How successfully does ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ use the conventions of the horror genre? Essay
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Explain your answer, looking closely at details of the text, and comparing the novel with other horror stories you have read or seen.
‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is a short novel written by the famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson’s ambition from an early age was to be an writer, although his father had different ideas. In one of his most famous novels, ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, Stevenson captures the extremism of Dr. Jekyll’s split-personality; his desire to let his dark side run wild, achieved by drinking a magical potion that changes him into the animalistic, violent and somewhat evil Mr.
The word “horror” categorises everything typically frightening, in every sense. Horror conventions include anything from darkness, shadows and night-time to werewolves, knives and blood; from monsters, violence and death to screaming, animal howls and creaky doors. “Horror” is simply a term to summarise all things scary, and is used mostly to describe books and films. ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ can be seen as a horror novel, because of its shocking and horrific content. In this essay I will explore the ways and successes in which Stevenson presents the story of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ using conventions of the horror genre, referring to details of the text and comparing the novel with other horror stories and videos.
One of the important horror conventions used in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is the use of darkness and the atmosphere of the setting. It is necessary that the weather, amount of light and general atmosphere is dark, quiet and negative to create a tense, scary mood. In the horror genre, violent or evil actions traditionally occur at night, when there are less people around to help, it is much quieter than during the day, and because the darkness easily conceals any crimes that are committed. The first time that Enfield sees Hyde, he is returning home “about three o’clock of a black winter morning”. There is “literally nothing to be seen but lamps”, and “all is empty as a church”. This, even before Enfield has set eyes on Hyde, creates a tense atmosphere where it feels likely that something horrible will happen.
The weather is dark (“black”), and it is winter, suggesting that it is very cold, and the general atmosphere is very un-welcoming. The fact that the area is “empty” adds to the horror, because this means that nobody will be around to help you when something evil appears out of the darkness. Another example is “the lamps, unshaken by any wind, drawing a regular pattern of light and shadow.” Shadows are seen as frightening, because of the way they creep around and you can never be sure who or what is making the shadows.
The darkness and gloomy weather successfully creates a threatening, tense, and un-inviting atmosphere. This horror convention is similarly used in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, when the old man’s room is described as “as black as pitch with the thick darkness.” As the narrator is pondering the murder of the old man, the darkness is important as it will not only create a tense atmosphere, but it will also conceal the murder. This is similar to the way the streets are usually described as dark and dingy in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’.
Another important horror convention used in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is the Pathetic Fallacy. Stevenson employs the Pathetic Fallacy to reflect the emotions of the characters, by making the weather match the appropriate mood. A weather description in Chapter Four is an example of this; “A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours.” At this time, Mr Utterson is showing a police officer to the house of Edward Hyde, who we are suspecting of the murder of Sir Danvers Carew.
The intensity of this scene is reflected by the stormy weather, and the “mournful reinvasion of darkness.” Many of the chapters of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ include descriptions of dark, dingy weather, and more often than not the streets of Soho are described as empty or silent. In Chapter Two, the by-street is described as “very solitary” and “very silent.” Silent, solitary areas create a threatening atmosphere, as it suggests that there is nobody else around to help you if you get into trouble. This contributes to the sense of horror, because there is an inevitable feeling of danger present in any dark, empty places.
The setting of the laboratory is also contributes to the horror in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. There are not many descriptions of the laboratory, although one says that the tables were “laden with chemical apparatus.” This idea creates a sense of mystery, because at the time we do not know what the chemicals are used for. This creates tension in the plot, and we don’t know what to expect, which contributes to the overall horror of the story. Laboratories are traditionally linked with other typical settings for horror stories including castles, graveyards, and big empty houses. A contrasting horror setting to that used in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is used in ‘The Darkness Out There’ by Penelope Lively. ‘The Darkness Out There’ features Packers End which has many deathly feelings and darkness to it, the three men who died horrid deaths in there, and the chills which Sandra gets from thinking about the place. When Packers End is talked about, night time is used which is a mighty contrast to the sunny images of fields and meadows that Packers End is described as during the day. Unlike ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, ‘The Darkness Out There’ has only one setting, which changes from a peaceful, sunny area to a dark, chilling one.
The general theme of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is duality. This alone adds to the horror, as it builds up the tension and creates the twist in the story. Throughout the story, there are hints given that Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde are in fact the same person; one of these includes a quote from Edward Hyde: “You will not find Dr. Jekyll; he is from home.” As suggested in the novel, Jekyll seems to be “pretty sure” of Hyde, meaning he knows him very well indeed. Another hint includes Mr Utterson’s reaction when he is presented with the stick that Hyde had used to kill Sir Danvers Carew. Utterson instantly recognises the stick “for one that he had himself presented many years before to Henry Jekyll.”
