In 1969, Anne Rice sat down to write a story about a vampire called “Interview With The Vampire.” But once the story was done, the character would not leave her, and she went back, rewriting and expanding the short story into a novel she finished in January of 1974. The novel explores the meaning of evil in the world through the thoughts of Louis, a moral vampire struggling with the evil of his existence.
Interview With The Vampire opens as a young man begins to interview an older man named Louis de Pointe du Lac. Louis claims to be a vampire, and at first the interviewer assumes that he is just one of San Francisco’s more colorful street people. But as the Louis’s story unfolds, the interviewer becomes both fearful and fascinated, realizing that Louis truly is a vampire who is telling his life story to warn others of the seductive power of evil and immortality. The interviewer listens through the night as Louis tells him of Lestat, his unholy vampire partner, and of Claudia, the vampire child they created together. It is a tale of guilt, terror, betrayal, death, and above all, terrible isolation, and yet at the end, seduced by the power and the romance of the story, the interviewer begs Louis to make him a vampire, too. This becomes Louis’s last defeat. Not even when he tells all the horrors that have been his life can he destroy the lure of immortality. He leaves the interviewer who, as the story closes, makes plans to follow him to learn the last of his secrets. (Note: Although Anne Rice has made it very clear that the movie version of Interview with the Vampire captures the spirit of her book, there are many significant differences between the book and the movie. This chapter discusses the book only.)
Point of View
One of the most interesting things about Interview With The Vampire is the way Anne Rice has worked with point of view. Point of view refers to the person through whose eyes (or from whose point of view) the reader sees the story. That person is called the narrator because she or he narrates or tells the story. There are many kinds of point of view, but three are the most common.
First person point of view is the easiest to identify because the narrator uses the first person pronoun “I” when she or he tells the story. If a story begins “I am the vampire Lestat,” the reader knows the story is going to be in first person because the narrator uses the pronoun “I” even though he’s not reporting dialogue. First person point of view is an intimate way of presenting a story because the narrator is part of the story, telling the reader directly about events that happened in her or his past. Rice’s later book, The Vampire Lestat, is told in first person point of view (For more information on first person point of view, see “Point of View” in Chapter Four.).
Third person point of view uses the third person “she” or “he” to identify the narrator. Third person is much more distant than first person because it tells a story about events that happened to other people through a voice that is not part of the story. But third person point of view can do things that first person point of view cannot because of that distance. A story that begins “The boy watched the vampire in the dim light. He could see the furnishings of the room more clearly now” is in third person point of view because the narrator uses “he” instead of “I.”
There are two kinds of third person point of view. Third person omniscient means “all-knowing,” so in this point of view, the narrator, who is not part of the story, knows what everyone is thinking and everything that is going to happen, and tells it all to the reader. It’s a very distant point of view, so most writers prefer to use third person limited, which uses the “she” or “he” pronoun, but the narrator concentrates on seeing the story through one person’s eyes, just as in first person. The narrator tells the reader everything that the he or she sees, thinks, feels, and does, but only reports what the other characters do or say that can be observed or heard by the narrator. This does not necessarily mean that the narrator is the main character in the story. While some third person point of view characters are indeed the centers of their stories, others are observer characters, characters who watch and comment while the main characters in the story act out their parts. Interview With The Vampire opens with a third person limited point of view using an observer narrator.
What difference does point of view make? For an author, it’s one of the most important choices about telling the story. A first person narrator puts the reader into the action but requires that the author report all events from the narrator’s experience and in the narrator’s voice. A third person limited narrator distances the reader from the story, but allows the author more freedom to use a more authoritative voice and to make more detailed descriptions of actions and their meanings. Many novels switch point of view characters from scene to scene, a technique that is usually too confusing to attempt with first person narrators but that can work very well with third person narrators. (Rice switches viewpoints in The Queen of the Damned, The Mummy, and all of the Witches Chronicles, so for a further discussion of multiple points of view, see “Point of View” in Chapters Five and Eight through Eleven.) The point of view choice the writer makes, then, is the voice that is best for the kind of story she or he has to tell.
