Morality and the Construction of Religion in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles" - Christina Beyer - E-Book

Morality and the Construction of Religion in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles" E-Book

Christina Beyer



One of the reasons why the Vampire has undergone extreme changes can easily be found: The perspective has changed. Whereas in former times Dracula was presented as a deathly threat to anyone who encountered him, Anne Rice gave the vampire a platform to expose his own perception of (after-)life. Having done that, the reader is now confronted with different questions. Instead of asking "How can this thing be killed most effectively?", we feel for Louis when he tortures himself with the fear of being damned. In this thesis, first of all the question if a vampire can still be read as a person will be considered. Since moral rules are generally applicable to living persons only, this question is immensely important in order to find out if Rice's protagonists are morally obliged to live according to legal laws.

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Christina Beyer

Morality and the Construction of Religion in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles"




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The representation of otherness in the Vampire Chronicles

The Vampire and the moral community

The rules of the vampire community

A comparison of two moral extremes – Louis and Lestat

Louis – consequences of a religious upbringing

Lestat – Psychopath or Übermensch?

Lestat and the French Enlightenment



Conventions and Genres of Vampire Fiction

Analysis of Rice’s characters

Akasha and Enkil

Marius and Pandora

Cult religion vs. text-based religion




Impressum neobooks






“There is a reason that all things are as they are, and did you see with my eyes and know with my knowledge, you would perhaps better understand“ (Stoker 27)

Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles have been a huge success worldwide. Many fans of Vampire Fiction are familiar with the likeable protagonist Louis from her first book Interview with the vampire. The undead nobleman has released a mass production of other vampire tales. The once monstrous vampire has somehow managed to become a desirable and even romantic figure.

Anne Rice is one of the first authors who have chosen to write from a vampire’s perspective. This point of view is often used in contemporary literature and films such as Twilight or The Vampire Diaries. With a changed perspective on the fictional figure of the vampire, new questions arise with which the reader has not yet been confronted. Taking into account that there are masses of stories on the market at the moment, the figure of the morally aware vampire confronts us with the question why ethical matters are important to something that represents otherness.

Having completed the transformation from one species to another, laws are no longer applicable. Therefore, the vampire finds himself in a constant struggle with morality, due to his previous human life in which he was part of a moral community.

Therefore, the otherness of this being will be compared to society. In order to do that, an insight into the Monster theory by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen will be provided in this work. Since Rice is one of the first writers to make an attempt to change the perspective and let the monster become the protagonist, it is relevant to ask if the first person narration can take away “the otherness“ of the vampire.

In this thesis, first of all the question if a vampire can still be read as a person will be considered. Since moral rules are generally applicable to living persons only, this question is immensely important in order to find out if Rice’s protagonists are morally obliged to live according to legal laws. This question will be answered by a short portrayal of an essay by Nicholas Michaud who asks Can a vampire be a person. Only if this question can be answered positively, the vampire is obliged to live according to moral standards. Otherwise, human rules are no longer relevant.

In that case, it may be important to ask if there are other rules which are relevant for the vampire species. These can be found in Rice’s third novel The Queen of the Damned.

Having set a frame for similarities and differences regarding human society, the characters of Louis and Lestat will be examined in more detail. Here, it is striking that a different kind of upbringing, as well as opposed personalities lead to a perception of morality that could not be more different.

Louis shows a very strong sense of morality and finds himself in a constant struggle with his vampire nature and his concept of goodness. In order to understand why it is so important for him to hold on to humanity, the influence of the church will be regarded in detail. Taking into consideration the importance of religion and the ethics that arise from the Christian believe will help to explain his suffering. At this point, the previously asked question of a possible personhood will become important again, because if a vampire is part of a moral community, he also has to fear the existence of God. Interview with the Vampire is partly concerned with this question in order to find out if damnation is to be feared or not.

Opposed to the sensitive protagonist, we find a different outlook on life in Lestat. Having been fond of killing wolves during his short life time, the act of killing comes much more naturally to him. Also, he is able to see the advantages in his new strengths. Therefore, both characters complete the portrayal of Anne Rice’s vampires.

