“Interview With The Vampire”: Evil, remorse, and allegory

“Interview With The Vampire”:

I severely underestimated the impact of  “Interview With The Vampire.” Anne Rice’s debut novel has become something of a literary touchstone since its publication in the late 1970s. Without a doubt, it redefined the paranormal genre by showing its capacity to be serious, and certainly changed the perception of literary vampires from being humanoid monsters to being reflections of humanity’s monstrosity. While initially rejected from numerous publishing houses and widely panned by critics, “Interview With The Vampire” was a success with the general public. It still took nearly twenty years for the first movie incarnation of the book to get made– this was due to production problems and social taboos surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic– but the book has remained relevant and steadfastly loved by a wide audience. I imagine this will only be catapulted by the recent release of AMC’s television series adaptation of the novel.

Despite the aura surrounding Rice’s novel, and the fact that my family owns a copy of this book, I dragged my feet to start reading it. There wasn’t a specific reason for this, just vague disinterest in stories about vampires. Having watched the Bella Lugosi Dracula movie as a kid (which I love and have fond memories of), and then being forced to watch all five Twilight movies successively (which I regret to say still live in my head), I was content to call my pop culture vampire experience complete. Rice’s work has changed that completely.

“Interview With The Vampire” uses the framing device of an interview to tell the life story of Louis de Pointe du Lac, a young man who was turned into a vampire in the late 1800s. Some of Louis’ life pre-vampirism is discussed, but the bulk of the story is that of Louis’ relationship with the vampire who made him– Lestat– and the obsessive, dysfunctional family they make together, which eventually includes the child vampire, Claudia.

“Interview With The Vampire” became the first book in Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Chronicles” series.

The immediate conflict of the novel is that of vampirism vs. humanity and man vs. self. “Interview With The Vampire” provides no ‘gentle vampires’ who restrain their nature for the betterment of humanity, nor are there characters without complicated motivations and actions. Vampirism does not make people evil, but it does exacerbate their worst tendencies. Rather than explore the loss of humanity as a result of monsterhood, Rice uses the figure of the vampire to examine the worst parts of human nature.

The stage for this examination is set before Louis himself even becomes a vampire. Exposition shows Louis to be a prominent man in New Orleans whose family has made their money on plantations. He himself is a slave owner, but Louis has so far removed himself from the nature of his wealth that it doesn’t concern him. Louis’ detachment is a product of racism and apathy. Human life feels so meaningless and lethargic that he gives no weight or importance to the lives of others. He doesn’t even consider his own life to be consequential, rather sees it as an opportunity to wallow in self-pitying existentialism. 

Rice does not shy-away from exposing the casual awfulness of her own characters. She does not try to redeem them, nor does she make excuses for their behavior. Instead, she lays bare their actions, presents the situation, and gives the audience space to judge. Unlike many novels, the main character is not spared from this treatment either. Simply being the center of the story does not make Louis righteous or exempt from criticism. He is callous towards human life, unaware, and plays into a system of racial abuse and oppression without care. 

It is only after turning into a vampire that Louis becomes aware of the sanctity of human life. When he is forced to hunt and kill like a predatory animal, Louis comes to abhor his own nature, yet he continues to kill. This is taken in direct contrast to Lestat, who indulges in the more horrific aspects of being a vampire. Lestat kills multiple times each night; he scares his victims first; he stalks them through the streets. Lestat is more objectively cruel, yet he and Louis engage in the same kind of evil– the only difference is the enjoyment they get out of it.

This is a central theme to the pair’s relationship. Louis finds Lestat increasingly deranged while Lestat finds Louis falsely apologetic. If the nature of their being is to be evil, why pretend to be anything else? In creating this dichotomy between the characters, Rice effectively forces the audience to decide if remorse absolves someone of their guilt.

If Louis kills but feels bad afterwards, does that make him less evil than Lestat? Or is it better to not make excuses for bad behavior if there’s no intention of changing it? 

“Interview With The Vampire” does not answer these questions, but because of the rich character portraits it draws, the audience’s view of evil is impacted by the story itself. When Louis is at his most self-indulgent, it’s easier to take Lestat’s side because he’s self-aware. Yet, at Lestat’s utmost viciousness, it’s natural to take Louis’ side because he still retains a semblance of human emotion. It’s a question that goes beyond their nature and speaks more to human nature: Can I be forgiven of my mistakes if I realize I’ve made them? However, there are no external answers. The reader must answer them internally.

Beyond questions of morality, Louis and Lestat’s relationship also serves as a confrontation of personal identity. There are undeniable parallels between Louis’ transition to vampirism and the experience of coming-out.

Louis is a listless young man who quickly falls into a friendship with the charismatic Lestat. Despite the restrictive society around them, Lestat has a large amount of personal pride and is happy with his identity. Through Lestat, Louis finds himself growing bolder, but also grows less enamored with Lestat as the flaws in his behavior become more apparent. However, Louis does not feel safe leaving Lestat. Louis doesn’t know anyone else in their community, or the rules of being a part of the community. Lestat has connections and controls all of Louis’ access to others like him.

In this way, Louis’ self-actualization represents not only taking back power from those who abuse it, but taking control of one’s own identity and accepting it. Louis must stop fighting with himself before he can be at peace. It takes time (over 100 years), but eventually, Louis does accept and find an uneasy rest.

This is the enduring legacy and appeal of “Interview With The Vampire.” For all its Gothic atmosphere, skin-crawling tension, and literary inventiveness, the triumph of the novel is its ability to allow the audience to project. The audience places their fears and struggles and anxieties upon the character of Louis (and to a lesser extent, Lestat) and through the narrative, allow themselves to confront the parts of themselves they feel uncertain about. 

It’s a challenging read because it doesn’t let you look away from the personal scrutiny, and it’s a cathartic read because it doesn’t shy away from the discomfort that comes with self-discovery.

It’s powerful because it tackles these questions of morals and identity head on, and it continues to endure because its emotional relevance shines through. 

9.5/10 would be conflicted about the undead again 

Further Breakdown:

Writing Quality:9/10            Enjoyability: 9/10

Pace: 9/10                               Visual elements: N/A

Plot development: 9/10        Insightfulness: 9/10 

Characters: 10/10