In Interview with Vampire, Anne Rice had a tough point of view choice to make. She wanted to tell the story of the intense emotional longings of a moral being after two hundred years as a vampire. Louis’s story was not interesting to Rice simply because he sucked blood to survive. What fascinated Rice about the character of Louis was that after all those years as an immortal, he still retained his humanity and his anguish at what he had become. Given her interest in Louis’s psychology and inner torment, first person point of view would seem to be Rice’s logical choice because it would put the reader in Louis’s mind to suffer the torment with him.
But Rice also wanted the reader to feel the seductive pull of the vampire, to see him as The Other, someone who is different from the “normal” people in society, a tragic outcast, inhuman and beautiful. To do that, she needed the distance of a third person observer narrator. A third person narrator who was a “normal” person could see and describe not only the alluring way Louis looked and moved, but also the emotional pull of his story on those he met. In other words, Rice needed to show both points of view so that the reader understood the agony of being a vampire completely and yet was as drawn to it as the interviewer in the story.
Needing both, Rice chose to have her literary cake and eat it, too. The beginning of the story is told in third person observer point of view through the eyes of the young man who has asked to interview the vampire. This interviewer is like the reader in every way, ignorant of the ways of the vampire, fascinated by and fearful of the dark figure before him, and finally seduced into the lure of The Other. As the interviewer observes Louis’s agony from a distance, the vampire becomes a real physical presence, and the reader listens and is seduced into the vampire’s story along with the interviewer.
But the interviewer’s role in the story–and the story that the interviewer actually takes part in–is only a fraction of Interview . The majority of the story is Louis’s, and he tells it to the interviewer as a first person narrator. That is, most of this story is Louis telling his story using “I” as his pronoun. This means that the readers gets to participate in Louis’s agony, becoming one with Louis as the “I” narrator.
So Rice has surrounded Louis’s intimate first person story with the interviewer’s distant third person limited observer frame story, thereby getting the benefits of both points of view. However, the technical answer to “what point of view is Interview with Vampire told in?” is third person limited because the story begins and ends with the interviewer–and the reader–watching and listening to the vampire.
The Protagonist and the Character-Driven Plot
The correct choice of point of view is not enough to pull the reader into the story. For that, the best plots begin with character, and the simplest definition of a character-driven plot is the sequence of events caused by a character who needs something and can’t get it. The character who needs something and who is at the center of the book is called the protagonist (pro = for). The protagonist’s need is called the goal. The character or force (nature, society, the government) that keeps the protagonist from getting the goal is called the antagonist (anti = against). In the best plots, the antagonist is as strong or stronger that the protagonist in order to set up a strong conflict. The struggle of the protagonist and the antagonist toward their final battle becomes the plot, and the question of the outcome of what they’re struggling for becomes the central question. In a character-driven plot, the central question always has tremendous impact on the character of the protagonist because it tests her or his identity, that is, her or his concept of who she or he really is. As the protagonist struggles with the antagonist to achieve the goal and protect her or his identity, the character learns and grows because of the events of the struggle
For example, if Indiana Jones is struggling with the Nazis to gain possession of the Ark of the Covenant, then the protagonist is Jones, the goal is the ark, the antagonist is the Nazis (very strong opponents), and the central question is “Will Indiana Jones get the Ark?” And this question has tremendous impact on the character of the protagonist Jones because he sees himself (his identity) not only as a great archeologist but also as a hero and savior, so if he fails to save the ark, his idea of who he is will be shattered. Jones’s struggles force him to take greater and greater risks and to rely on other people, and each event in the conflict between him and the antagonist causes his character to grow as he tries to save both the Ark and his identity as a hero. Those struggles form a character-driven plot.