Regarding the character of Lestat, it will also be interesting to take some of Nietzsche’s works into consideration. Taking a closer look at the way he chooses to live, Lestat is exactly what Nietzsche had in mind when he wrote about the Übermensch. From this point of view, Lestat is not only free of a guilty conscience about his “sins“, instead he represents a moral ideal by living according to his supreme nature. Rice therefore gives at least two possible views on a killing supernatural being. On the one hand, he is damned to wait for eternal punishment for his sins, on the other hand he can be regarded as an advanced superior being that is able to free itself from the restrictions of the human society.

The representation of otherness in the Vampire Chronicles

One of the reasons why the Vampire has undergone extreme changes can easily be found: The perspective has changed. Whereas in former times Dracula was presented as a deathly threat to anyone who encountered him, Anne Rice gave the vampire a platform to expose his own perception of (after-)life. Having done that, the reader is now confronted with different questions. Instead of asking “How can this thing be killed most effectively?“, we feel for Louis when he tortures himself with the fear of being damned.

Even with a changed perspective the vampire stays a monster. His well-being heavily depends on the misfortune of others. It is impossible for Rice’s vampires not to act on their inner drive to kill. Considering this aspect, in combination with their physical appearance, which is very similar to that of a human, but still somehow different (extremely pale skin, visible veins), it is therefore impossible not to categorize these vampires as monsters.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen‘s attempt is to understand culture through its monsters (Cohen 4). His first thesis is that the monster’s body represents a cultural body. As a metaphoric being, it represents cultural moments which say more about the contemporary Zeitgeist than about the being itself. Cohen states: “The monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy (...), giving them life and an uncanny independence.“ This uncanniness has a reason: Since the monster always manages to escape, the potential victim can never be sure when and where it might encounter it the next time. All that is left of it are remains that are hardly enough to even count as evidence for his existence (Cohen 4). So, on top of the uncertainty of the next appearance, there is the vague idea that the monster does not exist at all. This idea is emphasized by the human looking appearance that Rice’s vampires have. Hardly distinguishable from anyone else, the fear of a sudden reappearance of evil is always there. Lestat is aware of that phenomenon. “Try to see the evil that I am. I stalk the world in mortal dress. – the worst of fiends, the monster who looks exactly like everyone else.“ (The Vampire Chronicles Collection 651)

However, having changed the perspective, Anne Rice also gives a reason for the vampire to stay hidden. Since he is vulnerable at daytime, it is best not to reveal his true identity. Therefore, the vampire is not only a threat to others, but also has to fear his own discovery, since he himself is vulnerable.

Moreover, Cohen points out that the time of the monster’s occurrence plays an important role: “Because of its ontological liminality, the monster notoriously appears at times of crisis as a kind of third term that problematizes the clash of extremes – as “that which questions binary thinking and introduces a crisis.““ (Cohen 6)

The chronicles begin in the 18th century, a time in which dramatic changes in society introduced a new epoch, which must have been a challenge for contempories. (These changes had to do with the occurrence of the French Enlightenment, which will be examined in a later chapter in this thesis). Therefore, the crisis itself requires rethinking the conceptions of boundary and normality (Cohen 6). This aspect is exactly what Lestat is concerned with throughout the chronicles. In a long conversation he explains to the older vampires that the world has changed and that therefore the definitions of good and evil have changed, as well. “Don’t you see?“ (...) “It is a new age. It requires a new evil. And I am that new evil. (...) I am the vampire for these times.“ (The Vampire Chronicles Collection 651)

Cohen discovers that the monster is “difference made flesh“ (Cohen 7). Therefore, it represents the personification of otherness, an “incorporation of the Outside, the Beyond“. These differences tend to indicate political, racial, economic and sexual changes in culture. Keeping that in mind, it might be interesting to think about Lestat’s perception of the world, since he is this personified otherness that Cohen talks about (Cohen 7), not only due to his vampire nature, but also because of his very unique way of thinking. Lestat does not have any concept of religious or moral ideals. More than anything, he trusts his instincts and realizes that moral standards change over time.

