98 The Black Vampire Critiques Human Nature

Melissa Murphy

The Black Vampire serves as a social critique of rampant economic exploitation. The supernatural phenomenon of a vampire serves as a metaphor for the irresponsible people that profit from the work of others. Vampirism in this text serves to highlight the downfalls of a capitalist society. Humans are greedy. Their inclination towards self-service and gluttony is mirrored in the hunger of the vampires.

For the vampires in the text, the need for sustenance is a strong, all-consuming need. They revert to an animalistic state when presented with a meal, displaying the same natural inclinations of wild dogs after falling prey. When Zembo and the prince brought Mrs. Personne to the cemetery, they showcased a complete loss of control in their desire to consume the body of the deceased child.

“In returning to the tomb, they tore up the sods with ravenous fury; and soon drew out the last-mentioned son of the Lady, and threw him on the grass, beside the grave. Zembo fell as fiercely upon the corpse, as a hungry dog upon his dinner; but was arrested by the African, who lent him a severe box on the ear, which sent him blubbering to the corner of the cemetery” (D’Arcy 25).

These two revert to wild animals in this passage. It would not be too much of a stretch to insert images of wolves in place of the two vampires. Zembo was compared directly to “a hungry dog upon his dinner.” Of course, a dog does not think about anything other than personal fulfillment in the form of hunger-relief when devouring a victim. The “ravenous fury” and falling “fiercely upon” also conjures images an all-consuming need that takes over the senses until the necessity has been fulfilled. A pack hierarchy is also displayed when the prince boxes Zembo away from the corpse. Zembo is the prince’s page and is therefore below him in a traditional hierarchical structure. In the wild, animals of higher rank in the pack get to eat first. By displaying this concept in the text, D’Arcy shows that these inclinations are of a natural origin, something embedded deep inside the vampires as in other wild animals. By Zembo ignoring the natural order, he shows the inability for vampires to follow these instinctual rules of respect and subordination when consumed by hunger.

However, it must be remembered that The Black Vampire is not making a commentary about vampires, but about humans. Therefore, the same self-serving natural inclinations observed in the vampires must be true about people as well. D’Arcy highlights the many different kinds of vampires seen in the real world in this text. People such as businessmen, clergy, bankers and plagiarists are the existent manifestations of the fictious vampire.

“The accomplished dandy…absorbs in the forced and unnatural excitement of his senseless orgies, the life blood of that wealth…The fraudulent trafficker in stock and merchandize… sucked the whole substance of an hundred honest men…The corrupted and senseless Clerk, who being placed near the vitals of a moneyed institution, himself exhausted to feed the appetite of sharpers…Brokers, Country Bank Directors, and their disciples- all whose hunger and thirst for money, unsatisfied with the tardy progression of honest industry…preyed on the heart and liver of honest industry…The Empiric, who fills his own stomach while he empties his shop into the bowels of the hypochondriac” (D’Arcy 41-42).

D’Arcy lists the many manifestations of vampires in society and attributes the same greedy hunger to them that is displayed so crudely in the vampires. The use of words like “life-blood,” “substance,” “vitals,” “appetite,” “hunger and thirst,” “preyed” and “empties” all are reminiscent of the previous passage where Zembo and the prince consumed the boy. However, these people are not hungry for flesh, but for money. They prey on the wallets of the naïve and easily tricked. They fill up their pockets with the pilfered cash and live lives of senseless gluttony.

As displayed through the vampires, though, this is a natural inclination of men. Even though it seems such senseless horror to con others to it, like the need for wolves to jump on dying prey, is simply the nature of the beast. The Black Vampire utilizes the supernatural to reveal the inner workings of people. This diverges from other works of classic American literature but works to effectively convey a dark and scary message.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Melissa Murphy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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