This same kind of analysis explains what is happening in the third-person point of view plot that begins Interview. The protagonist is Louis, his goal is to tell his story, and his antagonist is the young man who has asked to interview him. At first glance, the interviewer doesn’t seem possible as a source of struggle and conflict because he fears, admires and respects Louis and spends the majority of the book listening to him and recording his story. But an antagonist doesn’t have to try to stop or hurt the protagonist in order to cause conflict. In Interview, the interviewer asks questions that are at first skeptical and then later curious about Louis’s life as a vampire. This makes him a strong antagonist becomes he becomes deeply interested in the vampire life, and every one of the questions sends Louis deeper into his confession of his sins and makes Louis try harder to explain the terrible aspects of the immortal vampire life and causes him more anguish. This means that the central question is “Will Louis convince the interviewer of the ultimate agony of being a vampire?” And this event has impact on Louis’s character because he desperately wants to see himself (his identity) as a moral person even though he is a vampire, and so he wants to warn the interviewer and other mortals of the perils so that they don’t fall as he did. But even as Louis explains his life in order to repel his listener, the interviewer falls more and more under his spell until at the end, he is completely won over. When the interviewer demands, “Make me a vampire now!” the central question is answered–no, Louis won’t succeed–and Louis is left feeling evil and damned once again, doubting his identity as a good, moral being. This last brief conflict underscores the isolation of Louis’s life as a vampire–no one understands his anguish–and closes the story even though the interviewer leaves at the end to search for Louis, still unsatisfied.
But the plot of Louis’s struggle with the interviewer does not show Louis’s character completely. For a fuller development of Louis’s character, the reader must turn to the story that Louis tells the interviewer, the second plot of the book. In this story, the protagonist is Louis, Louis’s goal is peace of mind and understanding of the thing that he has become, and the antagonist is Lestat, the vampire who made him and who tries to control him by luring him to surrender fully to his vampire nature. Since Lestat is both powerful and seductive, he makes a wonderfully strong opponent. The central question is “Will Louis free himself from Lestat and find peace and self-knowledge?” The central question is important because Louis’s struggles to answer it and retain his identity as a moral being force his character to grow throughout the story and make him an interesting character .
Louis’s character development begins with a major trauma in his life when he denies his brother something he needs spiritually, and his brother dies either by suicide or accident. This conflicts with Louis’s identity as a good brother and a good human being because he feels the tragedy was caused by his inability to accept the idea of a spiritual world. Half mad with grief and guilt, unsure of who he is, Louis stumbles into the second trauma of his life: Lestat the vampire, who takes his blood and leaves him weakened to the point of death. When Lestat returns and explains how much above all human things the life of a vampire is, Louis sees him as the representation of the supernatural that he could not accept in his brother and also sees in him a way to reject all the petty distractions of the world that blinded him to his brother’s needs. The answer to his anguish seems clear: he will become a vampire and cast off all human things (and his identity as a human being), which will also release him from the agony of guilt he can’t escape as a human. Louis is motivated or given reason to act by the needs of his character, and by acting begins his own character growth by choosing to become a vampire. At this point, Louis’s character is fascinating: active, involved and emotional. Even more important, his actions, which are motivated by his character needs, drive his plot.
External and Internal Conflict
Conflict in fiction also comes from character, both the external conflict in the real, physical world and the internal conflict of the mind. Louis’s conflict escalates when he realizes that he’s made a terrible mistake. He’s a vampire, but he still has human feelings and he still clings to his human identity which means that he is now in a hell of his own making. Louis’s choice of his own destruction is important. If Lestat had forced him into vampirism, Louis would be a victim, caught in the hands of fate, and his only conflict would be external, the physical struggle between him and Lestat. By choosing his own damnation, Louis becomes an active character with an internal conflict caused by his own actions. Louis’s internal conflict is that he’s a vampire and must drink blood and take human lives even though he still sees himself as a moral human being. This internal conflict makes Louis seem like a psychologically true character because he acts the way a “real” person would act. But his external conflicts are important, too. Louis’s resistance causes Lestat to try even harder to make him completely a vampire, and their external battles form the most exciting parts of the book. This combination of both internal and external struggles makes for fully developed characters.