Taking into account the boarders crossed by the monster mentioned already, Cohen’s fifths statement that the monster’s intention is to cross boarders of the possible does not come as a surprise (Cohen 12). “The monster stands as a warning against exploration of its uncertain demesnes.“ (Cohen 12) The message behind the monster’s ability to cross boarders is, according to Cohen, that “curiosity is more often punished than rewarded.“ (Cohen 12)

“(...) one is better off safely contained within one’s own domestic sphere than abroad, away from the watchful eyes of the state. The monster prevents mobility (intellectual, geographic, or sexual), delimiting the social spaces through which private bodies may move. To step outside this official geography is to risk attack by some monstrous border patrol or (worse) to become monstrous oneself.“ (Cohen 12)

As an example, the monster’s sexuality represents something forbidden that would not be permitted in society (Cohen 14). As we can see in the Vampire Chronicles, homosexuality is not portrayed as a problem, but instead taken for granted. Still, taking into account that the gay protagonists are representatives of otherness, it is questionable if this portrait of a gay relationship is beneficial. George Haggerty is very critical of that representation of queer culture for various reasons:

“The vampire represents the return of the repressed in a culturally significant way: both inside culture and outside, both a charmingly honest man and a wickedly deceptive one, both the phallic aggressor and the always already penetrated one, the vampire represents everything that the culture desires and everything that it fears.“ (Haggerty 9)

Having in mind that the vampire represents otherness, the outsider who is an outcast of society, he has enough reasons as a homosexual man to feel more offended by the portrayal of a gay relationship than to be glad about seeing a minority presented in Rice’s books. The naturalness in which the relationship of Louis and Lestat is narrated in the books might strike the reader as something very positive at first sight. But Haggerty has his doubts.

“For those of us who are gay, it may seem almost too good to be true that these queer figures go down so well, that they leap out of their darkened hiding places into the hearts of millions. I argue that it is too good to be true. I think Rice's vampires express our culture's secret desire for and secret fear of the gay man; the need to fly with him beyond the confines of heterosexual convention and bourgeois family life to an exploration of unauthorized desires, and at the same time to taste his body and his blood; to see him bleed and watch him succumb to death-in-life.“ (Haggerty 6)

The vampire, as mentioned previously, is everything that does not fit into main society. Therefore, the gay monster shows the reader what he should stay away from by his actions and desires. Just like killing is an obvious uncanny crime, being gay contains that very same uncanniness when being performed by a monster. Society has its boundaries and it may appear to be safe to stay within these limitations, yet at times it can be very alluring to overstep them (Haggerty 7-8). Another point that Haggerty is very critical about is that the vampire is not alive anymore. For him, his undead existence is a simulation of life, instead of a real one (Haggerty 9). This simulation of life is why a homosexual relationship could therefore be interpreted as a simulation of a heterosexual connection. It is obvious that this idea can be understood as offense.

Gail Abbott Zimmermann sees a parallel between homosexuality and standing outside society, as well.

“Homosexuals have also found gay allegory in the “outsider“ theme that is so central to The Vampire Chronicles. By nature, Rice’s vampires are unable to conform to social norms. Louis and Claudia search the world for a community that will accept them as they are, a yearning that all outsiders can easily understand. Yet, outsiders also represent the lure of exploring unknown territory. They are intriguing strangers who symbolize the seductive power of new possibilities.“ (Zimmermann, Anne Rice Reader 103)

