Show how Stevenson through themes, language and setting creates a world of double standards and hypocrisy

With titles such as ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘The Black Arrow’, one expects to suffer complete infatuation when they pick up a book marked Robert Louis Stevenson. The Scottish author/poet published the world renowned novella ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ in 1886. The story tells of a scientist (Dr Jekyll), living within the respectable society of Victorian England, and his quest to prove to himself that he can master two opposing personalities without fault. It is told from the view point of John Utterson, lawyer and friend to the respected and brilliant scientist.

From the unwanted arrival of the menacing character Mr Hyde comes a brutal crime followed by a barbaric murder. Suspicions begin to flare and before long Mr Utterson reluctantly discovers a horrific and terrifying story. Dr Jekyll’s theory that within every man lies a good and evil persona has lead to him create and consume a potion that changes him into an embodiment of his evil side; Dr Jekyll is in fact the sinister and menacing murderer Mr Hyde.

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This captivating story is perhaps the most famous in its gothic genre, selling forty five thousand copies within its first few months. Even now the term ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ is used to portray someone with a dual personality, someone who lives a double life of respectable decency and unforgivable sin.

At the time it was written Victorian life was governed by strict etiquette and repressed sexuality, Stevenson could not have written a book more controversial to the times. The very existence of the book was a sign of duality and double standards.

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It is rumoured that Stevenson’s wife burnt the first manuscript as she feared that the tale was too controversial, that the reserved citizens of Victorian England would take to it with an uproar far less than positive. Publishing the book was a huge gamble on Stevenson’s part; even his own wife doubted its success, but evidently its success was not to be doubted.

The inspiration behind the story is a subject matter of great interest. To understand what made ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ a classical story known by young and old alike, we must first look at where it began. As a child, Stevenson was obsessed with William Deacon Brodie, a cabinet maker/notorious criminal from Edinburgh in the 18th Century. Stevenson had a cabinet that was created by Brodie’s company in his bedroom, and was fascinated by the history behind it. Stevenson’s inspiration from William’s life is very much apparent in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ with the idea of duality displayed in almost every chapter of the novella.

William Deacon Brodie was a very respectable man, being a member of the local government and a fine gentleman, much like Jekyll. But this seemingly respectable fa�ade concealed a private life, which consisted of two mistresses with five children between them and a gambling addiction which he funded by carrying out a series of robberies on premises to which his official position had given him access to, this darker, criminal side is much like Jekyll’s counterpart Hyde.

Something else that can be seen in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is the main components that define the Gothic Genre. With Stevenson’s novella firmly situated within the borders that outline this genre, we expect before reading to be engaging in a story that features amongst other components: the supernatural, darkness, primitive behaviour and some degree of isolation. Supernatural is clearly shown from the transformation of Jekyll to Hyde and also the appearance of Hyde and the effect that he has on the other characters of the story. Hyde is described on page twenty-three as ‘pale and dwarfish’ he is said to give ‘an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation’ linking more obviously to the supernatural is the description that states Mr Hyde wears ‘Satan’s signature’ upon his face as well as the description that states ‘he wasn’t like a man’ but like ‘some damned Juggernaut’.

The effect that Mr Hyde has on the people that surround him is also rather unearthly. One the most respectable and unbiased characters, Mr Enfield, says that he has never seen a man he so disliked. Even the doctor who is described as being ‘about as emotional as a bagpipe’ is ‘turned sick and white with the desire to kill him’ whenever he sets his eyes upon the unnerving character. Mr Hyde’s appearance and his effect on others can also be linked into the next component; darkness. The idea of darkness is emphasised on every page of the book, the storyline itself is of a dark nature, and Stevenson emphasises this with use of intense imagery and descriptive language in just about every chapter.

Primitive behaviour is perhaps the easiest component to pick up on, this component links directly to Mr Hyde as he is portrayed as primitive from the moment he arrives in the storyline. The novella goes out of its way to paint Hyde as animalistic. In chapter two Hyde is described by Mr Utterson as a ‘troglodyte’. Troglodyte is a word from Greek origin that when translated means cave-dweller. This translation triggers images of cave men to the reader’s mind, as we begin to think of humans who were less developed and therefore more primitive than we are in both looks and mannerism. The word is acting almost as a stimulus, a stimulus from which the reader derives a picture of Mr Hyde.

