The Universal Battle of Good versus Evil through the Legend of Dracula

[(Essay dated June 10, 2010) In following essay, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is analyzed by exploring the theme of good versus evil throughout history, with the iconic image of Dracula symbolizing the malicious deeds of humankind.]

Human history is cursed with a contrasting duality between the collisions of good and evil. Permanent scorch marks have set ravage throughout the past, scaring our textbooks with acts of human corruption. The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, explores the adverse nature of good and evil, providing the prominent figure of Dracula as representation for the malignant forces of mankind.

Dracula’s blood soaked stain is a constant presence behind each individual page, representing how the malicious deeds of man saturate each nation’s history. Examples include Kostova’s rich diction, such as, “dark red wine”; “red glow in the sun”; “red-roofed”; “cold breath”; “earthly dark”; “red dress”; “red blouse”; black kerchief”; “neck of the bottle”; “embroidery in red and white”; “red winged angels.” As evidently seen, the specific color red is used excessively throughout the novel. This particular color possesses a dual quality, signifying adoring love, but also eluding towards hostility and warfare. Red is associated with Cupid, the god of love, as well as the Devil, the personification of evil. These opposing qualities are a direct illusion towards the dualistic pattern seen throughout human behavior. People have the capacity for absolute benevolence, but also the capacity for the most heinous of crimes. Kostova’s contrasting diction is also prevalent when describing, “red-winged angels.” Again, angels are known as God’s heavenly messengers, while the color red is linked towards the sin-heated flames encased around the depths of agony. In the words of Elizabeth Kostova, “… this is the other trick of historical sight, to be unrelentingly torn between good and evil, peace and war” (Kostova 288).

The novel journeys through an intriguing examination of what comprises in the debate between the goodness of man, and the darkness we can achieve. As quoted by the words of Dracula, “History has taught us that the nature of man is evil, sublimely so. Good is not perfectible, but evil is. Why should you not use your great mind in service of what is perfectible?...There is no purity like the purity of the sufferings of history. You will have what every historian wants: history will be reality to you. We will wash our minds clean with blood” (586). Here we see the sadistic nature Dracula stands for in this particular work, his character mainly used as a metaphor for the permanent frightful deeds that can never be erased from history, forced to live on through the memory of the suffering. The novel goes into great detail about Dracula’s tyrannical past, explaining how he was a spiteful oppressor in Eastern Europe during his mortal years. Vlad the Impaler is described as an active supporter of the growing National Socialism in the country of Transylvania. He was yet another power hungry dictator that caused a flood of torment and misery. Even though in his real life form he wasn’t an actual vampire, he sure acted with a monstrous mentality, that of a blood thirsty killer.

Throughout history, the deepest regrets our nations past have come from the surrendering of one’s judgment, loosing are individual self and developing the mindset of a higher authority. This is known, sadly, in the case of Hitler’s reign during the unforgettable events involving World War II, the devastating procedures explained as, “…a terror that surely precluded all other possibilities” (90). Kostova reveals this authoritative message through the image of a vampire. When face to face with the villainous Dracula, fear is the only feeling left in the human body. Not the fear of the dark figure standing only a few feet away, but the incomprehensible panic of renouncing ourselves, surrendering our own personal identity. To become a member of the ‘undead’ is a fear felt be many, abandoning are individuality as human beings. As described in the novel, “I felt an infinitesimal lightening of burdens, a shifting of loneliness…her face registered only one emotion, as far as she allowed it: A delicate flickering fear.” Throughout the entire plotline, every character has been motivated by an enthralling combination of determination and fear. In the novel, the well known Professor Rossi mysteriously disappears, leading the characters on a blood-soaked adventure deeper into the claws Dracula himself. Each new discovery closer towards Professor Rossi’s disappearance was fueled by an anxious trepidation, especially in the case of the unnamed narrator’s father. The fear and anxiety alone seemed to be eating away at the pure physical strength of the character, slowly teetering between the fine line separating the two parallels of good and evil. The fear of losing oneself is a prominent premise when studying the nightmares of history and the wicked capacity of man. Reinforcing this statement, the narrator of the story is never mentioned, or given a name to identity the reader with. Every person’s individual name is the one word that defines us through life, which gives us an identity to carry along with us throughout our own individual endeavors. The sinister side to mankind knows no bounds, exceeding the constraints of any human distinctiveness.

Human beings have polar opposing potential. It has always been up to the individual to choose which side to act upon, and as history has shown, the evil deeds of mankind can by no means be forgotten. Dracula is the epitome of what malicious actions have represented throughout time, providing an accurate figure to base upon the duality between the forever going struggle of good and evil. The Historian, with accurate significance, depicts these two contrasting images. Through the lasting words of Elizabeth Kostova, “History’s terrible moments were real…only history itself can convince you of such a truth. And once you’ve seen that truth – really seen it – you can’t look away” (37).