As the story unwinds, most of Louis’s conflicts become internal and dwell on the struggle between his fading human morality and the strong pull of his new vampire nature. The problem here is that his internal struggles make him appear passive, refusing to begin external actions himself, always reacting to the demands of others. A lot of Louis’s story time in Interview is spent sitting and thinking in anguish that eventually begins to sound like whining. Eternally questioning his own existence, he shouts to the human woman he could have loved, “What am I? I am to live to the end of the world and I don’t even know what I am!” but he allows himself to be driven by Lestat rather than to aggressively seek out the answers he needs (70). His passivity and hopelessness bring him further into Lestat’s power when he finds the child Claudia crying beside her dead mother and feels human pity for her. But Louis’s character is so passive that he does not act to save her but instead sinks again into internal despair, deciding that he is forever damned, which leads him to give up and drink from her neck, not as an act of aggression but as an act of surrender. This gives Lestat the leverage he needs. He seduces Louis into making Claudia their vampire daughter, a child by blood of both “parents.” After that, Louis cannot leave his Unholy Family and spends the rest of the book following the whims of both Lestat and Claudia. The actions he does take, he only takes when he’s pushed to the wall, and they do not have much impact on his character. Without continued character growth and with most of his conflict internal, Louis often gives up his own story to those characters who are more active and more interesting in their external struggles than he, even though he stays a well-developed character to the end.
One of those characters who is more active and interesting is the second major character in the book, Louis’s antagonist or opponent, Lestat. A hot-headed, greedy, cruel, instinctive vampire, Lestat rages through Louis’s story, fascinating him and repelling him and always watching over him. Lestat’s character growth is revealed gradually as his need for Louis grows. He makes Louis a vampire, he says, because he needs Louis’s money and home, but his ties to Louis soon become more complicated. He jeers at Louis but teaches him what he needs to survive. He does things he knows will repel Louis but leads him to create Claudia, the child vampire, to make a family that will bind Louis to him forever. Lestat does all these things because he has his own character identity to protect: he sees himself as powerful and respected, and his control of Louis and Claudia reinforces that identity. When the other two try to leave, everything that Lestat believes is true about himself is put in jeopardy. His attempts to keep them tied to him are his external conflict, but his emotional panic at losing them is his internal conflict.
Lestat is the perfect antagonist for Louis because his need to control Louis is in absolute opposition to Louis’s need to be free, and the two opposing needs create a wonderfully tight conflict for the story. But their character needs are not the only things about them that are opposites. Lestat’s over-the-top emotions make him a foil for Louis, a contrast figure that heightens Louis’s moody internal character. Louis is tortured by the idea that he has become evil; Lestat shrugs off the question with “Evil is a point of view” (89). Louis clings desperately to the remains of his humanity while Lestat coldly but wisely tells him that he is in despair because he refuses to accept the reality of his vampire nature. Standing beside Lestat, Louis looks much more human than vampire but unfortunately, he also looks much less interesting. Lestat rises much higher in exultation and falls much harder into suffering and degradation at the end and ultimately becomes the more interesting character, the passionate opposite of Louis’s quiet despair.
Even though Lestat is shown as Louis’s opposite here, he is not without emotional growth. Lestat’s fall, in fact, is proof that he has changed from the cold unfeeling creature that he first presented himself as. Destroyed by Claudia’s hatred and need for freedom, Lestat nevertheless comes back to find Louis again and again, literally crawling back from the grave in order to retain the most important relationship of his life. If Louis becomes a vampire through Lestat, Lestat retrieves something of his lost humanity through his ties to Louis, and so at the end, Lestat is a fully dynamic character who has changed greatly and learned much.
The third major character in Interview is the cause of most of that character change. Claudia, the eternally damned child created by both Louis and Lestat, is interesting as a character because she begins with none of the internal moral reservations of Louis. Because she is a child, she feeds when she is hungry without guilt or moral choice, and all her goals are external: she must drink blood and she wants pretty things.. But as time passes and her mind and character develops, Claudia recognizes her growing internal conflict as she yearns for knowledge, freedom, and physical maturity. Claudia can get some of the knowledge she craves from her “parents”–from Lestat she learns the glory of the kill, and from Louis she learns the beauty of life and the questions about their existence–but freedom is a different problem and physical maturity is forever an impossibility. Her frustration sparks the great conflicts that further change her character.