In comparison the element of the gothic genre that is the most hidden is the theme of Isolation. It is shown in many parts of the book, in cases in a very simple way, but the reader does need to look deeper within the text to find the relation. Near the end of the book Jekyll who is slowly being eclipsed by Hyde confines himself to his laboratory to protect others from himself. This shows isolation quite simply, but the fact that Jekyll makes a potion that gets rid of the ‘angel’ within man leaving isolated the ‘fiend’ is an example of a relation that is hidden within the well written words of Robert Louis Stevenson. Though well written is quite the understatement.

Stevenson employs a range of many techniques to make ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ a novel that can most definitely be described as one of a kind. The change of narratives and the way in which the final chapters are structured like genuine documentations is a unique method that really gives the story a sense of authenticity.

The novella plays host to an immeasurable amount of themes all of which coincide with the idea of double standards and hypocrisy. The foremost being the theme of duality. This theme is reiterated throughout the story in many different ways and at many different points, from as early as ‘Story of the Door’. In that first chapter we receive two detailed accounts of the streets that home Jekyll’s residence and his laboratory. The first account goes into great depth about the serenity and picturesque qualities of the street, the reader gets the feel of an aristocratic society, where everything down to the inhabitants is polished and as close to perfection as humanely possible.

But Stevenson doesn’t leave this string of happiness apparent for long. He is quick to give us his second account, an account that clashes with the first in every possible way. The second account gives the reader a feel of negligence and also a feel of darkness. Stevenson uses words such as ‘dingy’ ‘discoloured’ and ‘blind’ to really emphasise just how dark and squalid the neighbourhood is. We can clearly see that the theme of duality is intended as Stevenson does not just describe the two scenes to us but also forces the reader to compare the two by saying ‘the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood.’

Deriving from the theme of duality, is the ‘duality of man’, the story focuses on the notion that humanity is dual in nature. Though the theme is not fully emerged until the last chapter, when we find Jekyll and Mr Hyde are one and the same, it is always apparent to us, as we, in this day and age know of the concept the story holds before having read the book. When reading ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ it is important to realise that the book was intended as a mystery and though we know of the final conclusion, the Victorian reader did not and was not supposed to. With this in mind, we see that the theme is only really confronted after we have witnessed and formed opinions on all the events of the story. In chapter ten Jekyll states that ‘man is not truly one, but truly two’ he imagines man as two characters as an ‘angel’ and a ‘fiend’ and it is this philosophy that leads to the potion that is supposed to separate each side. It is this philosophy that provides the basis for the entire story.

Another theme which places a large emphasis on creating a world of double standards and hypocrisy is the theme of irrationality. Every character within Stevenson’s novella is or at least starts as a respectable member of the society in which they live. One could argue that Mr Hyde is anything but, and the reply to that would simply be that Hyde is Jekyll, and even before the potion, when Jekyll is engaging in activities ‘acceptable’ by his peers, Hyde still exists within him. With this on-going fa�ade of respectable and gentlemanly stature, every irrational act that occurs within the eighty-eight pages of this celebrated novel is also an act of hypocrisy and of double standards. And irrationality does occur.

The trampling of the girl in chapter one shows hypocrisy on Jekyll’s part; that hidden deep within him, underneath his courteous exterior is the urge to engage in reckless and uncivilized deeds. The murder of Sir Danvers Carew is similar in the way in portrays hypocrisy, and after this second act of maliciousness the reader is intrigued to look further into the irrationality of these acts. It appears that these brutal attacks are done for nothing more than joy. We get the impression from his assault upon innocents that Hyde seems to enjoy doing wrong, we see it is not just a case of Hyde being free from law, civilization and conscience but instead a case of Hyde going out of his way to commit violent crimes, just because he can. We get the impression that Hyde is immoral rather than amoral.

