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Journal of Dracula Studies

Abstract

Until relatively recently, the primary psychological approach to understanding Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the folklore of vampires has been psychoanalysis. Maurice Richardson asserted in 1956 that Dracula must be seen from a Freudian standpoint, since “from no other does the story really make any sense” (427). However, the psychoanalytic approach shares little with modern, scientifically based psychology. Fascinating though it may be, psychoanalytic theory has almost no measurable attributes and may itself be as mythical as vampires and an afterlife. Rather, psychoanalysis is a creative theory of human cognition and behavior that can be neither proven false, objectively replicated, nor used to predict novel, testable insights. As Clive Leatherdale, having presented such a reading of Dracula, concedes, “psychoanalysis has been to some extent dismissed as a literary fad whose time has come and gone” (190 n1). This paper presents an alternative psychological theory that explains how vampirism has captured the imagination of so many people in so many cultures. This theory is called Existential Projection to an Afterlife (EPA) and it incorporates a number of well-studied psychological factors: Object constancy, generalization, fear and conditioning. Some background is needed to see how EPA theory provides a psychological mechanism for humans to reduce existential terror when contemplating death, i.e., nonexistence of the self and nothingness. Fear is reduced by the comforting illusion of an afterlife. Leatherdale states that “The concept of the vampire is founded upon two precepts: the belief in life after death, and the magical power of blood” (13). This paper will address both precepts, but with the major focus on the psychology of belief in life after death. Neither belief in vampires nor belief in an afterlife has any basis in objectively observed fact, yet belief in an afterlife is essentially universal in human society and belief in vampires is well established in the folklore of many cultures. The former is related to a deep need to perpetuate the self when the body dies, the latter to a method of doing so. The notion of an afterlife is linked to concepts of religion, God, good and evil, and while not all are related directly to EPA theory, this paper will touch upon those links.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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