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‘Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’- Examine how Robert Louis Stevenson presents the theme of evil’
‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, written by Robert Louis Stevenson is a novel that explores the good and evil inside men. This is shown all the way through the book, Jekyll attempting to separate his evil side and unleash him to the world was the first act of evil. The struggle between good and evil is present in the novel, the good being shown in the form of well-respected Doctor Henry Jekyll and the evil being in the form of Edward Hyde. In this novel, Stevenson was trying to show that good and evil are not separate within us but are a combined part of us so instead of trying to split them we should except the unity and only then will we be able to make our good side prevail in the struggle of good and evil.
The historical context is very important in the novel. The whole ‘double existence’ was expected of men in Victorian England, though not quite in the literal sense. It was typical of middle class men in the 19th century to abandon there happy and more adventurous selves and put on a more sensible and repressed self. Jekyll had a desire to physically detach both parts; “man is not truly one, but truly two” this reference goes against what Victorians believed at the time of “a strange case…” publication. During this era the Victorians strongly believed that it was god who created the world and all things that come along with it, they were powerfully religious and were in opposition to anything that suggested otherwise.
When Stevenson was nine years old Charles Darwin’ “origin of species” was published and there was a lot of conflict about what people really believed, people saw it as an attack on religion because the book made it impossible to consider that God created the world in seven days. His parents and his Nanny, both equally influential during his childhood, were strictly religious. They read the bible to him every night and encouraged him to lead a religious lifestyle. Throughout his life, Stevenson suffered from weak lungs. He was told that it was a punishment from God and that he had evil within him. People often avoided or judged him because of it. Many believed that science had become dangerous and was interrupting people from accepting that this was God’ doing. This is what Jekyll does in the novel.
Evil is the main theme in ” a strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” It is presented in different forms during the book. The mention of doors are significant in the novel, The doors used by Jekyll and Hyde are an example of symbolism. In chapter 1 – ‘The story of the door’, Stevenson describes the door used by Hyde. ‘The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained.’. This instantaneously gives the image of someone who doesn’t care about appearance or image.
Mr Hyde using this door shows that he isn’t respectable and he needs to ‘hide’ away. Mr Hyde’s actions are also evil. The first time we hear about him is when we hear of a madman knocking down a small child and walking straight over her. ‘It sounds like nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see. It wasn’t like a man, it was like some damned Juggernaut.’ Hyde wasn’t concerned about who or what he hurt; he didn’t have a morals to speak of. He never felt guilty of his actions and this allowed him to do anything he feels like without any emotional punishment. When he got mad he acted like an ape and quite insanely. ‘And next moment, with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot.”
Stevenson portrays Hyde in highly animalistic terms – short, hairy, and like a troglodyte with gnarled hands and a horrific face. In contrast, Jekyll is described in the most chivalrous terms – tall, refined, polite and honourable, with long elegant fingers and a handsome appearance. Jekyll and Hyde are not the only examples of duality in the novel. The city of London is also portrayed in contrasting terms, as both a foggy, dreary, nightmarish place, and a well kept, bustling centre of commerce. Undeniably men have both positive and negative qualities, so does society. Stevenson places great stress on the dark, dank streets of London in wonderfully descriptive language. For instance, while Poole and Utterson prepare to break down the door of Jekyll’ study, Stevenson writes, “The scud had banked over the moon, and it was now quite dark. The wind, which only broke in puffs and draughts into that deep well of building, tossed the light of the candle to and fro about their steps”. These contrasting ideas are present throughout the novel.
Jekyll’ experiments began in an attempt to separate the two sides of human nature and to destroy the evil one. Jekyll maintained an appearance of good behaviour at all times but no one suspected his true nature which was at times to an extreme contrast of the well known doctor everyone thought he was. He discovered during the last few chapters that the evil part of his nature was natural and in fact part of him; part of the whole. When Jekyll tries to control his evil side, it doesn’t work because when the evil is suppressed it comes back more ‘powerful’ than before. Jekyll starts to change into Hyde without taking the potion. Jekyll is the only person who does not react with horror at Hyde. ‘And yet when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscious of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome.
This, too, was myself.’ He realises that the man staring back at him from the mirror was himself in a different, more evil form. Hyde is gradually taking over and Jekyll is becoming more evil. In chapter 7 we see this happening. Mr Utterson and Mr Enfield are standing below the window where Mr Jekyll is sitting. Suddenly they see something which shocks and scares them; ‘froze the blood of the two gentlemen below. They saw it but for a glimpse for the window was instantly thrust down, but that glimpse had been sufficient.’ This shows that Jekyll’s evil side is increasing with time and starting to control him. It also proves that Jekyll is becoming more dependant on the antidote to stop him turning into Hyde and to keep the evil in check rather than before when he was using it to isolate his evil side.
To summarise these points, I believe that evil gradually increases in power and has greater sometimes gains control over some people. Evil is described as something ugly and outcast, something that should be hidden away but ultimately is something that should be treated with caution and is capable of becoming very powerful. If Jekyll hadn’t gone forward with his plans then all would be well, although he would not be completely happy, he would have remained civilised and his reputation would have still remained.