Mina and Jonathan regain consciousness. Mina says that she awoke that night to find Jonathan unconscious beside her and Dracula stepping out of a mist. The count threatened to kill her husband if Mina made a sound. He drank blood from her throat, telling her that it was not the first time he had done so. Then, slicing his own chest open, he pressed her lips to the cut and forced her to drink his blood. Dracula mocked his pursuers and assured Mina that he would make her “flesh of my flesh.” Mina cries out, “God pity me! Look down on a poor soul in worse than mortal peril!”
In these chapters, Mina stands ready as the count’s next victim. When she writes that “sleep begins to flirt with me,” we know that it is Dracula—not sleep—that is seducing her during the night. These suspicions are confirmed in Chapter XXI, when, in one of the novel’s strangest and most debated scenes, Van Helsing’s crew barges in upon Dracula’s feeding frenzy. The scene, which likely shocks us as much as it does the men, challenges gender conventions in several ways. First, neither of the men appears to be the aggressor. Rather than jumping to his wife’s defense, Harker sprawls on the bed, while Dracula, rather than feeding, is fed upon. Although the count forces her into the position, Mina is in effect the instigator as she actively sucks from the wound on Dracula’s chest. Here, the vampire presents a perverse mockery of the nursing mother: rather than giving life by offering milk, the count tries to ensure Mina’s death by feeding her his blood. Symbols commonly viewed as male become female, and vice versa: aggression becomes stupor, and milk is transformed into blood. The entire scene defies gender categories, which would be especially troubling to Victorian audiences who relied upon rigid categories to structure their lives. In a world governed by reason and order, Dracula can pose no greater threat than by disordering gender roles.
The feeding ritual in Harker’s room perverts not only the image of a mother nursing her child, but also the image of the Eucharist. The Christian ritual of Communion celebrates Christ’s sacrifice through the ingestion of the wafer and wine, which, depending on one's beliefs, either represent Christ's flesh and blood or literally become them through transubstantiation. Participating in the Eucharist, some believe, confers immortal life after death. Dracula, by contrast, consumes real—not symbolic—blood. Though the blood grants the count immortality, his soul is barred from achieving anything that resembles Christian grace. Renfield, who lives according to Dracula’s philosophy, goes so far as to discredit the notion of a soul. Indeed, according to Dr. Seward’s diary, the patient “dreads the consequence—the burden of a soul.” Much of Van Helsing’s arsenal against the count comes from Catholic symbolism, including the crucifix and holy Communion wafers. Given the rising religious skepticism in Victorian society—as Darwin’s theory of evolution complicated universal acceptance of religious dogma—Stoker’s novel advocates a return to the more superficial, symbolic comforts and protections of the church. Stoker suggests that a nation that ignores religion and devotes itself solely to scientific inquiry dooms itself to unimaginable spiritual dangers.