Isolation is a central theme that runs through Bram Stoker’s Dracula, connecting many disparate threads of storyline into a cohesive novel. Isolation, as it is explored through the characters, keeps people apart, but together they must face the idea of the hostile supernatural world. Isolation as a theme is important to the novel because vampires, by their very nature and fact of being, are isolated; in becoming a vampire, one is necessarily cut off from society and doomed to a bleak eternity among the ranks of the living dead. The three main types of isolation explored by Stoker in Dracula are: physical isolation of the characters within a hostile environment; emotional isolation of the characters within society; structural isolation of the characters within the body of the novel, each having a different effect and outcome on the narrative.
In Dracula, much of the action is set in far flung, physically isolated locations, whether that is Whitby or Transylvania. The physical isolation of these settings is explored through the characters which inhabit them, mainly Jonathan in Transylvania, though this is also experienced to a lesser extent by those in Whitby. Throughout the novel, Stoker links the physical isolation of his characters with their gradual descent into madness. This is particularly noticeable and important for the character of Jonathan; his physical isolation within the desolate surrounds of Dracula’s castle manifests itself as the degeneration of his sanity. The diary entry reading, ‘Whilst I live on here there is but one thing to hope for: that I may not go mad, if, indeed, I be not mad already,’ shows that Jonathan’s isolation from human company directly leads to him doubting his own mind, and a variety of worrying traits begin to emerge, such as the inability to distinguish between reality and illusion. His encounter with the ‘weird sisters’ proves almost too much for his already fragile mental state, and upon waking the next morning, he remarks, ‘I suppose I must have fallen asleep; I hope so, but I fear, for all the following was startlingly real – so real that now, sitting here in the broad full sunlight of the morning, I cannot in the least believe that it was all sleep.’ Fearing for his life, and hating his dependence upon the Count, the emotionally starved Jonathan seeks to regain some degree of control over both his actions and his memories by obsessively searching for ‘proof’ and ‘certain small evidences’ to explain what has happened to him. In the first part of the novel, Stoker uses the first person diary entries of Jonathan to explore the mental impact of such extreme physical isolation and entrapment, allowing the reader to form a strong bond with the character that will last even when the perspective of the novel changes. The first person narrative is especially effective; the window into Jonathan’s psyche makes the link between isolation and madness even more insightful.
Emotional isolation is the most common variation of the theme, and the one which is more easily explored through the character of Dracula. As the title character, Dracula is the lynchpin which holds the otherwise meaningless elements of the plot together, with minimal conflict. Though he achieves the distinction of forming the heart of the novel when he has no pulse of his own at all, Dracula himself is the most emotionally isolated character of the entire cast. Dracula lives alone except for the three female vampires, and he has no intellectual equals among those who reside with him. The emotional isolation of Dracula is explored most extensively during the exchanges between Jonathan and the Count; though told from Jonathan’s point of view, sentences such as, ‘The count stayed with me, chatting and asking questions on every conceivable subject, hour after hour,’ and, ‘And it was evident that he wanted to talk, if only for talking’s sake,’ clearly show that his captor craves the intellectual companionship of humans. Having transcended death some 900 years ago, Dracula may no longer actually be human but clearly retains some human characteristics and Stoker explores how an exile from society would act when a clever, eloquent and knowledgeable solicitor wandered into his environment. Dracula’s loneliness is temporarily ameliorated through his interactions with Jonathan, and he seems to genuinely enjoy their conversations about London, ‘I have come to know your great England; and to know her is to love her. I long to go through the crowded streets of your mighty London, to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its change, its death, and all that makes it what it is’, as well jumping at the chance to improve his language skills ‘You shall, I trust, rest here with me a while, so that by our talking I may learn the English intonation; and I would that you tell me when I make error, even the smallest, in my speaking’. Still, as the day of Jonathan’s departure and Dimitri’s journey to England creeps closer, Dracula’s loneliness once again becomes apparent, shown through lines such as the oddly poignant ‘I shall be all alone’. Although Dracula is of course a creature of great evil and one of the greatest literary monsters ever imagined, Stoker cleverly gives the reader enigmatic hints of the man that Dracula once was; the soft whisper of, ‘Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so?,’ conveys more emotion than an overt back story would, and emphasises Dracula’s present isolation. Stoker also ensures that the theme of isolation, as explored through Dracula, runs like a thread throughout the whole novel. The distressingly moving line, ‘And my heart, through weary years of mourning over the dead, is not attuned to mirth,’ takes on even more meaning after Dracula’s destruction; it is only by crumbling into dust that this hated monster can at last find peace.
It seems fitting that Mina, who acts throughout the novel as Dracula’s foil, is also shown by Stoker to carry the burden of emotional isolation. However, while Dracula is isolated by his vampirism, Mina is isolated by her social situation as an emancipated woman, showing that Stoker appreciated the problems faced by the New Woman at the time. As an orphan who works for a living, it seems strange that Mina’s closest friend is the frivolous, flirtatious Lucy who leads a life of leisure and luxury. The reader realises that Mina is misunderstood by those around her, who view her as something of a mother figure – Arthur is said to cry ‘like a wearied child’ on her shoulder – instead of an intellectual equal. Even her relationship with Jonathan, which seems bizarrely free from any kind of physical contact, lacks true depth; while she works hard to keep up with his studies, the only times he thinks of her in Transylvania are when he is wracked with guilt over his meeting with the female vampires and when he tastes some delicious foreign dish, making the note ‘Mem., get recipe for Mina’. Therefore, although Mina has stable and affectionate relationships with Jonathan and their friends, she will to some extent always be isolated by the lack of understanding and acceptance given to emancipated women in society at the time.
Stoker’s use of structure in the novel only serves to emphasise the isolation of the characters throughout. The often epistolary structure means that there is very little actual contact between characters. This idea of letters replacing actual human contact cleverly accentuates the theme of isolation; diary entries present fully formed bubbles of character to the reader, yet these characters rarely come into full contact with each other. This isolated structure means that the reader alone can see the whole picture and draw connections from otherwise unrelated material, not unlike Mina sitting atop the hill with Whitby unfolded beneath her: ‘The band on the pier is playing a harsh waltz in good time, and further along the quay there is a Salvation Army meeting in a back street. Neither of the bands hears the other, but up here I hear and see them both.’ Each band could be viewed as a different narrative or point of view; while within the story they appear isolated, from the lofty position of the reader, or indeed the writer, they are intrinsically connected.
It is clear that in Dracula Stoker uses the traditional folktale of the vampire superstition as a background against which he could create a story exploring the theme of isolation in society and personal relationships. It is a story that is as much about human nature as it is about the supernatural.