“Dr Jekyll is a victim of his time and deserves our sympathy.” Do you agree? Essay
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Dr. Henry Jekyll was born into an age of respectability, religion, and morality. The Victorians believed in “progress”, self discipline and strict, stern morality. Writers like Samuel Smiles wrote about “Self Help”. The Victorian age was one of polarisation of the lifestyle of the people. There were always two kinds of people, the respectable Jekylls and the destructive and filthy Hydes. “Pleasures” like prostitution and gambling, were frowned on by all of high society. Even so, many respectable people indulged in these activities in secret by night and then by day take part in a communal criticism of these actions.
The Victorians were hideous hypocrites.
Famous people such as Dr. Banardo were biefly suspected of the 1888 Ripper murders. The Victorians had a rigid social structure. There were the middle and upper classes who owned the vast majority of the nation’s wealth. There were the lower classes who often lived in abysmal conditions, meanwhile the rich people lived in luxury. Stevenson was fascinated by this polarisation, this was maybe because his father was a strict Protestant calvinist. In his writing Stevenson highlights the extremes of society because this was something which was a feature of his life, he had been known to be a “slum adventurer”.
Dr. Henry Jekyll held a very high position in Victorian society. However, he was truly a rebellious character who wanted to do exactly as he pleased. It was incredibly difficult for him to do as he liked, because of his high social status. Jekyll created Hyde to let Jekyll be a rebel without the risk of being caught.
At the other end of the spectrum there is Mr. Utterson. He was a lawyer and very respectible, but he does not indulge in “pleasures”. We see that “…though he enjoyed the theatre, [he] had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years”. Mr. Utterson is a vicarious person. In a way, Utterson is the opposite of Jekyll, he constrains himself and ensures his respectibility. Jekyll, on the other hand, wants to have everything, so he creates Hyde. One of Jekyll’s friends was Dr. Lanyon. He was a very conventional doctor, whereas Jekyll was very experimental and inventive in his profession. We see that Lanyon did not think much of this “unscientific balderdash”.
There are some cases where sympathy for Jekyll is needed. He just wants to do what he wants, so he creates Hyde, this makes us feel some sympathy because of the desperateness of his situation, but at the same time he loses some sympathy because not everyone can have everything they want. Initially he doesn’t know what the consequences of taking the drugs will be, he is risking death for the furtherment of science, which may give us some sympathy. Also what he doesn’t know is that it matters what state of mind you are in when you take the drug”Had I approached my discovery in a more noble spirit…an angel instead of a fiend”, an evil person comes out of the experiment. Instead of just using Hyde from time to time, Jekyll gets addicted to Hyde (through some fault of his own he needed slef control) and soon the transformation becomes almost independent of his taking the drugs to change into Hyde. Hyde is without a doubt a terrible person.
The incident where he tramples over the small girl reinforces this. It is a demonstration of the duality of nature of man where a respectable doctor can trample a small girl and not think twice. However, Hyde’s wrong doing does not stop at this. There is the brutal murder of Sir Danvers Carew, who was an MP, so very high up in society. In Dr Jekyll’s full statement of the case he admits that it was Hyde who murdered Carew; “It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone that was guilty”
This ease with which he accepts Hyde’s guilt and tries to shift the blame for this terrible act makes us feel less sympathy for Jekyll, as surely he should be more than a little upset if something that he has created can to such an awful thing. When he first discovers that he can change into Hyde spontaneously, he is absolutely mortified “I must have stared upon it half a minute…I rushed to the mirror… my blood was changed to something exquisitely thin and icy” We may feel some sympathy for Jekyll because of this, but on the other hand, Jekyll maybe could have seen what’s coming and stopped using Hyde.
We also may feel less sympathy because it’s not that Jekyll can’t remember what Hyde’s been doing; “My two natures had memory in common” so maybe Jekyll should have realised that Hyde was being too evil and tried to stop unleashing him on the world before Hyde does any serious damage, as we see he does when he murders Carew. To some extent he does limit himself, he stopped using Hyde for two months, this makes us feel a lot more sympathy for Jekyll.
When Jekyll goes into hiding after the murder of Carew he feels very remorseful about the death of Carew, and this makes us feel a little sympathetic towards him. He does not, however, turn himself in immediately for fear of the death penalty, he is rather selfish; “I think I was glad to have my better impulses thus buttressed and guarded by the terrors of the scaffold.”
Jekyll thinks about trying to relieve his pain by having his pleasures as himself “No, it was in my own person, that i was once more tempted to trifle with my conscience”, and he does so. This makes us feel a bit of sympathy for him, as all he wants is to be free. Later on in his full statement of the case, he says “A change had come over me . It was no longer the fear of the gallows, it was the horror of being Hyde that racked me.” This gives us some respect for Jekyll, it shows he is altruistic. He doesn’t mind being hanged so much, more he feels that if he lets Hyde loose again he will do even more evil. This is the reason why he turned himself in, and we have to respect him for this action.
Victorian society of obviously partly to blame for the demise of Dr. Jekyll. We see that if he had been allowed to indulge in his pleasures without being criticised and becoming a social outcast maybe his bad side would have come out more slowly, not through the terrible deeds that Hyde does; “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring.” Nowadays we tend to tolerate depraved activities. If the addictions get too bad we try and help those affected; we don’t expel them from society. I think that the incident of Jekyll was partly Jekyll’s fault, but mostly society’s fault for not letting him be free. I do agree that Jekyll is a victim of his time and deseves out sympathy.