Would I be a Vampire?
The deeper connotation of the Southern gothic literary style in “Interview with a Vampire”
As a tween during the height of the craze behind the Twilight series as well as growing up watching the television series the Vampire Diaries, I have obtained a mild fascination with vampires and their folklore over the years. I was very excited to read Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire.” Its cover boasts that it is “the spellbinding classic that started it all” and I was curious to discover it for myself.
The novel follows the vampire Louis as he retells his life from human to vampire along with those that he has loved, loathed and lost. Throughout his prolonged existence, he grapples with his sense of self and what he must do to survive. The story’s setting traverses several areas of Louisiana including the bayou, swamp, plantation, and city. The trip’s itinerary perfectly encapsulates the Southern gothic style by allowing us travel in and out of the city to perceive the variety of locations in the novel.
It is the second week of bookpacking and we left the Grand Isle and started our trek to New Orleans with a brief visit to the bayou with the “Cajun Pride Swamp tour.” It very much sets the scene for several scenes in the novel. It provides me with the visual images that are so intricately described in the story, though I don’t always recognize it at the time.
In my case, bookpacking allows for a very reflective experience. At the time we see some of the sites, I do not always understand their relevance, but I go into the situation with an open mind. For example, during the swamp tour, I had not yet reached the portion of the novel where Louis and Claudia attempt to kill Lestat and deposit his body in the bayou, but I was able to understand its pertinence and draw on all that I had seen during the tour. I remember the gators gliding through the water, ordinarily hunters rather than prey, but when Lestat occupied their territory, they became his prey so he could survive. I would not have been able to understand Anne Rice’s vivid descriptions had I not been on the tour. Although it is a clear tourist attraction, its scenery enhanced my experience reading “Interview with the Vampire.”
After we depart the swamp and bayou, we travel to the infamous city of New Orleans. It is different than I expected but beautiful nonetheless. The French inspired architecture of the Garden District and French Quarter make me feel as if I am walking through a different time. The opulent style of architecture makes me very aware that they do not make buildings like that anymore, as made evident by the skyscrapers in the distance that can’t be ignored. I try to imagine a time when skyscrapers had not yet existed and drift into Louis’ mindset as a vampire having seen New Orleans’ metamorphosis. The city is such a beautiful place full of history, mysticism and nostalgia. It doesn’t deny its history and I appreciate that. The same can be said of the Whitney Plantation.
The Whitney Planation is a solemn place not because it is lacking in beauty but because if one did not know their history, the beauty would disguise the atrocities committed there. The tour guides at Whitney Plantation do not allow the beauty to serve as a façade. The group follows our guide Ali in silence, absorbing his every word. He makes sure to emphasize that they are not slaves but rather enslaved peoples. “Slave” is a dehumanizing term and all those who suffered its atrocities deserve an identity rather than being reduced to a piece of property. Human beings are not property and saying “enslaved people” recognizes the historical process and institution of enslaving people.
I very much appreciate their choice of language. The United States is a nation built on the blood of minority groups and people of color and if people do not recognize that, it is a choice that is not only historically illiterate but perpetuating ignorance. Our tour guide Ali points out slavery’s connection to the systemic inequality of today as it exists in the prison industrial complex. His references strongly resonate with me because it very much puts the South in perspective for me and brings a deeper meaning to the Southern gothic style.
As Andrew stated, the Southern gothic style is full of “opulence and a state of decay,” along with more figurative connotations. As Cameryn mentioned in class today, it symbolizes the disempowerment of the power and prestige of the South. Behind all the emotions and prose in Rice’s writing, there are Louis and Lestat, metaphors for deterioration. While Louis’ ideology modernizes, he recognizes what he is and the evil nature within him, Lestat decays, unable to exist in his former “glory” if he does not have someone to subjugate. The ways of the old South could not succeed without the enslavement of African-Americans and the tropes of Southern Gothicism are a metaphor for the decay and disempowerment of this ideology.
So, would I like to be a vampire? Most likely not, an endless existence watching those I love die does not seem like something I would enjoy, but it was a pleasure to live through Louis and understand the metamorphosis of New Orleans. Until next time…