How does Stevenson explore the duality of human nature in the strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? Essay
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Stevenson had a very strict upbringing from the start. In fact I would go to say he was over smothered with ideas and eventually came to hate hypocrisy and rebelled. Since he had just liberated himself from his Calvinistic teachings I assume it was then he debated with the idea of good and evil in everyone. Therefore then creating the idea of duality in human nature. It was then a story was born.
Many issues are raised by Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” and at the time of 1885 these issues were impossible and scandalous.
One of the particular issues that Stevenson uncovered was the idea that there are two sides to everyone and that these sides could be separated, good and evil. As well as this Stevenson’s novella explores how both of these sides are contained within a person. This book was written around the time of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and story fits perfectly with his theory. For example, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are two different steps in evolution. Dr Jekyll is “the very pink of proprieties, celebrated too.
” And Hyde is “ape like”. Darwin’s theory basically was set to prove that people are descended from a similar species to apes. It would seem that these two sides are together in one body but still one is lost or even hidden. Stevenson’s shocking novella heightened a drama amongst Victorian upper middle class citizens because this idea was a difficult one for them to grasp. However as time went on this idea became less uncommon, for example; in 1954 ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding was published. Golding believed that if people were left stranded without democracy and order, there sense of humanity and morals would disintegrate, therefore allowing primitive and even animalistic instincts to creep through.
Dr Jekyll is the perfect character to help expose this duality of human nature; he also helps the reader to expose Stevenson’s own curiosity on the subject. Jekyll’s hunger to prove that you can effectively ‘split’ the good from the evil led to him creating an evil alter ego: Mr Hyde. Stevenson also shows in his novella that if you over endugle the evil side of a personality it mentally, emotionally and especially in this book, even physically can take over. For example through his transformations, the evil Mr Hyde becomes continuously stronger and subjugation of the good still present in Dr Jekyll begins. Dr Jekyll is constantly tempted by Hyde, because he can completely disconnect himself from the evil and therefore has no attachment or guilt, “…spring headlong into the sea of liberty”. As Mr Hyde; Jekyll feels he can finally be free. I believe the reason Hyde becomes so strong is because for most of Dr Jekyll’s life he suppressed the evil for too long. Unlike Mr Enfield who is a “well known man about town,” he often gave into evil urges in short and harmless bursts behind closed doors.
However like in any good novella the idea of good triumphing over evil comes into part, when Jekyll puts an end to his life and therefore Hyde’s too. However you still have to ponder if good actually did win because there was still evil committed and that is all Mr Hyde wanted to achieve. Stevenson was very clever in the naming of the character: Hyde, this was obviously linked to the word ‘hide’ and how in the Victorian era evil was very often ‘hidden’ away from prying eyes. Therefore this is why when anyone reading the novella would have been appalled upon reaching the end to find that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were in fact the same person. As well as Hyde adding secrecy and anticipation to the novella he creates the idea of the shocking, and maybe even sickening the reader.
He is the pure image of human evil, filled with violence, discourtesy and self-importance. It was not only his actions that sickened people, if was his appearance. In fact Mr Hyde was often described as ‘deformed’, and perhaps that is what evil is: a deformation from the good in all of us. Instantly people could feel a dislike to him, one gentleman in the novel quoted this: “I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight… the desire to kill him.” For someone so respectable in society to even consider killing a man portrays the utter horror everyone felt towards Hyde’s appearance.
The word ‘loathing’ expresses an extreme extent of hatred and the fact that a person felt that for Mr Hyde upon looking at him is tragic. But then this links back to him being deformed, in fact it is even stated that Mr Hyde donates a “strong feeling of deformity” in fact many harsh comments are made over Hyde, he is illustrated as “hardly human”, “pale and dwarfish” and even referred to as a devil, “if I ever read Satan’s signature upon a face…” and there are many more horrific descriptions of Hyde, but at the same Jekyll enjoys having him, he enjoys having a vicarious existence.
