Explore Stevensons presentation of evil in the novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ Essay
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In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, a respected doctor experiments with evil by drinking a potion to cast all of the good out of his body. This leads to many evil incidents taking place. Evil is causing pain or harm to others in a spiteful or malicious way. Victorian views of evil were closely related to religion and the way people looked. This was a safe and comforting opinion for the Victorians because they could imprison these people and could keep away from people that they thought were evil as it could be easily identified.
Stevenson shows his view of evil using many different techniques mainly through characters but also through setting imagery and language.
Stevenson was influenced by many different circumstances during his life. Stevenson’s childhood was a fearful one with a strict religious upbringing constantly focusing on Hell. He was very ill and therefore spent a lot of time in bed thinking about Hell. He was always alone and isolated as he was an only child so he could not discuss his feelings with anyone. This is closely linked to Jekyll not telling anyone about his double life and split personality. In university he led a double life, his life that his parents believed he led a strict and respected one compared to a hidden life of a poor, strange, evil boy. He was a lot like Edinburgh as it was in two parts.
The old, dark, dangerous side and the modern, neat, respected side. This links with the novel because Jekyll is a neat and respected man whereas Hyde is an evil and dirty man. Two men called Burke and Hare influenced Stevenson. In the late 1820’s, they killed random people by smothering them and then gave the corpses the doctors at the university to publicly dissect and experiment on. They were given money for the corpses and the fresher the corpse the more money they received. Burke and Hare were later found out and publicly hung and dissected. Their skeletons were given to a museum and their skin was made into personal pocket books.
This influenced Stevenson because people at this time were fascinated and Burke and Hare were like a real life Jekyll and Hyde character with a split personality. Darwin who introduced the theory of evolution also influenced him. This relates to the Hyde character that had not yet evolved from the ape like creature. After he had written the book Jack the Ripper helped its popularity because no one knew who he was and why he killed prostitutes in the brutal way he did. Many people thought his acts were evil and read the novel to try to find out why he was so wicked.
Stevenson uses characters as his main presentation of evil. Jekyll and Hyde are the two major characters that show evil. Jekyll is shown as evil because he initially wants to change into Hyde and become purely evil. Also when he is Hyde he likes it ‘I felt younger, lighter, happier in body’ the list of three is very effective as they link and it gets better down the line. The use of ‘lighter’ shows us he has lost all his worries and has gained freedom and is therefore a lot happier. Jekyll gets very angry when Utterson asks him about Hyde ‘ this is a private matter and I beg of you to let it sleep’ this shows us he is deceitful and feels guilty as he does not want to talk about it.
When Hyde does anything wrong Jekyll does not take any responsibility this is shown by the use of the pronoun ‘he’, ‘him’, or ‘his’. This shows us does not think of himself as evil because he is a respected doctor and everyone else thinks good of him. Stevenson describes Jekyll as ‘ a large, well-made, smoothed faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast’ this shows us that he is perceived as suspicious. Jekyll told himself that he would never turn into Hyde again but he kept Hyde’s house in Soho and all of his clothes. This proves that he was evil because he even lied to himself about what he would and would not do. Stevenson shows evil through Jekyll very effectively because people would worry that all doctors may be evil and he challenged Victorians beliefs.
Hyde is the other major character that Stevenson shows evil through very effectively. One main incident where Hyde was evil was when he walked straight over a child. Stevenson wrote ‘ trampled calmly over the child’s body’ he used the word ‘calmly’, which shows Hyde has no emotion. ‘Trampled’ shows us he is fast, heavy footed and violent. The fact that it was a ‘child’ makes us very angry and sympathetic, as the girl is innocent, vulnerable and more delicate. Stevenson wrote ‘left her screaming on the ground’ this shows us that the girl was screaming in pain and he still did not care. The incident took place at ‘three o’clock of a black winter morning’ this makes it sound very eerie and makes us think that Hyde is being secretive because it is dark and any crimes he has committed can be hidden.
The girl was described as ‘8 or 10 who was running as hard as she was able. This tells us that she was running to get some help for someone, as she was a nice caring person. This is a contrast to Hyde who is a horrible person out in the streets committing crimes. When a doctor came to see the child and asks what happened he ‘turns sick and white with a desire to kill him’ this shows us that the doctor was very angry as he wants to kill someone when his life ambition is to save peoples lives. Also doctors see horrible things every day but when Hyde tramples over a girl, it makes him ill. This is a contrast with Hyde who shows no emotion at all.