The first of these conflicts is the struggle with Lestat who wants to physically restrain her to keep her and Louis with him, an external conflict that seems great because Lestat is so powerful. But the greatest of her conflicts turns out to be internal: her need to escape emotionally from the passive Louis. She grows strong enough to defeat Lestat and even to plan killing him with great enjoyment, but no matter how strong she grows, she cannot escape from Louis because she loves him and he loves her. He holds her so completely that she cannot even sleep apart from him; when she asks for a coffin of her own, Louis is so distraught that she reverses herself instantly, telling him that she doesn’t want it if it hurts him and that she’ll stay with him always (103). But Claudia’s need for freedom is relentless, and by the time she has spent sixty-five years trapped in the body of a five-year-old, her frustration has led her to ask the first great question of her life: “Which of you made me what I am?” (109).
The answer, that she is a child of both, finally alters her life and her character completely, freeing her from obligation to either of them. “I took your life,” Louis tells her. “He gave it back to you.” And Claudia’s answer is “And I hate you both” (116-17). Claudia takes control and plots freely to kill Lestat, becoming the leader while Louis follows. When she tells Louis they must leave Lestat to find the answers to their questions, Louis tells her that Lestat will never let them go. Instead of agreeing with him as a child would with her father, Claudia smiles self-confidently and says, “Oh . . . really?” and becomes at once an equal to Lestat in strength of purpose and far superior to Louis. At this point in her character development, her battle with Lestat for Louis’s soul is begun and can only have one outcome: the total destruction of one of them. That Claudia is the one who fails is not so much a failure of her spirit which remains unquenched throughout, but a failure of circumstance and knowledge. In the end, Lestat wins because he knows more about vampires than Claudia does. Like so many women in literature, Claudia dies because she lacks knowledge she has sought but been denied. But she dies a fully developed character, even though that character is still trapped in the exquisite body of a five-year-old.
Dynamic and Static Characters
The reason that Louis, Lestat, and Claudia stand out in Interview is that they are dynamic characters who achieve character arc during their struggle, which means that the events of the story have such a strong impact on them that their characters change dramatically by the end of the story. Dynamic characters are fully developed and are so psychologically complex that they are capable of surprising the reader with their different “sides” so that the reader says, “Gee, I hadn’t seen that side of Claudia before.” Dynamic characters drive the plots of their stories with their needs and propel the actions with their problems as they try to satisfy those needs and solve those problems.
But not all characters in a story can be dynamic. Other characters who are identified by one main personality trait and who do not change very much during the course of the story are called static. These static or flat characters never grow or surprise the reader, but they usually play such small roles in the plot that their flatness never becomes a problem. In fact, if they were dynamic characters, they’d probably hurt the story because the details of their characters would mislead the reader into thinking they were about to play more important roles than they were. Most of the vampires’ victims in Interview are static characters because Rice wanted the reader to identify with and sympathize with the vampires, not the victims.
But sometimes quite important characters in a novel can be static, and the interviewer in the frame plot of Interview is one of those characters. Rice left the interviewer undeveloped for two reasons. One is that his character and story are unimportant in the scheme of the book. He is there merely as a ficelle figure, a character the author has provided to ask the right questions so that the main character can be revealed as a fully developed character. The interviewer is in this book for one reason only: to interview Louis and give him a reason to tell his story. In fact, this character doesn’t even get a name in this book, only a function, the interviewer. The other reason Rice left him a flat character is that he acts as an analog character for the reader; that is, he represents the reader in the story. He feels the emotions the reader feels in the beginning, asks the questions the reader wants to ask, and is finally seduced into the story the way the reader is finally seduced into the story. If the interviewer were developed in more detail, it would be harder for the reader to identify with him. As an essentially blank slate possessing only the emotions the reader possesses, he becomes the reader’s place holder in the story. There are many other static characters in Interview With The Vampire, but in the end, like the interviewer, they are all employed to test and illuminate the dynamic characters of Rice’s dynamic Unholy Family, Louis, Lestat, and Claudia.
