Essay: Anti-semitism – Dracula

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
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  • Published on: July 16, 2019
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The term scapegoat originates in the Bible, and was originally an animal that is burdened with the sins and wrongdoings of others and then banished. This has evolved into a psychological term used to describe an individual or a group of people that are blamed for external issues. Throughout history, minority groups are used as scapegoats for environmental grievances: poverty, social and political strife, and even natural disasters. One demonstration of the “scapegoat” phenomena was the antisemitism in Europeans during the 1800s, which originated in Russia and Germany (Brinkmann, 2010). Resentment against Jews eventually evolved into organized attempts at persecution through the formation of Anti-Semitic Leagues (Klier, 524), forced migration, and riots. Social, political, and economic issues were subject to dissociation by society, which blamed the arrival of Jewish immigrants and fed into conspiracy theories that Jews were plotting to undermine German institutions and take over the world (Klier, 530).

As a result, many Jewish peoples migrated to Western Europe, settling in areas such as Germany and France, but most heavily in Great Britain (Rudermann, 161). Between the years 1880 and 1924, approximately one hundred and thirty thousand Jewish people immigrated from Eastern Europe and settled in Britain (Brinkmann, 5). Anti-semitic prejudice followed them – Jewish peoples were seen by Brits as a foreign, unwelcome, and an invasive presence. The British blamed Jews for the problems that plagued their cities- poverty, lack of job opportunities, crowding of urban areas, and disease (Brinkmann, 88). This antisemitism eventually evolved into physical acts of violence against Jewish peoples in Britain, including riots, attacks on Jews, and even pogroms: organized massacres of Jewish people (Brinkmann, 4). Antisemitism even found its way into literature- extensive anti-Semitic writings were found in newspapers, articles, and novels.
One very notorious example of anti-semitic British literature is Shakespeare’s Shylock. In the play, the main character, Shylock, is a Jewish merchant who is portrayed as greedy, manipulative, and selfish. He relentlessly pursues Antonio, a man who cannot afford to pay his debt to Shylock, and attempts to collect a literal pound of flesh from Antonio as payment. As a resolution to the play, Shylock is eventually stripped of all his wealth and belongings and forced to convert to Christianity (Shakespeare). It is important to note that the Christian characters in the play live happily ever after. Shylock was written in the 16th century, many years before Dracula’s conception, but captures the anti-semitic tendencies of the English society. Around the time of Shylock’s conception, very few Jews even lived in England, and it was likely that most Englishmen had never encountered one, making the characteristics (physical and otherwise) possessed by Shylock to be purely founded on preconceived, inaccurate notions of what Jewish people were like (Frank).

This was a common theme to anti-semitism in Europe: unfounded ideas and beliefs concerning Jewish people that lacked any foundations in reality. One study done at George Mason University found that when temperatures dropped (lower temperatures were associated with crop failures, sickness, food shortages), persecution in the form of acts of violence against Jewish peoples would increase (Anderson et al, 2015).

Up until the mid-1700s, Jewish peoples were nonexistent in Britain, due to violent riots fueled by blood libels that had eradicated the Jewish population in the 1200s. Blood libels originated not in Germany or Russia, but in England, where they often led to violent attacks on Jewish communities. These accusations were based on the notion that Jews would sacrifice and drink the blood of an innocent Christian child as part of the seder, a Jewish feast in celebration of Passover (Nadler). Blood libels were one of the ways through which Jews became associated with blood. One Russian newspaper title proclaimed that “The Yids … suck our blood!” (Klier 526). However, this was metaphorically referencing another unsubstantiated belief among Western Europeans. In the 1700s, Jews began to return and settle in Western Europe (Vallely). Jobs that were previously reserved for Christians were now able to be held by Jews, which angered and fostered resentment in many Christian westerners, who believed that by holding higher-paying jobs and owning property, Jews were “taking over” (Vallely).

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