Buffy the Vampire Slayer Essay

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The various representations of vampires that have been imagined throughout the history of Gothic fiction have developed considerably over time, to a point where one could argue that the vampires depicted in Postmodern Gothic texts are a virtually unrecognizable incarnation of their Victorian Gothic counterparts. Though vampires from both eras tend to share the same key, a fundamental characteristic of the need or desire to feed on human blood that has come to define them, their very nature, and consequently the way that audiences are provoked to respond to them, has undergone significant evolution. This essay will explore this very evolution with reference to Bram Stoker's depiction of the vampire Dracula (1897) in his horror novel of the same name (which, by many accounts, is considered to be the quintessential depiction of a vampire during the Victorian Gothic era), and the depictions of the vampires' Angel and Spike in the television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003), which are highly emblematic of the way that vampires are conceptualized in postmodern Gothic texts. Upon close examination of how these particular representations of vampires differ, not only does it become much easier to understand this evolution, but in many ways, the very reasons that it has taken place, as well as what implications it makes about the general changes that have occurred in the desires, beliefs, and interests of readers and audiences over time.

Firstly, it is useful to specify and explore the origins of vampire legends themselves, as Stoker naturally would have been aware of and influenced by the representations of vampires within such legends and folklore, and identifying his inspiration for the character of Dracula can help us to fully realize the nature of his depiction of the vampire. While it is likely impossible to determine the exact origins of these legends, evidence locates and indicates the earliest known presence of myths about bloodsucking monsters in Ancient Greek society and folklore (Guru, 2015). In simple terms, these creatures were generally defined as being undead and unholy (in other words, supernatural and evil). These legends persisted throughout the centuries and though they gradually morphed between different societies and cultures, for the most part, they maintained this general definition. Hence, when Victorian Gothic fiction was being written, they were widely perceived, conceptualized, and consequently represented as being demonic, deadly, terrifying, otherworldly, and perhaps most importantly, inhuman creatures, as highlighted by Stroker’s physical description of Dracula. In this description, Stroker described Dracula’s mouth as being “fixed and rather cruel-looking, with particularly sharp teeth” which “profoundly protruded over [his] lips” (pg. 23), and stated that “the general effect [of his skin] was one of extreme pallor” (pg. 24), indicating a menacing, unhealthy, sickly, and inhuman appearance. Furthermore, Dracula is susceptible to the presence of the Christian cross, further solidifying his unholiness, and this very connotation contributes to his image of being intrinsically evil. This is backed up by Jules Zanger, who writes that Dracula is “unredeemable”, and that for “Stoker and [his] readers, [Dracula represents] the antichrist” and the “embodiment of supernatural evil” (1997, pg. 18).

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In contrast, a highly noteworthy feature of the vampires in Buffy's The Vampire Slayer is their apparent sense of morality and capability to reflect on the ethics of their own actions and behaviors, as demonstrated by Angel and Spike, who feel tremendous regret for some of their misdeeds. Angel even admits that he “did a lot of unconscionable things when [he] was a vampire”, clearly highlighting his sense of self-awareness and the presence of some kind of moral compass within him. This characterization of vampires in Buffy The Vampire Slayer as somewhat ethical beings (at least in comparison with Dracula and other Victorian-era vampires) is emphasized by the fact that the vampires in the series have the ability to regain their souls, which both Angel and Spike eventually do on their own accord (thereby rejecting their beast status), showing that they have a conscience. This is a quality that vampires very rarely, if ever at all, exhibited in Victorian Gothic texts such as Dracula. In fact, the vampires in Buffy are not presented as beasts at all, but rather as contaminated humans; they are not purely sadistic creatures whose existences revolve around deriving pleasure from killing humans. These vampires feel all the same emotions as humans, and in many other postmodern representations of vampires (such as in the film Twilight), they only ever kill out of necessity as a means to sustain their being and are actually victimized and depicted as persecuted minorities (i.e. outcasts). In these depictions, they are sometimes even oppressed by humans themselves, which further disassociates them from the unredeemable, innately evil, and inhuman image of Victorian-era vampires, which in turn ultimately allows for audiences to identify with them to a greater extent.

In Buffy, the resemblance of vampires to regular humans even provokes the more “otherworldly” monsters and demons present in their universe to consider them tainted beasts (i.e. not purely monstrous/demonic and therefore too human), prompting them to refer to vampires as “blood rats”. Additionally, while the vampires in Buffy are indeed represented as undead, it is worth noting that they assume the same characteristics, personality traits, memories, quirks, and attributes of the humans whose bodies they inhabit, which even further humanizes them, as they essentially assume the exact form, psyche, and personality of a human who once existed. Speaking of this, the vampire Darla even states that “what we were informed what we become”, and informs Angel that whatever hatred and malice he inflicted upon others was always within him, even prior to his transformation into a vampire. In a similar way, the vampires in Buffy, unlike Dracula, are unable to shapeshift into other creatures such as bats, which quite literally humanizes them by stripping them of their capacity to assume other forms.

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