In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. It was a story about how a respectable, upper class man turned into a beast with no morals or dignity. It seemed that Stevenson wanted to show how good & evil could easily clash, much to Victorian society’s disgust.
In the novel, he used many techniques and different situations to argue with society. He tried to prove human nature, and how everyone has two sides to him or her. It was around this time that Darwin had presented his theory of evolution to the world, and it is in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’ that Stevenson presents his argument.
Growing up in the Victorian era, Stevenson had a very strict, biased upbringing. He was born into a Presbyterian way of life, and was taught the values of the belief by his families nurse; this meant that he was taught to believe the bible and nothing that contradicts it. He was also taught to respect the rich, and frown upon the poor. This often came natural to Victorian society, there was either an upper class or a lower class, and nobody would dare say that these two could clash, as reputation was everything.
Often people repressed their true feelings, because they wanted to protect their status in society, Stevenson didn’t like this.
Charles Darwin presented his theory of evolution that men evolved from apes. This was known as ‘The Origin of the Species’. The Victorian people hated this as it went against their image and their religious beliefs, as they believed we came from God and that we didn’t evolve from apes. So, when Stevenson portrayed Hyde as a ‘troglodytic’ being, and Jekyll as a kind respected man, it obviously showed the view of the Victorian people. Stevenson always placed Hyde in the dark, crime-filled side of London, and Jekyll in the busy, vibrant side of London. So once again he associated the lower class with crime and dirt, and the upper class with being innocent and care giving. For example, Utterson quotes in Jekyll’s house ” the plate was of silver, the napery elegant, a good picture hung upon the walls.” Yet, when Hyde is outside, London is described as ” district of some city in a nightmare.”
The division of personality in man fascinated Stevenson, he believed you could be good & evil, that man had two sides to him. In Jekyll & Hyde, Jekyll is portrayed as good, the novel shows this by stating “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty every mark a capacity of kindness”. This shows that Jekyll is a kind, giving man.
Whereas, Hyde is portrayed as a strange, brutal man, this is shown by the quote “he gave a strong feeling of deformity” this shows that he wasn’t normal, and wasn’t quite man, something lower down the process of evolution, the Victorian people would have panicked at the idea of this, that evolution was suddenly turning backwards.
So, Stevenson was obviously trying to present that a man can have two very different sides, that it was human nature.
In the novel, he gives more than one example, of someone or something having an alter ego.
For example, the narrator of the novel, Utterson, is immediately said to have two sides, for example in chapter one, he is said to be “lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable”. This quote shows that he has two sides to him, he is grumpy-looking and boring, yet he also gives the sense of being lovable, and caring. He is also a repressed character throughout the novel, much like Victorian society; it is as if Stevenson has channelled society through Utterson.
Stevenson also tries to play with the idea that Enfield is his alter ego. It seems in the novel that although they have nothing in common, they are stuck together. Every Sunday, without fail, they go for a routine walk together. Once again he uses two characters or personalities to give his view on human nature.
Throughout the novel, there are minor characters that Stevenson also used to give his view and everyone else’s view, on human nature, and the statutory division of society.
For example, Hyde is firstly presented in the novel by the quote ” with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot.” Here he is once again relating to Hyde and the lower class to being careless and heartless. By using the word ‘ape-like’ it is also insinuating that Hyde has gone right back to the start of evolution.
Secondly, at the scene of Hyde’s first crime, the doctor states ” there is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable.” This quote refers that more than one person in society detests Hyde, this shows a direct relationship with Darwin’s theory, and how that everyone in society hated the idea of human nature having two sides to it.
Although, when Utterson goes to visit Hyde, the maid shows an interest in what he has done. It seems Stevenson is trying to show that although society had to repress their feelings, they secretly did have a sly interest in the wonder and concept of human nature.
In Conclusion, Stevenson showed a lot about his thoughts and his view on human nature, and how society viewed it in a negative, demeaning way. He also showed how although the Victorian people put on an act of disgust, although they secretly showed an interest.