These hints mostly go un-noticed or un-considered, but they add mystery to the plot throughout the whole story, which gives the story an increasing amount of tension. Dr. Jekyll’s door is used symbolically as a block between Jekyll and the rest of the world, which almost suggests that the world outside literally can not understand Henry Jekyll. The door is always closed, which creates an undefined suspicion of Jekyll. This creates horror in that we can not be certain what Jekyll is always doing hidden away in his laboratory, although we are almost certain it can’t be good. The idea of duality in this story is the division between a normal, respectable man, and his darker side.
Henry Jekyll is supposedly an ordinary man; trustworthy as he is a doctor, with no abnormalities in his life. Then there is Edward Hyde: a hideous, evil murderer who lets his fantasies run wild and brings them to life. Henry Jekyll is simply a man who wishes to keep his good reputation, but who also feels the need to carry out his fantasies, which include his desire for prostitutes, and murder. These are things that are not seen as acceptable, and people who do these things are excluded from society and disliked by most people. This theme is a frightening one, as people tend to fear murderers and criminals. The horror created by this theme makes the story into a shocking reality.
The popular theme of transformation used for werewolves and vampires is also used in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’ Stevenson uses horrific descriptions to give the reader a good idea of how frightening and disgusting the transformation is to watch: “The rosy man had grown pale; his flesh had fallen away; he was visibly balder and older.” This is an unpleasant thing to imagine, and it is quite frightening. There are also descriptions of the facial expressions of Dr. Jekyll as the transformation is taking place: “Dr. Jekyll grew pale to the very lips, and there came a blackness about his eyes”, and “Dr. Jekyll, looking deadly sick.” Descriptions like this add to the horror, because they are meant to shock the reader and create a cold, unfriendly atmosphere. The descriptions make Dr. Jekyll seem more like an animal than a human.
A similar transformation occurs in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video. Michael is in the woods with his girlfriend, and a full moon comes out, which immediately triggers the transformation of Michael into a werewolf. It is horrific to watch. It starts off with him just twitching a bit, and falling to the floor, but then when he lifts his head his eyes have become wider and yellow like a cat, and his expression is fierce. He then develops fangs; his ears and hands become hairy like a werewolf, and claws come out from beneath his fingernails. These things are meant to scare the viewer, and Stevenson describes Jekyll’s transformation for the same purpose. Although transformations are more horrific to see visually, Stevenson’s detailed descriptions are successful in creating horror.
The presentation of Mr. Hyde is completely negative. His looks are described as “extraordinary” and “particularly wicked.” He is also described as “pale and dwarfish” with a “murderous mixture of timidity and boldness.” These images are used to exclude Hyde from normal-looking people, to make him individual. He is also given animalistic descriptions such as “ape-like fury”, “a hissing intake of breath” and “snarled aloud into a savage laugh.” This makes Hyde seem in-human and frightening like a monster, which adds to the horror. The effect Hyde has on the other characters encourages the reader to turn against him, and see him as a frightening creature of a man. Mr. Enfield describes Edward Hyde: “something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable.
I never saw a man I so disliked… He must be deformed somewhere.” This informs the reader that Mr. Hyde has a very evil expression, and does not appear to be normal. There are also descriptions of violence and hatred; “… tales came out of the man’s cruelty, at once so callous and violent, of his vile life, of his strange associates, of the hatred that seemed to have surrounded his career; but of his present whereabouts not a whisper.” Horror is created in this quote because Hyde has been given many negative characteristics: cruelty, callous, violent, vile, and hatred, and there is a twist of mystery at the end which says that nobody knows of Hyde’s present whereabouts.
Stevenson is clearly trying to make the reader also dislike Hyde, by creating an overall image of this animalistic, cruel, violent man with a lot of hatred. This successfully creates horror in the novel. In the same way, ‘The Blob’ by R. L. Stine describes a huge, overpowering man-made monster which terrorises innocent people and publicly crushes them to death. The Blob is described as “… a gigantic landmass of blubber, standing so high that even the tallest of men would flee for their lives at the site of this extraordinary, yet silent, creation.”
A final contribution to the horror in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is the savage acts of Hyde. Hyde’s murder of Sir Danvers Carew and the trampling of the little girl are described in horrific detail. The trampling of the little girl was described by Mr. Enfield: “… the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground.” The murder of Sir Danvers Carew was described like this: “… he broke out in a great flame of anger, stamping with his foot, brandishing the can… like a madman.” This is horrible, and Hyde is made to look like a “madman.” The horror continues to build up as we discover that Hyde must be simply insane, and he will do whatever he pleases, not caring what the world thinks of him.
In conclusion, ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is a very successful horror story. It uses many different horror conventions and has parts of the plot which successfully build up the tension throughout the whole story, such as the little clues that suggest Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, and the laboratory door. However, there are weaknesses in the plot; Mr. Hyde is small and not intimidating like other horror characters such as Frankenstein. Generally though, ‘The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is a very successful horror novel, and would probably stand among the top 10 best horror stories of all time.