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Explore how Stevenson has presented the character of Mr. Hyde Essay

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Comment on how the author has created a sense of evil in this character.

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a novella written in the gothic style, first published in 1886. It is linked to other works written in the same period of time and in the same style, most notably “Dracula” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. During that period, it was believed that people had doppelgangers, or evil twins; this is how Victorians explained the duality of a person. Duality is a theme greatly explored in the novel; not only the duality of an individual but the duality of Victorian society as a whole. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” demonstrated the fact that many high class citizens, who appeared fine and upstanding, hid dark secrets, especially sexual ones: exactly like Henry Jekyll. Another theme explored in the novella is that of the importance of reputation and class.

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For example Utterson and Enfield try to avoid gossip and maintain their respectability. Similarly, Utterson tries to preserve Jekyll’s reputation, even though he senses something is not right. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has an episodic narrative structure in the fact that it is divided into specific significant events. Mr. Utterson is portrayed as an investigator of sorts, looking for clues and attempting to solve the riddle behind his friend’s mysterious behavior. Furthermore, the truth is withheld until the end and finally revealed with the deaths of Lanyon and Jekyll in order to heighten the disbelief in his readers.

Hyde’s first introduction to the readers is when he tramples over a young girl. This prejudices the readers’ impression of him because it depicts him committing an act of cruel violence. In addition, the language used to describe Hyde -specifically similes- adds to the already terrible impression the readers have of him. For example, he is depicted as being “like a juggernaut” and “carrying it off…like Satan”. This illustrates that he was like an unstoppable force of evil and frightens and alarms the reader. Victorians would be taken aback by this as they were very religious and believed in Satan. Both the doctor and Mr. Enfield experience “the desire to kill him” in response to the incident and this would stun readers as they wouldn’t expect such a dramatic reaction from what appear initially to be quite calm, rational people. Many characters are unnerved by Hyde but unable to give an exact description. However, most agree that there is something unnatural about his appearance: “not easy to describe”, “displeasing” and “downright detestable”. Stevenson has been deliberately vague about Hyde’s appearance, engaging the readers and allowing them to envision what Hyde looks like individually. As a result, Hyde will look evil to all readers, now and many years from now.

In “Search for Mr. Hyde” Mr. Utterson is distressed at the news that Hyde, a complete stranger, is set to inherit Jekyll’s fortune in case of his “disappearance or unexplained absence”. This is a narrative hook Stevenson has used to entice his audience to delve further into the mystery. Additionally, Stevenson has built up trust and a sense of security in Mr. Utterson from the beginning of the novella: “somehow loveable” and “eminently human” leading the reader to trust his narrative and respect him. Contrastingly, Stevenson has used language to create a sense of evil in Hyde during Mr. Utterson and Hyde’s encounter. For instance: “Mr. Hyde shrank back with a hissing intake of the breath”, illustrating that he is primitive and almost animal-like. “That is my name. What do you want?” is Hyde’s reaction to Mr. Utterson addressing him, indicating that Hyde is extremely anti-social and isn’t used to communicating with human beings.

After his encounter with Hyde he encourages readers to investigate Hyde: “there is something more”. This creates indistinctness and suspense. Moreover, Stevenson’s description of Hyde after his encounter with Mr. Utterson emphasizes the sense of evil created previously. Through the repetition of “deformed” and “deformity”, he generates a sense of wickedness as during the Victorian era deformity was viewed as something repulsive that should be locked away, hidden from the public eye. Furthermore, Utterson’s reactions to Hyde support this: “disgust, loathing and fear”. Here, Hyde is compared to Satan again: “Satan’s signature upon a face”. Victorians would be very shocked by the reference to Satan as to them Satan was the most powerful force of evil on Earth and his “signature upon a face” would make the person extremely wicked and malevolent.

Next, the random act of violence in “The Carew Murder Case” greatly affects the readers’ opinion of Hyde. Stevenson has built up the feel of iniquity in Hyde through the maid’s description of the crime. The verbs and adverbs used are particularly effective. For example, the verbs “clubbed” and “brandished” develop a sense of cruelty in Hyde. What’s more, the aural imagery used allows the reader to visualize the crime, accenting it and Hyde’s brutality. The maid describes Hyde as behaving “like a madman” and having “ape-like fury”, which suggests Hyde may not have been in control of his actions and maybe even suffered from a mental health disorder. However, Victorian readers would not have interpreted that in this way, as there was limited knowledge regarding mental health during that time. Rather, it would have just emphasized Hyde’s malice.