Yet, it is not homosexuality alone that makes Rice’s vampires to outsiders. Even though their supernatural abilities make them superior to the average mortal, these powers are something that sets them apart even more. This can be seen by the act of recreation, which is in most cases one with an unhappy outcome. Louis despises Lestat as soon as he becomes a vampire and Lestat has enough reason to be appalled by the way he is turned into a vampire and then left by his maker Magnus. The role of a guardian is later taken on by Marius, who introduces Lestat to vampire secrets. As Marius explains later on, the relationship between the one who makes a vampire and the new fledgling is supposed to be a very complicated one by nature. “We used to say it was Satan’s will, that the master and the fledgling not seek comfort in each other. It was Satan who had to be served, after all.“ (The Vampire Chronicles Collection 677)

Furthermore, he says: “They never satisfy you, the ones you make. In silence the estrangement and the resentment only grow.“ (The Vampire Chronicles Collection 677) The estrangement that follows the performance of the Dark Trick, how the creation of a new vampire is called in the book, gives Haggerty another reason to complain about the depiction of gay relationships.

“(...) they (the vampires) avoid the kinds of commitments that make human beings human; they betray human relations with the kiss of everlasting life that is death itself; they slip among, between, even within ordinary mortals and bring them grief. Their pleasure is finally narcissistic, and narcissism is performed with abandon throughout these texts.“ (Haggerty 14) Therefore, narcissism can also account for something that separates the monster from normality. (Haggerty 14)

A different perception of Rice’s recreation process is given by Sandra Tomc. She focuses on the absence of female characters in the novels. For her, the creation of a new vampire type represents a process of liberation (Whether sexual, gay, or women’s) (Tomc 96). Tomc sees in the male – male relationship a sign of equality between two beings (Tomc 97). Still, their ability to recreate life is striking for the needlessness of femininity in Interview with the Vampire. Being able to create new vampires without the need of a woman emphasizes the variety of roles that Rice’s vampires can play (Tomc 99).

“When Louis and Lestat make a vampire out of Claudia, they do so quite literally over her mother’s dead body. Discovering the still human little girl alone in a house and crying over the corpse of her mother, Louis is at first aware of some mysterious and powerful maternal power that emanates from the mother and challenges his own claims to Claudia. But this “natural“ maternity is soon exposed as the inferior stuff of mortal frailty.“ (Tomc 98) This obvious unnecessariness of female characters shows how many roles can be played by just one of Rice’s characters. They can be lover, father and son at the same time, without contradictions (Tomc 99).

By receiving an insight into the possible roles a vampire can play in Rice’s novels, we get an idea of what life is like for this strange creation. The detailed description of their superiority and inner conflicts takes away the estrangement that usually comes along with the otherness of the monster. The reversed point of view and the revelation of vampire secrets take away an uncanny feeling that may have been created in other stories such as Dracula. Still, the otherness of the monster does not vanish just by being mentioned. Instead, since attributes of the vampire are known, now the vague feeling of being threatened by something unknown is confirmed.

The vampire crosses boarders of the possible by feeding on blood and surviving death and – as a consequence – his own times. Also, he crosses boundaries of the possibilities of society by living out desires of a different lifestyle. The alternative family formation of Louis, Lestat and Claudia is only one example for that. This double transcendence of boundaries is exactly what creates the otherness in Rice’s novels, and by having different concepts of life outside of a general society, human moral standards also vary, since they are no longer applicable to something that stands as a representative of otherness, such as Louis or Lestat.

Therefore, if the vampire is portrayed as the counterpart to what is considered to be normal, is it possible for him to still be part of a community and to live according to moral standards? As shown previously, with the otherness of the vampire, the outlook on society and moral standards inevitably changes. To be able to judge Louis for the conflict he experiences between his actions and his beliefs, the first thing that needs to be done is to have a closer look on the question if human morality is applicable to someone who is (no longer) human. In order to do that, it is helpful to take a closer look at how personhood can be defined. Having answered this question, it is important to see what is necessary to be part of a moral community.

The Vampire and the moral community

At this point, a short explanation on how philosophers such as Immanuel Kant or David Hume define the importance to form social groups and in how far this is important for defining moral rights will be given. Portraying these philosophical ideas will allow to see if the vampire can be regarded as part of a moral community or not and what consequences follow in either case.