Plot Development and Structure
The simplest definition of a plot is the sequence of events caused by a protagonist or central character who needs something and is prevented from getting it by an antagonist, the character who opposes her or him. The struggle between the protagonist and the antagonist sets up the central plot question “Will the protagonist get what she or he needs?” And the plot ends when the question is answered.
But plot is much more than just the events of a conflict that answer a central question. A good plot has a clear underlying structure that promises the reader that the author is in control, that all the events she’s telling will combine to make sense and will be causal (one plot event will logically cause the next event), and that these events will build to a final great scene, a climax, in which all questions will be answered. Rice’s structure in Interview, which is both clever and complex, delivers on all these promises.
Rice’s structure can best be analyzed using a plot curve which actually resembles a plot triangle, but which neatly diagrams how a plot moves. The most famous plot triangle is called Freitag’s Pyramid.
The first part of the plot curve is called exposition, but a more modern term might be the set-up. This is life as usual for the protagonist. Things are stable, maybe not great, but calm and safe. Exposition is usually shown as a flat line at the beginning of the diagram. The protagonist of Interview With the Vampire is Louis, and his exposition or set-up is his stable but unhappy life as a mortal riddled with guilt over his brother’s death. At the end of this flat line is a point often called a turning point, when something happens to turn the protagonist in a new direction that leads out of her or his stable life. The turning point is Louis’s meeting with Lestat, who makes him a vampire.
After the turning point, there is rising action (which is why the line in the diagram angles up or rises). The rising action is the struggle between the protagonist and the antagonist which makes the plot more knotted and complicated as the story moves toward the climax. In Louis’s case, the rising action or the knotting is the series of events he creates in his attempts to come to terms with what he is and to free himself from his antagonist, Lestat
At some point in this rising action, the protagonist changes so much in the struggle that she or he is no longer the same person as in the exposition. Usually at this point in the story, there is an act that changes everything which is why it is sometimes called the point of no return because the protagonist is too changed to return to the life she or he once led. The point of no return in Interview is Claudia’s murder of Lestat while Louis watches, paralyzed with horror.
After the point of no return, all the events knotted in the first half of the plot must come undone because once the rising action has reached the climax or final showdown, the story is over. By the time the protagonist meets the antagonist in the climax, most of the questions have been answered except the final great question of whether or not the protagonist will succeed at her or his goal. This climax often involves a recognition on the part of the protagonist. In old plays, the recognition was literal because the protagonist would recognize an enemy or a lover in disguise. In modern fiction, the protagonist is more likely to recognize some realization about himself or others. In Interview, Louis’s last meeting with Lestat helps him recognize that Lestat is not the all-powerful monster Louis had cast him as, and that there are no answers to their questions after all.
After the climax and recognition comes the downward movement of the plot that answers all remaining questions. It’s called the falling action or the denouement (French for “unknotting”), which leads directly to the last flat line of the plot, the resolution, in which the protagonist is once more in a stable situation, although a much different stable situation than the one in which she or he began. Rice’s resolution leaves us with Louis alone, all battles done, facing the world of the night.
Freitag’s Pyramid shows these plot parts, but it puts the climax or most important scene in the center of the story, and most modern authors put their climaxes at the end. Therefore, most modern plots look like lopsided Freitag Pyramids.
But no matter how the plot is diagrammed, the plot parts remain the same. They begin with stable exposition which is broken by a turning point that leads to rising action which finally culminates in a climax and recognition which are swiftly followed by falling action and resolution.
Rice’s plot is a classic plot curve because she balances every aspect of the first half of her plot with a matching aspect in the second half, thus neatly setting up reader expectation in the first and satisfying it in the second. Look at the way Rice’s events knot their way up to the mid-point and then unknot their way down again:
1. Louis fails his brother and is alone.
2. Louis meets Lestat and is made a vampire; tied to Lestat
3. Lestat creates Claudia for Louis
4. Claudia kills Lestat to set them free
3. Lestat causes Claudia’s death by sun
2. Louis frees himself from Lestat
1. Louis turns away from his new brother, Armand, and is alone.
Rice’s plot is beautifully crafted which it needs to be because the narrator of her first person plot (Louis’s story) pursues an abstract goal. What Louis needs is peace of mind, something he’ll never achieve as long as he’s a vampire and something that isn’t clearly achievable through action. Since Louis does not have one clear, compelling external goal from the beginning to the end of his first person story, the reader needs something else to compel her or him through the plot. Rice solves this problem by echoing Louis’s first person conflict in the third person interview plot which frames his life story. In that third person story, Louis does have a clear-cut goal: to tell his tale as a warning to others, specifically to the interviewer who will pass it on to the others. Rice makes this double plot work not only through classic structure but also through the brilliant use of two literary devices, flashback and frame.