Hyde’s choice of accommodation reflects his character as he dwells in a “dingy street” with “blackguardly” surroundings. The reader is supposed to infer that Hyde is as sinister and repulsive as his environment. Also, this reveals that he is low-class and unsociable, as most high-class respected citizens lived in much more genial environments, without “ragged children huddled in the doorways”. Additionally, Hyde’s lodgings represent the duality of human nature. The juxtaposition of the outside and inside of the house reflects how divided man is. On the inside there is “a good picture hung upon the walls” and it is furnished with “luxury and good taste” and on the outside there is a seedy gin palace and “women passing out…to have a morning glass”, indicating the house was in an area where poor people, drunks and prostitutes lived, an area where Hyde wouldn’t stand out or attract attention.

Lanyon’s description of Hyde echoes Hyde’s previous depictions. Lanyon describes Hyde as “seizing”, “surprising” and “revolting” and that “there was an added curiosity as to his origin…life…and status”, implying that Hyde was repulsive, yet there was something about him which made whoever saw him to want to examine him. This is a hint about Hyde’s true identity, as at this point of the narrative, readers still weren’t expected to know that Hyde is actually Jekyll’s alter ego. Hyde’s clothes are another hint: they were made of “rich and sober fabric” but were “enormously too large for him”. As Jekyll is wealthy he could afford luxurious clothes, and of course they would be too big for Hyde as he is considerably smaller than Jekyll. Lanyon tells of Hyde as having a “remarkable combination of…muscular activity and…debility of constitution”, meaning that Hyde was energetic yet appeared fragile and in a poor state of health.

On one hand, Jekyll’s description of Hyde is a summary of all the other characters’. Jekyll says that “evil was written broadly and plainly” on Hyde’s face and that Hyde carried “an imprint of deformity and decay”. On the other hand, however, Jekyll is attracted to Hyde: “I was conscious of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome”, revealing that Jekyll, rather than being repulsed by Hyde and fighting the transformation, is magnetized by him and embraced the transformation. Also, with Hyde, Jekyll feels complete as he no longer has to battle with his dark side but can accept it is a part of him: “it seemed more express and single”. Therefore, the reader is not expected to feel shocked when Jekyll says “human beings…are commingled out of good and evil”, as Jekyll has just explained that good and evil co-exist in a person and that it is impossible to be whole without both, linking to the theme of duality. All of us are good and evil, but we decide which side to act on.

Hyde’s desires were mostly why Jekyll chose to transform into him. Jekyll doesn’t stipulate what these desires were. What was deemed as socially intolerable and “undignified” in the Victorian era, might not be viewed that way today. For this reason, Stevenson has not specified what Hyde gets up to or the kind of pleasures he fulfils: so that the text is mentally stimulating to readers, be it Victorians or present day readers. Additionally, Stevenson has withheld the details because they probably would have offended a Victorian audience. Nonetheless, this would be different with a modern audience as a modern audience is exposed to much more than a Victorian one. And, the text is more effective without the details as readers are left to guess, which means Hyde’s secret could be any one of hundreds. Again, Stevenson is being deliberately vague, just as he was with Hyde’s appearance: making Hyde’s secret all things to all readers.

In conclusion, by not revealing many details about Hyde, Stevenson created a truly evil character, as humans inherently fear the unknown. When the (few) details are revealed to the readers they are extremely unpleasant, with Hyde being “deformed”, “ape-like” and “repulsive”. Still, the real horror in the story is not Hyde. Jekyll, at the start of chapter 10, describes himself as “being born…endowed besides with excellent parts…with every guarantee of an honourable and distinguished future”. Stevenson could have been describing every person in this way, as we are all born expected to be excellent, principled humans, “with every guarantee of an honourable and distinguished future”. Therefore, in at least one way, everyone can relate to Jekyll. So, the real horror is not Hyde, but rather that every person, good or bad, is a Jekyll and a Hyde.

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