Another example where Hyde was evil was his meeting with Utterson. Hyde ‘ shrank back with a hissing intake of breath’. ‘Shrank back’ shows us he is scared and does not want to talk to anyone. ‘Hissing’ compares him to an animal, which can be perceived as evil and again like an animal is warning Utterson to keep away. In addition, as Hyde is like an animal he has no conscience and is instinctive. After Utterson had commented on his bad language Hyde ‘snarled aloud into a savage laugh’. ‘laugh’ tells us he is rebellious and childlike. ‘savage’ shows us again that he is untamed and uncivilised. Much like an animal, he is unpredictable and worries the reader. ‘snarled’ again links to him being animal like and has not yet evolved from the ape like form.
The last incident where Hyde is evil is the Carew murder. this is the most evil thing Hyde does because he brutally murders an innocent man. ‘Hailing down a storm of blows under which the bones where audibly shattered’ this tells us that he was hit with so much force that a woman in her house could hear each bone break. This was a very brutal murder a crime that was so evil that it makes Hyde even more so. The weather imagery is used to show power ‘hailing’. The ‘body jumped upon the railway’ this shows how much extreme force was used Hyde is again even more evil now as Carew was defenceless as he was dead and yet Hyde continued to beat him. The readers have sympathy for Carew ‘ aged and beautiful gentleman with white hair’ because Hyde killed a man that was so innocent unlike himself.
Stevenson uses the two main characters Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to show evil very effectively and in a clear way for the reader as Jekyll denies his involvement with Hyde and Hyde himself commits terrible crimes, is very rude, and has no conscience.
Another way Stevenson shows us evil is through his minor characters. Firstly Lanyon who after being asked if he would like the watch the transformation replied ‘ I have gone to far in the way of inexplicable services to pause before I see the end’ . This shows us he was evil because he wanted to see that transformation and see what happens. Also, the use of ‘inexplicable services’ makes the reader wonder what other evil tasks he has taken part in. Utterson is also evil because he ‘sprang up and grew aspace curiosity to behold the features of the real Hyde’. ‘sprang up and grew’ shows us that his curiosity is uncontrollable.
He is also interested in seeing what a real evil person may look like , he seemed too curious just to be concerned for a friend and just wants to find out about evil for himself. In addition, the police officer could be perceived as evil as he was more interested in the prospect of promotion than trying to help the community. ‘ The next moment his eye lighted up with professional ambition’ he does not care about anyone but himself. The use of ‘lighted up’ is imagery of a fire that is uncontrollable, like evil urges.
The last evil minor character is the maid who cares for Hyde’s house in Soho she knows that something is not right but she does not tell anyone about her suspicion. ‘ as housekeeper a creature whom I well knew to be silent and unscrupulous’ this shows us evil in Jekyll because he wanted a housekeeper that was dishonest and unprincipled. ‘ she had an evil face , smoothed by hypocrisy’ this shows us she was hiding her evil side by the way she looked. ‘But her manners were excellent’ this shows us that Stevenson believed you could change the way you acted and looked to disguise evil. Stevenson used minor characters to portray his opinion that everyone had evil in them. He wanted to frighten the reader and challenge Victorian views.
The setting is another way that Stevenson shows us evil. Many of the evil incidents that took place happened in dark of the night. This links to the secrecy of Hyde and how he does not want to communicate with anybody or be seen. There are two doors the one for Hyde to enter through and the one for Jekyll to enter through. The rear entrance was described as ‘ a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence’ this is symbolism for Hyde as he does not look after himself or care what he looks like. ‘neither bell nor knocker’ tells us he does not want to communicate with anyone. Hyde’s entrance is at the back of the house because he must be hidden. ‘sinister block of a building’ is also symbolism as he is an evil man. Jekyll’s front entrance is described as an ‘ancient handsome house’ this symbolises Jekyll as he is a respected man in the community so has a house to represent his.
In conclusion, Stevenson presents his view of evil in many ways mainly through the major and minor characters but also through language setting and imagery. Stevenson has many messages about evil he believes that everyone has evil in them and if this evil is brought out and used more that good you will become evil forever this is shown through Jekyll when he starts to involuntarily change into Hyde. he is also criticising Victorian society and challenging Victorians perceptions, which oppresses evil. He takes out his anger on doctors because when he was younger he was very ill and doctors could not help him. Stevenson is very effective in showing his opinion because he uses very strong language and opinions which appealed to the Victorian society and for some people appeal to their evil side today. It is quite relevant to the current world because there are Jekyll and Hyde characters in modern day society for example Dr shipman who killed between fifty and sixty people even though he is a doctor and is meant to save people lives not end them.