Literary Devices: Flashback and Frame
Rice goes beyond the plot analyzed in the Plot Development and Structure section above because she runs a double plot, a first person plot in the past and a third person plot in the present.
Rice’s double plot gives Interview what the Greek philosopher Aristotle called the unities. A good plot, Aristotle said, must be united by a single protagonist with a single problem and be played out in a single time and a single place to illustrate a single theme or idea. But Louis’s life story can’t fit the unities; he rambles all over the world, encountering different problems as he goes, pursuing his internal goal of peace of mind. So Rice imposes the unities on the plot by surrounding Louis’s story with another, this one with a clear goal: Louis wants to confess his sins to a younger human man, thereby achieving at least the temporary peace of telling the story of how evil he is as a warning to others. This story has all of Aristotle’s unities: character (only Louis and the interviewer), problem (vampirism), place (a single room in San Francisco), time (one night), and theme (the lure of evil and immortality). It also poses a strong central question–Will Louis’s story convince the interviewer of the agony and despair of the vampire’s life?–and answers it–No. This unified plot pulls the story together because it begins and ends the book, thus framing the story of Louis’s life which is why this literary device is called a frame.
Another aspect of a good plot is that it takes place in the “now” of the story; that is, the reader reads what’s happening as it happens to the protagonist. Rice’s frame story of Louis and the interviewer takes place in the now of the story. But at times, some characters may need to remember things that are from their pasts. When authors take the story out of the now and into the past, they use a technique called flashback. Flashback literally means that the mind of a character flashes back to the past to pick up a memory that the now of the story has evoked. Flashback is the reason small children don’t touch hot stoves more than once: after the first burn, when they get near something hot, their minds flash back to the original experience and they pull their hands away. In the same way, characters flashback to early memories when they get near something that causes them to remember. And Louis’s reason to remember, the part of the plot that throws him into flashback, is his need to give his warning to the interviewer.
The interesting thing about the structure of Interview is that it is nearly all flashback, all Louis’s life story as it sprawls through time and space. But the flashback is contained and controlled by the frame of Louis, sitting in a darkened room, talking to a writer who has asked to interview him.
Rice extends the frame by dropping pieces of it into Louis’s story now and then to remind the reader that the frame is in place and to pull some of the sprawl of Louis’s tale together. The frame reminds the reader that Louis is telling this story for one single reason, that there is, in fact, one idea driving this plot although it seems to ramble through time. In this way, once again, Rice gets to have her literary cake and eat it, too. She gets Aristotelian unity and epic sprawl, the human Louis and the larger-than-life Louis, all due to her masterful use of literary device and structure.
Theme is the central, underlying idea in a work of art. In literature, theme is often confused with moral, which in Interview With The Vampire would be something like “Don’t hang out with vampires; they’ll bite you and ruin your life.” But most writers aren’t interested in providing their readers with rules to live by. Instead, they’re interested in an idea that seems to them to be true but makes no moral judgment, no decision about good or bad. In the best novels, theme is not obvious, but it’s always present embedded in different aspects of the novel. Some of the aspects to consider when deciding on theme are
- the central plot question
- the protagonist’s internal conflict
- the protagonist’s character growth
- the beginning and ending
- and the title.
