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The famous Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson and has remained popular ever since its publication in 1886. Robert was born in 1850 and was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was brought up a calvalist, however followed the bohemian life style. He married Mrs. Fanny Osbourne in 1880 and supported Priest Dameor who cared for the lepers.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a rich tale of the duality of mankind and how we are in ‘essence creatures created for good’, however in all of us there is the seed to do bad. The moral of the story is an old biblical one that many Christians recite daily in prayer…’Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. This might be one of the reasons Stevenson wrote this book; Jekyll lives a double life of propriety and shame, imprisoned by the moral demands of Victorian society, and so did Stevenson. He too was surrounded by upright, religious and rigid citizens. He was even pressured into studying law at Edinburgh University.
This book was written as a horror story. We know this because of the settings and plot. Stevenson wrote the book at the time of many murders in the east of London and the complete ignoring of social values and heartless deeds committed by Mr Hyde are totally in synch with Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes. Mr Hyde represents the exact opposite of what Victorian gentlemen should act and the savageness of his actions is what made the book so scary back then.
The story takes place in London during the nineteenth century. The central mood of the novel is one of mystery and terror. Stevenson creates dark settings to create a mood of anticipation and mystery. E.g.’ He was aware of an odd, light’. Mr Hyde only comes out in the dark, foggy night, which subsequently makes the reader suspect mainly sinister intentions and automatically informs the reader that there is an expectation of trouble and something threatening, as the dark brings ominous feelings and terror to the reader.
Stevenson changes the weather from regular night to more dark and foggy so that it is almost impossible to see clearly, therefore emphasising the fact through the fog, there is something concealed and surreptitious lurking about which makes the reader feel anxious. Also, he makes the character more evil looking in the dark e.g.’ In the darkness of the night he gave an impression deformity without any namable malformation’. This makes the reader picture a horrific creature that makes them feel defenceless and exposed.
Stevenson describes the fog being broken up as a ‘haggard shaft’. This gives the sense of destructiveness and violence. Also the quote ‘swirling wreaths’ gives the sense of death as wreaths is what is placed on-top of a coffin. Finally Stevenson describes the gloomy avenues as ‘mournful re- invasion of darkness’ which gives the sense of decay and obscurity. All these quotes also make the reader feel uneasy and apprehensive.
The quotes ‘It seems she was romantically given’ and ‘London from all around very silent’ gives an eerie effect and provides a somewhat peaceful response. These quotes are also examples of emotive language, because they give the reader an emotional response.
‘A certain sinister block’ and ‘tramps slouched’ are both examples of figurative language which gives the reader a precise picture of what is in the setting. The quote ‘tramps slouched’ gives us an unpleasant image of what reality was really like for the poor, making the reader feel uncomfortable as well as sympathetic.
As addition to Stevenson using figurative and emotive language, he also uses a wide range of verbs like ‘ragged’ and ‘dingy’ which helps the reader to get a detailed picture of the insecurity and filthiness in which they lived through, and adjectives like ‘ragged children huddled’, which illustrates the fear and torment which even children went through.
The quotes ‘low growl of London’ and ‘city in a nightmare’, all give off the impression that the streets of London at the time were grimy, dangerous, dingy and simply terrifying places to live. Also the word ‘growl’, an example of personification, gives a sense that there is a savage, ruthless and a ferocious monster prowling about London. Finally the metaphor, ‘light of some strange conflagration’, gives a reference hell which makes the reader feel uncomfortable.
Even though there are many quotes referring to the struggles of Victorian society, there are on the other hand several quotes which describe the other side of Victorian society which was entirely different. For example, ‘bachelor house’, ‘close by the fire’ and ‘gratefully to bed’, all give off a cosy, warm, safe and welcoming impression. So yet again we have another contrast of the rich, warm, safe Victorian residence to the poor, insecure and generally tough Victorian slums. This shows that if you were rich you could use the power whatever way you like, however if you were poor, you were trapped in a world of poverty and in a sense of revulsion.
There are three main characters in the novel, Dr Henry Jekyll, Edward Hyde and Mr Utterson.