(J.D. 2020)


Impressionist Style and Color found within the Influence of Art

[{Essay dated June 10, 2010) In the following essay, the power of painting is analyzed, and its influence to the novel through the breakdown of the Impressionist style, the color used within the vivid descriptions enhanced with the ways of an artist.]

The beauty in art is relevant behind any mastered painting, its message commanding entire audiences with a single image. An artist doesn’t just make a work of art; he feels it, making the image come alive from within. In The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, her use of the influence produced by art are found beneath her eloquent flow of words, through the usage of Impressionism, and color inside the allure of her descriptions.

The story is based upon the painter Robert Oliver, a well renowned artist who has fallen on troubled times, recently having been arrested for attempting to stab a specific painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This sparks the supportive curiosity within Oliver’s physiatrist, sending him on an exploration amid his patients past. The novel focus on the style of Impressionism as the main technique the characters used for their respected means of individual expression. The movement of Impressionist paintings uses a deep prominence on light in its shifting qualities; oftentimes highlighting the effects of the passage of time. This particular movement in history was used for a basis of symbolism throughout the novel. The book focuses on Robert Oliver’s fall from a respected artist to a mute mental patient, haunted by the obsession of his love for a woman who lived over two hundred years prior, limited to only capture her face upon a blank canvas. The barrier of time is an impossible hurdle to rise above with success. The past is forever cemented into stone, far beyond the human capacity of change. Robert and his obsession lived through two different era’s in history, unable to meet due to the company of an insurmountable barrier. By examining portraits of the woman, Robert has found an original love, forced to paint her portrait in nothing but her memory. As quoted by Elizabeth Kostova, “So many terrible things have happened in history, including to artists, even artists like me, who tried to have normal lives. Can you imagine what it would be like to think about that all the time?” (Kostova 167). Robert is forced to relive the pain of not being with the person he admires, a life doomed dejected.

As Paul Klee once professed, "Color has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it. I know that it has hold of me forever... Color and I are one. I am a painter." The usage of color drips vibrant hues throughout the novel, showing the presence of art behind the fervent words of Kostova. Colors to a painter are like the words in the human language. As described when entering the well renowned painter, Robert Oliver’s office, “…but he really couldn’t understand the world through words – he had to look to at and get the colors down, paint it” (96). Color can tell a story, show the inner most thoughts and expressions than any form of words can inadequately attempt to describe. As the Robert Oliver’s physiatrist, Marlow travels to his patient’s ex-wife current residence to learn more information in diagnosing his specific mental condition. When describing their first encounter, Marlow describes the color in her eyes, an ocean blue. This color signifies inspiration, freedom, depth and stability. The relationship, as explained by Robert Oliver’s ex-wife, Kate, was once encased with an infinite passionate. They experienced the deepest of moments, feeling an emotional freedom towards the clouds of serenity. As blissful the moments thrived, sorrow followed, another attribute associated with the color blue. The marriage tumbled into nothing but a shadow of its former self, wasting away into the hands of time. As Kate is now a single mother of two children, her mental stability reins supreme, carrying her through the hardships life forces upon us. From just the simple use of color, the reader gains a deeper insight than any detached description has to offer.

“Her hair shone in the sun; I hadn’t noticed before how much dark gold was mixed with red. Her arms were folded across her white blouse, and her lips were pressed rightly together…” (43). Color is also vital when establishing the connection between Marlow and Robert Oliver’s former mistress, Mary. Here you can see the additive of gold reflects of a certain pride she carries within herself, a strong sense of self worth. Mixing the royalty of gold with the passion of red signify her inner zealous nature. White represents purity and gentleness, a serene nature towards others and a compassion for human life. These attributes prove to become a reality, when learning more about her complex character and intricate past.

Throughout time, art has been appreciated by many, acknowledging the greatness of each brushstroke. But to define a true artist, the image on the canvas should become alive before you, the eyes of the painted portrait searing into your mind, uncovering the foundations of who you are. As said in the words of Kostova, “It fell on the walls, on the canvases stacked backward in one corner, a long table, cans full of brushes. And it felt on a handsome adjustable easel with a painting still on it, nearly finished, a painting that electrified my senses” (124). Art should speak for itself, no need for human terminology, Art is its own form of language, with the ability to provoke a message far beyond the limitations of human speech. In the novel, the pure beauty and influence of art can been observed, showing the reader not only to recognize greatness, but welcome it.

(J.D. 2010)