Setting: The setting of a story is the time and place in which it happens. In the best stories, setting is so much a part of the plot that the story could not have been set any other time or place. The time of Interview is the late twentieth century so that the reader cannot dismiss the story as myth or legend because it’s happening right now in the cynical, disbelieving light of modern times. And the story takes place in San Francisco, a city noted for its gay population, adding another dimension to the relationship between two men who meet late at night in a bar and who then go to a private room to talk. This setting adds to the idea of the vampire as The Other, an outcast of society, by making a possible reference to the homosexual’s outcast status in our homophobic society. Therefore, the setting seems to imply a concern with the difficulty of acceptance of difference in the twentieth century.
The Central Question: Usually the central question and its answer contain the theme in some way. If the central question is “Will Louis convince the interviewer of the despair of immortality and vampirism?” or, drawing from the first person story, “Will Louis escape the curse of his vampire nature?”, and the answer to both is “No,” then the book becomes a story about the overwhelming power of vampirism and whatever it represents in Rice’s story: evil, passion or our own animal natures.
The Protagonist’s Internal Conflict: Most characters not only have to battle external antagonists, they also have internal struggles as they decide what to do. Louis’s internal struggles are all over his existence as a vampire and the death and destruction he causes and witnesses. This struggle seems to be tied up in both his revulsion for and his fascination with evil, particularly in his quest for the meaning of evil and the meaning of his own existence. But that quest also suggests that what he sees as evil may simply be the darker side of human nature, and therefore that the theme may have to do with Louis’s recognizing a darker side of himself that he must accept to be at peace with himself.
The Protagonist’s Character Growth: By the end of Interview, Louis is stronger, acting on his own without Lestat, and while he is no happier, he seems resigned to his vampire nature. Since Rice appears to present this resignation in a mildly positive way, her theme appears to be tied to the acceptance of one’s own nature, whatever it might be.
The Beginning and Ending: The beginning of a story is important because it hooks the reader into the story by showing the main character and the start of the story problems. The ending is important because it’s the last thing the reader reads, and so it’s the part of the book most likely to be remembered. Therefore, authors often put clues to their themes at the beginning and ending of their stories. Interview begins and ends with a vampire and an interviewer talking about what it means to be a vampire so that the interviewer may be convinced that the life of a vampire is to be avoided. The fact that the interviewer begins a skeptic and ends begging Louis to make him a convert indicates that Rice is writing about the seductive power of evil.
Title: An author’s choice of title (if it’s a good choice) in many ways can be thought of as a mini-synopsis of the book. Think of Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s story of a woman who suddenly loses everything in the Civil War. Think of Raiders of the Lost Ark which not only describes the villainous Nazis who are trying to steal the ark but which also describes the hero who is trying to do the same thing. And now think of Interview With The Vampire which could have been called The Life of Louis or Blood and Death or The Unholy Family. or any number of other names. Rice’s decision to title her book after the main event of the frame story, the interview, puts the emphasis on the central question and answer of the frame story, which is that even after an evening of listening to Louis’s tale of despair, the interviewer still longs to be a vampire. The lure of immortality and power is too strong.
Taking all these things together, it’s possible to develop several themes. One might be that the curse of being the outsider or the Other is that no one can understand the isolation unless he or she is an outsider, too. This cuts off anyone who is Other (like Louis) from being understood by any but his own kind no matter how hard he tries to communicate (as Louis tries to communicate with the interviewer). Another theme might be that the lure of power (immortality) will always overcome the knowledge that the powerful existence is one of isolation and unhappiness. Another might be that, since we can identify with Louis so easily, we are all Others, alone in the night (or as another character says in another of Rice’s novels, “Behold the void”).
Any of these themes are possibilities. There is never any one right answer to the theme of a work of literature because readers bring their own ideas and psychologies to the book and interpret the theme in a way that best suits their own needs. That’s why the determination of theme is almost always a psychological decision, and few novels repay psychological analysis in the way that Interview With The Vampire does. In fact, a psychological analysis of the Interview gives another possible theme hinted at above: that no one is whole until he or she understands and accepts all the aspects of who he or she is, both the good “human” and the bad “vampire” natures.
Author’s Note: The rest of the this chapter, A FREUDIAN READING OF INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, has been deleted to save space. The first chapter, THE LIFE OF ANNE RICE, is available for viewing on Amazon.com.