Dr. Henry Jekyll is a prominent middle- aged doctor and throughout the novel he is physically described as both ‘tall’ and ‘handsome’. He is also extremely wealthy and by all who him, he is described as well respected and proper. For example, Stevenson describes Jekyll as a ‘entertainer’ and a person known for ‘charities’ which gives the impression that Jekyll is a warm, pleasant, middle class gentleman.
In the book, his voice is only heard in the concluding chapter (Henry Jekyll’s full statement of the case), only after being described through the lens of Utterson, Lanyon, Poole and Enfield.
The doctor’s belief that within each Human- being exists two countering forces, good and evil, leads to his experiments to try to separate the two. This however, was not done merely for scientific reasons, but also because he enjoyed escaping the confines of the respectable guise of Dr. Jekyll. The quote which illustrates this is ‘The transformation was succeeded by a sense of joy’. This also suggests that people didn’t know what was right and what was wrong and would do and ask questions later.
Also in the book he is described as ‘less distinguished for religion’, which suggests he too questioned Christianity like many other people of his time. For example, Darwin challenged religion as he came up with the theory that we evolved from monkeys which would mean the world wasn’t made is seven days. Edward Hyde is a ‘small’, ‘deformed’, ‘disgusting’ young man (much younger than Dr Jekyll) that is devoid of an apparent profession. Also the quote ‘deformed’ illustrates that some Victorians disliked and rejected disabled people. Stevenson describes Hyde as ‘callous’ and ‘violent’ and ‘a murderous mixture of timidly and boldness’, which gives the impression Hyde is a fierce, ruthless, brutal monster.
Despite the many descriptions of the horror that Edward Hyde invokes (by Lanyon, Utterson and Enfield), we are never told in detail precisely why or what features are so disgusting to observers, which emphasises the fact the novel was made in the time where phrenology (judging someone by their appearance) was the key to knowing if someone was good or evil.
Hyde is also often compared to animals e.g.’ snarled’, implying that he is not a fully evolved Human- Being. Another factor which suggests he is compared to animals is the fact he only menaces society at night e.g. trampling a girl in the street and murdering Sir Danvers Carew, which relates him to rodents and other nocturnal animals. Finally the quote ‘the man seems hardly human’, illustrates the fact Hyde is not a whole and has something missing…. Good.
Mr Utterson is the narrator of the book and is described as ‘tall’ and ‘loveable’. He is a middle- aged lawyer plus someone that all the characters confide in throughout the novel.
As an old friend of Jekyll, he recognises the changes and strange occurrences that centre around both Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson describes Utterson as a ‘reliable’ and ‘Modest man’ which suggests he is perhaps the most circumspect and respected character in the book; therefore, it is significant that we view the crimes of Hyde through his observant frame. However, when Utterson discovers Hyde’s body in a red cabinet, instead of reporting it to the police he precedes in reading a letter addressed to him, which suggests he is more interested in his social status than solving the mystery.
The quotes ‘his friendship seemed to be founded in a similar catholicity of a good nature’ and ‘his friends were those of his own blood or those who he had seen the longest’, illustrates the fact he is insular, biased and narrow-minded. Knowing this makes the reader question if the story is told accurately and truthfully.
The thing I noticed about this novel is that all the women are either victims or maids. E.g. the girl who got trampled on, the maid who witnessed the murder of Sir Danvers Carew and the house maid. This suggests that the middle class Victorian society were very sexist. However, if a Victorian was to read a modern day horror story, they would probably come up with the same conclusion, as the majority of victims in today’s horror stories are women.
The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is typical of the horror genre as it has many factors in which we would expect to see in a horror story today. For example, the story is mainly set at night, there are victims and most importantly the evil character is punished at the end of the novel.
Mr Utterson is the narrator of the book and we are told the story through his eyes and told as though it’s true. This contributes to the element of suspense as we only know what Utterson knows. Suspense is also built up as Stevenson writes as if there is a final explanation as to whom the mystery figure is but doesn’t let on and instead lets the suspense build. He occasionally allows a small amount of information out just to whet the appetites and keep up an atmosphere of mystery and confusion. For example, at the end of chapter five (Incident of the letter), Utterson says ‘Henry Jekyll forge for a murderer’. Not only does this make you wonder who the murderer is, but it also makes the reader want to read on. This atmosphere, one of controlled suspense, gradual building up of a sense of horror and destruction is achieved through a slow accumulation of unemotional detail, as this leaves the reader wondering what the characters are like and what they might do.