Eventually everything takes a turn for the worst and Dr Jekyll learns that something has to change, Jekyll realises this when Hyde’s evil becomes strong enough to commit “a crime of singular ferocity”, Hyde was so evil he was capable of murder. “And then all of a sudden he broke out in a great flame of anger, stamping with his foot, brandishing the cane, and carrying on (as the maid described it) like a madman.” ‘Madman’ is the word that strikes me first and puts a clear image in my head of not just the Scrooge like character from before but now a man of pure sin and hatred. The words like ‘brandishing’ and ‘stamping’ exposes the madness and brutality of Hyde. You are also revealed to his short temper from the phrase ‘all of a sudden’ which portrays the fact that the murder was probably unprovoked. His murder of Mr Carew was in no way calculated or even intelligent, it was just pure, unstructured evil.
The novella is not only consisting of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There are other characters; these characters are almost used as tools to further endorse Stevenson’s point about human nature and the duality within it. One of these characters as a mentioned earlier is Mr Enfield. He is a man of status, a man of grace and decorum and he also comes across as an approachable person. Another character is Mr Utterson; he is a very good example of a double sided character. “Cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment, lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow loveable.” He is first described with very negative adjectives, for example: ‘cold’, but then by twisting it to ‘loveable’ shows the two different sides to his character. Smaller characters are just as interesting as the more mentionable ones, for example: Hyde’s maid. She is described as “…evil face smoothed by hypocrisy but her manners were excellent.”
You clearly notice the word evil, which creates a harsh impression of her right from the start. However by the end of the sentence you begin to understand that she is full of poise and good manners, which is normally the first thing you notice in a person, not how evil they look. But Stevenson once again does things differently and makes the idea of evil the most important thing in the sentence. Another good example of a double sided character is the officer. The fact that his “eye lighted up with professional ambition” shows a very childish attitude of being selfish and only hoping for personal gain. Stevenson is very clever because he demonstrates that every character has a dominant side, but it is sometimes not evident.
Characters are not the only tool that Stevenson uses to explore deeper into the duality of human nature. For example, London itself is described as a place of two halves. Good and evil, light and dark and in fact how those things blend into each other. Soho is one of the evil parts of London, and where Hyde lives when he is not Dr Jekyll. This area is often described as in the typical horror clichï¿½, with darkness and fog. “…some city in a nightmare.” The city is referred to as a ‘nightmare’, which shows how shielded the life of an upper class Victorian was and how they would never venture into the ‘darker’ side of society but sometimes darkness has to be faced to overcome it.
Throughout the novella the fog and darkness is used, effectively to hide the secrets. Not only the environment is used but even Jekyll’s home shows the duality, there is the front door, which the respectable Dr Jekyll uses. However as well as this there is a back door, which Mr Hyde often skulks through and stays in the laboratory, a little like Frankenstein’s laboratory, which is yet another horror clichï¿½. The back door is also hidden to the public eye and is one that is chosen to be ignored, like the ways the Victorians dismiss anything that could disrupt a reputation or status.
To begin with Jekyll is not overcome with doubt or guilt or even much emotion, no matter how atrocious. He distances himself and pretends that nothing is wrong, much like in ‘Lord of the Flies’ when Ralph and Piggy refuse to take responsibility for their part Simon’s death. But as time goes on Dr Jekyll begins to realise the horror of what is going and on, as well as becoming weaker, while Hyde becomes stronger and somehow it still takes a while for Jekyll to try and let Hyde go. This poses the question; did Jekyll have a deeper more devious yearning for Hyde other than scientific truth? Dr Jekyll admits to in his ‘final confession’ which is the last chapter in the book.
The message is clear and could be depicted by anyone; therefore this would have been shocking to a Victorian. Everyone does have the potential to be good or evil. But it is up to a person what is done with evil in us all, however the extremes of a personality may not be as bold as in this novella. The story does make you think, if anyone is capable of evil, what am I capable of? If my life is a constant battle between the good and evil in me, then how do I know if I myself have the strength to conquer the evil within? And I think it is these questions that Stevenson wanted people to ponder.