Dracula: A Child is Born While A Monster is Created
Dracula, like many other monsters throughout history, had been portrayed in a way that makes it appear as if he had been born evil. While this may be the case for a very small percentage of villains, this is certainly not the case for Dracula. Examining Bram Stoker’s Dracula from a psychological perspective reveals clear signs of mental illness and psychological trauma that have led to Dracula’s pride in the horrific acts that he has committed. It is clear that Dracula was not born evil, however developed a lack of empathy and remorse towards humanity through his family’s exile from society and traumatic experiences he endured in his formative years making him a victim of his environment. This paper will analyze the psychology behind what made Dracula into the villain that we all know and fear by comparing the actions of Dracula to those of known serial killers. The analysis of the psychological aspect of the literature will be based upon psychological studies on serial killers who have been determined to have Renfield’s Syndrome or have been observed to have key psychological characteristics that are similar to those of Renfield’s Syndrome patients.
Much like how Dracula sees blood as “precious”(21), patients with Renfield’s Syndrome exhibit an obsession with drinking blood to achieve power, control, or sexual arousal. Individuals with Renfield’s Syndrome typically have a form of schizophrenia, are often reclusive, avoid social interaction and large groups, and exhibit strong obsessive relationships with victims. This syndrome was largely based off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula character, and was created as a form of satire by clinical psychologist Richard Noll to poke fun at the new syndromes and disorders characterized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Although it is a rare syndrome, it is developed as a sub-form of schizophrenia along with other disorders that occur as a result of traumatic experiences, such as dissociative identity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dracula has many of the symptoms of Renfield’s Syndrome including drinking blood, being reclusive, being an outcast from society, the need to control power, and attachment issues. Two people similar to Dracula who have been diagnosed with Renfield’s Syndrome are Peter Kürten, aka “The Vampire of Düsseldorf”, and Richard Trenton Chase, aka “The Vampire of Sacramento”. Kürten’s childhood was plagued by abuse including two alcoholics for parents, beatings from his father, being forced to watch his father rape his mother, and being encouraged to torture animals. All of these forms of trauma led to his perverted sexual satisfaction which led him to turn to bestiality, rape, murder, and eventually vampirism. Although there is not much information about Richard Trenton Chase’s childhood, it is known that Chase exhibited signs of childhood trauma as he showed signs of the Macdonald Triad as a child and later in life was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Chase would later go on to commit murder, rape, cannibalism, necrophilia, and vampirism in order to satisfy his sexual desires. Similarly to Dracula, both Chase and Kürten experienced ostracization from society due to the lives that their predecessors lived, which made them into the stone-cold criminals that they are. Similar in the way that Dracula has celebrated the kills that both he and his family had committed using words such as “great” and “proud”(21), these serial killers championed their kills, showing little to no remorse. Much like Dracula, these killers were raised with the idea that the acts they were committing were completely normal and nothing out of the usual. Because these individuals were sequestered with controlling families, once they left the families and realized that these acts were not normal they would always feel like an outsider to society. They would act out their aggression and sexual tension with the intent to take back the power that was lost to them as a child and the act of drinking blood was a way in which they could feel more powerful than humanity.
One symptom of Renfield’s Syndrome is the killer’s obsession with their victim, this is a characteristic that is extremely evident in the relationship between Harker and the Count. Although Dracula’s actions of locking Harker in the castle come across as something only a monster would do, based on the profile of Renfield’s Syndrome it is evident that these actions came as a result of years of seclusion from society. Dracula, who is presented as a monster and a villain, could deep down be projecting his anger regarding being treated as a freak in society onto his victims through the form of violence and manipulation. Take the scene in which Dracula threatens Harker and warns him almost showing signs of sympathy, “Let me advise you, my dear young friend — nay, let me warn you with all seriousness, that should you leave these rooms you will not by any chance go to sleep in any other part of the castle. It is old, and has many memories, and there are bad dreams for those who sleep unwisely.”(24). This example alludes to the traumatic events that Dracula encountered while in the house, similar to how a sociopath would attempt to show sympathy towards their victims by warning of things that led to their own personal traumas. It is obvious that the count longs for a true friend, due to the fact that he had never had one in his many years of life who did not fear him at first glance. In the story, Dracula shows clear signs of attachment and abandonment issues as he becomes enraged over the female vampires touching Harker stating “How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me!”(28). The fact that Dracula was so possessive over Harker shows that he may be facing the consequences of unhealthy relationships in the past, whether that be with his family, romantic partner, or society as a whole. Dracula yearned for acceptance, so keeping a close relationship with Harker was essential to keeping somewhat sane.
Adaptations of Bram Stoker’s iconic Dracula have made it appear that Dracula is a heartless killer and that he was born a killer when in fact it was his upbringing that led him to commit such gruesome acts. Blood is representative of the essence of life, so the act of consuming it is an act of power control. From a young age Dracula had been taught that in order to maintain power, there must be blood shed. This perverted idea of self-worth coupled with the idealization of violence as a means to an end, has resulted in an individual that lacks the moral compass needed to function in society. After examining Dracula’s behavior in comparison to that of known serial killers, it is clear that Dracula is a victim of the toxic environment in which he grew up, and uses vampirism as a way to gain back the control that he lost in his formative years. Dracula shows signs of longing for normalcy as shown in his controlling relationship with Jonathan Harker, yet he shows virtually no regret for the lives he had taken. There are clear signs of mental illness occurring in Dracula’s character that have made him into the monster that the townspeople fear. Like Richard Trenton Chase and Peter Kürten, Count Dracula is no more than a reflection of the teachings he garnered from his formative years. As disturbing as it sounds, it is not fate, destiny, or supernatural occurrences that create monsters, it is humanity itself.
December 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula (Dover Thrift Editions) (p. 22). Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.