I believe horror stories today do still follow a similar pattern, in the fact people who do bad deeds are usually punished, they are packed with suspense and often include someone trying to solve the mystery or catch the villain or monster, which in our case is Mr Utterson. However, the major difference in more recent examples of the genre is the tendency to locate the monstrous squarely within the normal, rather than presenting it as a threatening creature, such as Mr Hyde and Frankenstein, all made by individuals.
Alfred Hitchcock had in fact changed this direction of the horror genre in 1960 with Psycho; the movie not only presented its most frightening moment, the shower murder, it also suggested that horror resides in everyday life rather than in alternative worlds of the supernatural or the gothic. Finally, the recent so called ‘slice and dice’ films, such as Halloween, and ‘living dead’ movies such as the ‘night of the living dead’ are demonstrations of how contemporary special effects technology can depict increasingly gruesome and imaginative dismemberment and mutilation usually at the expense of character, plot and theme. Even though these are all films, we can still see how there is a greater desire for horror stories which are related to everyday occurrences or objects.
In Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson illustrates the devastating effects of meddling with God’s creation and how our negative and evil desires and urges can overtake our original selves until we lose touch of who we once represented. Furthermore, Dr Jekyll’s desire and addiction to temporarily alter his existence results ultimately in his deadly demise.
Jekyll and Hyde demonstrates how innocent curiosity about the darker sides of our nature can soon get out of hand and how evil is compulsive and how evil can so easily take control of the good. Stevenson has used Jekyll and Hyde to show that everyone has good and evil inside them. He portrays this very well by using the setting to portray good and evil e.g. dingy street and a grand residence. He also makes a very important point which is relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century. This is that bottled antisocialable behaviour can lead to sudden violent outpourings, such as seen in Hyde’s murder of Sir Danvers Carew.
In Victorian society no one questioned God so the idea of something happening which isn’t controlled by God would be unusual. Also electricity had only just been invented so people were quite wary about the things science could do.
I think the main theme in the book is duality and how London is split into good and evil, rich and poor, scientific fact and experimenting new ideas. The final point I wish to mention is how they kept secrets. On the outside people were warm and inviting, however inside, people kept intimate secrets, such as dealing with drugs, alcohol and prostitution. I believe this was probably due to the fact there wasn’t much pleasure in this type of life.
There are many morals included in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; however there are two main morals which stand out, one straight forward moral and a more complex moral. The straight forward moral is that if you do bad deeds you will be punished and also how addiction can lead to violence and how violence can lead to murder. The more complex moral, however is about the appeal of being Mr Hyde. Because Mr Hyde is described and talked about so much, he is probably the most interesting and exciting character in the book, which turns the straight forward moral on it’s head and makes Hyde the most appealing character in the novel.
I believe the relevance of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has changed considerably over the last hundred years. The main difference is that the Victorians saw this book religiously, however now when we read this book we think it’s about personal weakness and how addiction can lead to evil. A Victorian also wouldn’t see the relevance of drugs and alcohol in this book, nor would they understand the relevance of addiction and what effect it has.
Some may say that as humans, we wear masks. Not real masks, but masks that cover up our true personality showing our good side around our friends and our bad side around our family. These are great examples of man’s fight in duality; our good side is always competing against our evil side, resulting in our duality, our fight over good verses evil. In this story, Doctor Jekyll is a regular scientist with the same feelings as every other human being; Mr. Hyde is a manifestation of Doctor Jekyll’s evil side and as a result, he is able to commit murder without any guilt. In the end, the evil manifestation won, taking completely over the Doctor’s body. The fight between good and evil is over!
Finally, I believe the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is about how Dr Jekyll struggles to decide either to do the right thing and be a good citizen, or to do the thing Dr Jekyll desires the most and to be Mr. Hyde which he knows is wrong.