? I must admit the possibility. Yet after deliberating the whole, I have come to this conclusion:

It matters not.

If indeed I am nothing more than Henry's servant, so be it. So long as the result is fewer vampires, I shall serve happily. (6.5-7)

Abe's duty to kill vampires is so great that he's even willing to work with a vampire, whose motivations aren't exactly all out in the open. Think about it: at this point, Henry might be using Abe to kill off good vampires, and Abe is all, "Whatever, the only good vampire is a dead vampire." This is a strong, almost crazy sense of duty. Why doesn't Abe just kill Henry? That's one less vampire, right?

I could not fail her. I threw the weapon on the floor and wept, damning myself for cowardice. Damning everything. Damning God. (6.112)

Abe can be melodramatic when he's depressed (or, you know, when he's leading the country through the bloodiest war in American history). But when he gets a bit too emo, he reins himself in with his sense of duty. No matter how sad he is about losing Ann, he can't kill himself because he owes his mom a duty to live.

I have given too much of myself already. Henceforth, I shall hunt only when it is convenient for me to do so, and only because it honors the memory of my angel mother... only because it honors Ann's memory. I care not for the unsuspecting gentleman on the darkened city street. I care not for the N**** sold at auction, or the child taken from its bed. Protecting them has not profited me in the least. On the contrary, it has left me even poorer, for the items my errands require are furnished at my own expense. And the days and weeks spent hunting are days and weeks without a wage. If what Henry says is the truth—if I am truly meant to free men from tyranny—then I must begin by freeing myself. There is nothing for me here [in New Salem]. The store is failed, and I fear the village is not far behind. Henceforth my life shall be my own. (7.10)

On one hand, Abe has the duty he feels towards his mom and Ann (both killed by vampires); on the other hand, there's the duty he feels—or doesn't feel right now—towards those less fortunate than him, like the slaves; and on the other, other hand, there's the duty he feels towards himself. So how does Abe prioritize these conflicting duties? Here, he says he has to take care of Number One. But be honest—do you really think that's gonna last?

I hadn't come to be coddled or hear the battle described to me—I'd come to see the horrors of war for myself. To see what others had suffered these three long years, while I had remained behind the walls of warmth and plenty. Try as they might, the officers couldn't discourage me from peeking over the parapet to watch boys line up and ceremoniously shoot one another—to see them blown apart by [cannon fire] and run through by bayonets. (12.4)

As president, Abe has some duties towards, well, every American. (He promised to make us all pancakes.) So notice how Abe puts this: other men are dying while he has "remained behind the walls of warmth and plenty." Since Abe is in charge of this war, he seems to feel some duty to face the same problems as the soldiers. Or is this, in fact, just a form of suicidal feeling because he's so sad? Duty or depression? You make the call.

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