February 26, 2022

LitAnalysis:Modernity & Docility Almost Saved Dracula

Maria Fernanda Martinez

Maria Fernanda Martinez

Writing Machines


Modernity & Docility Almost Saved Dracula  

Conflict between modernity and tradition is woven meticulously throughout Bram Stoker's Dracula. Stoker presents that modernity and tradition must coexist if humanity wants to persist. Michel Foucault's concept of docility-utility presented in Discipline and Punish functions, specifically as demonstrated by Mina, as a representation of the active battle between the temptation of men to succumb to modernity and their reluctant acknowledgement that there are things in the world with which modernity alone cannot contend. (Stoker 41) Additionally, the parallels between Mina and Dracula emphasize and maintain a skewed balance between modernity and tradition.

We are first introduced to the clash between tradition and the modern world as Jonathan Harker travels to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania. Jonathan is gifted with items that superstition dictates would help protect him against the peril that awaits him, but he is too blinded by his modern conceptions to take the gifts seriously, much less as a warning. As the story progresses and Lucy falls victim to Dracula, we see the danger of ignoring tradition and superstition as Professor Van Helsing hesitates in informing the other men about the possibility of this being a vampire attack. Lucy could have survived but for Van Helsing's insistence on modernity. (Stoker 171) Later in the novel a shift occurs when Van Helsing informs Dr. Seward about Lucy's vampiric condition, and they witness her second death. The inner conflict they all face is clearly expressed, as the modernity they have been conditioned to believe in falls to tradition before their very eyes.(Stoker 192) And lastly, we experience the transformation of Mina from a traditional female figure to a new woman who becomes vulnerable to an attack precisely because she ceased to belong to tradition.

Foucault first introduces the concept of docility-utility in Discipline and Punish by stating, "[discipline] methods which made possible the meticulous control of the operations of the body, which assured the constant subjection of its forces and imposed upon them a relation of docility-utility." (Foucault 137) In other words the careful control of the body, often through repetitive work, becomes crucial in creating a docile relationship between a mind and a body.  This becomes one of the most useful concepts to analyze alongside the journey to kill Dracula. Mina has been presented as a character who, when given the possibility to fully accept modernity, rejects it. She is capable of earning her own money through her stenographic ability and yet she chooses to work for her husband instead. Even when she meets the other men who will eventually join them in the hunt for Dracula, they feel comfortable confiding in her because she still embodies the nature of a woman expected at that time, motherly and reassuring. (Stoker 203) However, Mina is not fully of tradition either. As mentioned before she is a stenographer, as well as someone capable of memorizing train timetables and work in repetitive cycles, what Foucault states as a sign of the modern disciplined society. (Foucault 149) In addition, she is capable of analyzing situations and assisting the men by paying close attention to detail, as we see when she deduces Dracula's location by assessing the information the men had written down. (Stoker 306) This is another quality of the disciplined man according to Foucault: the ability to perceive details not solely for themselves, but also for how they fit into a larger picture. (Foucault 140)

Mina delicately balances her ties to traditional womanhood with her modern qualities, until the men decide to keep her in the dark about their affairs. (Stoker 214) Throughout the novel it is clear that not only is she diligent because it keeps her calm, but also because she believes careful and precise work to be her duty. (Stoker 161) Here we can begin to see the qualities which will become exacerbated and exploited by modernity through her isolation from others. Mina is one to have a "correct use of the body, which makes possible a correct use of time" in which "nothing must remain idle or useless." (Foucault 152) What keeps her from becoming a fully docile subject is the fact that she is not just an efficient worker, but she is also an emotional woman. The minute the men deprive her of this connection, she loses that which binds her to tradition and becomes vulnerable to Dracula.

Ironically, the character seen as a principal traditional figure, Dracula, becomes the force to which Mina answers as a modern subject. He functions as her foil in the novel. Primarily a figure of tradition, he literally is centuries old, he adopts modern discipline in the attempt to expand his reign. We see this in the precise and calculated way in which he purchases homes and distributes his boxes of dirt. Jonathan himself admits when analyzing Dracula's paperwork, that everything was done meticulously and with a careful attention to detail. However, it is the attempt by Dracula to live in both modernity and tradition without fully succeeding in either that eventually leads to his downfall.

What is most fascinating about this entire situation, is that just a few moments before deciding to place Mina in isolation, Van Helsing had acknowledged the importance of relying on the knowledge and power of tradition. He states, "Yet must we be satisfied in the first place because we have to be--no other means is at our control--and secondly, because, after all, these things--tradition and superstition--are everything." (Stoker 210) There are a few things happening in this quote, the first is the acknowledgement of Van Helsing that anything outside of tradition is outside the control of men. This can read as contradicting Foucault as for him modern society is all about control, but in actuality it aligns perfectly as in modern society men are conditioned and disciplined into control slowly, as with the example of the Gobelins school. (Foucault 159) Van Helsing then, goes on to explicitly state that tradition and superstition are "everything". It is what their hope of defeating Dracula rests on: old legends and traditional knowledge. So, to see them dismiss Mina's traditional qualities, particularly as a confidant, by isolating her demonstrates how men often fall into modernity by accident. Humanity, through our own desires to control the world around us, end up being controlled by forces we do not recognize.

Lastly, Foucault states, "In becoming the target for new mechanisms of power, the body is offered up to new forms of knowledge." (Foucault 155) Mina, the most docile modern subject in this novel, target to a new mechanism of power [Dracula as a modern supervisor] is offered up to new forms of knowledge, her connection to Dracula's mind. In fact, once Mina is brought back into the confidence of the men, she removes herself from knowledge of their deeds because she is aware of her state as a "master of discipline", or one who answers immediately to a signal or prearranged code, given out by none other than Count Dracula. (Stoker 283) This would put the expedition in a vulnerable position once she is called by her master. She uses her already existing modern abilities, attention to detail and ability to work diligently, to analyze situations and come to "brilliant and true" conclusions that "she will not, or cannot give utterance [to]." (Stoker 280) Mina gains knowledge, but loses her ability to share it because she is now a docile, utilitarian subject of modernity. The only time she is able to tap back into tradition and share knowledge is during the times of sundown and sunset, under hypnosis, yet another traditional medicine. (Stoker 279)

Foucault's concept of docility-utility is one that depends on the complete submission to modernity. A proper docile subject cannot hold ties to traditional knowledge, as that would interfere with the extreme control and isolation that modernity requires. Mina throughout most of the novel balanced tradition with modernity, more effectively than most of the other characters, except perhaps Dracula, who is both calculated and a literal figure of superstition and tradition. She falls into the trap of modernity because her thread to tradition, the men who need her as their emotional confidant, is cut off. Once she becomes a modern subject, she also becomes docile and therefore vulnerable to the signal or prearranged code, in this case sent out by Dracula. Through her venture as a full modern docile subject she also gains access to a new set of knowledge, that she cannot share with the men because of this very docility. But nonetheless, in those moments where she manages to grab a hold of her traditional role once more, her meticulous attention to detail allows the men to triumph over Dracula. All of this harkens back to Jonathan's first observation that there are things which mere modernity cannot kill. The men could not have succeeded had Mina not had those brief glimpses and moments where she grasped hold of tradition again, and no one but them and their arrogance would have been to blame, as they were the ones who led Mina into the hands of modernity.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. "Docile Bodies." Discipline and Punish. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage, 1955. 135-69. Print.

Stoker, Bram, Nina Auerbach, and David J. Skal. Dracula: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews and Reactions, Dramatic and Film Variations, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997. Print.

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