The Treatment of Women in Bram Stoker's Dracula
In reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, I find the treatment of the two main female characters-- Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker-- especially intriguing. These two women are two opposite archetypes created by a society of threatened men trying to protect themselves.
Lucy is the Medusa archetype. She is physically attractive, and wins the heart of any man who comes near her (e.g. Arthur, Quincey, Jack, and Van Helsing). Her chief quality is sensual beauty, but her sexual desire is repressed and not allowed to communicate. And yet both the spiritual side and the sexual side are in her, and when the long repressed sexuality finds a vent, it ...view middle of the document...
She must not be active or adventurous, and definitely cannot be the advancing party in sexual engagement. That would be taking away men's sexual advantage, and will not be tolerated. The party of men gathers in Lucy's graveyard, then, feeling their masculine power being subdued by the feminine attraction, turn angrily in defense of themselves.
On the other hand, Mina Harker is the Madonna archetype. Her chief quality is not her physical attraction, but her role as mother, sister, and wife. She is not a threat to the men because her social role is domestically defined.
As a wife she loves her husband, and tries to be "useful" to him. She practices typewriting and shorthand, keeps diaries, arranges papers, and tends to Jonathan when he is sick. As a mother and sister, she gives her sympathy to Jack, Arthur, and Quincey, allowing them to express their emotions, and thus winning their affection:
I suppose there is something in a woman's nature that makes a man free to break down before her and express his feelings on the tender or emotional side without feeling it derogatory to his manhood; for when Lord Godalming found himself alone with me he sat down on the sofa and gave way utterly and openly. . . . I felt an infinite pity for him, and opened my arms unthinkingly. With a sob he laid his head on my shoulder, and cried like a wearied child, whilst he shook with emotion (268, ch.17).
Arthur does not see his outbreak of emotion in front of Mina as a threat to his manhood because of two reasons: it is justified as a motherly or sisterly love, and it is in a private domestic setting.
Mina herself justifies her affection shown for Arthur in this episode as motherly love:
We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother-spirit in invoked; I felt this big sorrowing man's head resting on me, as though it were that of a baby that some day may lie on my bosom, and I stroked his hair as though he were my own child. I never thought at the time how strange...