Another side of irrationality is ‘The Beast in Man’. Again no-one portrays this better than Hyde. Stevenson wants the reader to think of a creature when they envision Hyde and he uses many descriptive devices to obtain this effect. Hyde is described as trampling over Sir Danvers Carew ‘with ape like fury’, in the third chapter and when Jekyll is describing his spontaneous transformation into Hyde he describes his ‘fiend’ish counterpart as ‘the animal within me’ in addition a general description of Hyde portrays his hand as ‘corded and hairy’.

These examples of symbolic imagery help paint a picture for the reader by helping to depict the appearance of Hyde. Fitting in with the duality of man, Stevenson wanted to make sure that Jekyll and Hyde’s appearance were seen as completely different, therefore it is necessary for the constant references to Hyde’s appearance as animalistic as no character within in the entire book can give a detailed description of Mr Hyde, they all instead seem to conclude that he is ugly and deformed in some indefinable way. ‘The Beast in Man’ is further emphasised when Poole and others begin to characterize Mr Hyde with the words ‘it’ and ‘thing’: ‘God know what it was’, ‘That thing…was never Dr Jekyll’.

Near the beginning of this Victorian Mystery Jekyll asserts ‘the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr Hyde.’ Jekyll believes he has complete control over the situation that he has worked so desperately to create. He believes that he can switch in and out of his rivalling personas by merely drinking his concoction. When he decides he no longer wants to be Mr Hyde, he believes that by discontinuing the use of the potion, Hyde will cease to exist. The emphasis is on the word ‘believe’. Jekyll under-estimates the situation he has created, and as realisation hits him, it is already too late. He has wandered too far past the point of no return.

This statement emphasises the theme of control and addiction. Jekyll is subject to addiction and as with all addictions he genuinely believes that he has total control. The notion of hypocrisy is in Jekyll’s certainty that he has control, when in fact he is as out of control as can be. It is unfortunate that his realisation of the fact that he is entirely out of control comes virtually before his death. The ending of this tragic story, really touches the reader as even though the hero and villain of the story are one and the same, there is still a likeness that the reader develops for Jekyll, and his death, though it means the death of Hyde, is not the happy ending that you would expect. The tragedy of Jekyll’s death is further accentuated by the reaction and sorrow that the friends of Jekyll feel at his loss.

Friendship and loyalty is yet another theme that is apparent in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. This theme harmonizes wonderfully with the element of decorum that runs throughout the novella. The two relationships that best define the word friendship are between Jekyll and Utterson and Jekyll and Poole. When Utterson suspects that Jekyll is being black-mailed and then later on when he suspects that Jekyll is sheltering Hyde from the police, he does not make his suspicions known. Knowing of the importance of reputation, he remains loyal to Henry Jekyll and keeps his friend’s secret, so as not to ruin his respectability. The idea of hypocrisy is shown through Utterson being an upright and respectable member of the community, whilst still being prepared to keep sordid secrets quiet, besides his instincts that something negative is taking place.

The friendship between Jekyll and Poole is best shown when Jekyll has been fully extinguished. Poole has been a loyal servant to Jekyll for ‘over twenty years’ and is the first person to realise Jekyll’s death. He with Utterson engages in out of character behaviour, when they pummel down the door of Dr Jekyll which again shows double standards as they are acting out of turn, in a way that suggests anything but respectability. More importantly it shows the strength of friendship that these two characters have for Dr Jekyll; that they would engage in reckless behaviour, set aside their morals, forget about their respectability, their stature and think of nothing but their dear friend.

Stevenson uses all these themes skilfully and eloquently to portray a world of double standards, but the idea of hypocrisy is shown within this piece of literature through a number of different devices such as language and setting. Every scene that is introduced to us is shortly followed by the introduction of another scene that is always of a harsh contrast.

Dr Jekyll’s home is described by Stevenson as having ‘a great air of wealth and comfort.’ In a brutal comparison is his laboratory which is described as ‘a certain sinister block of building…which bore in every feature the marks of a profound and sordid negligence.’ The laboratory with its neglected aura and overt ugliness perfectly illustrates the malevolent and malicious character of Mr Hyde and the dark nature of the story as a whole. Whereas the respectable and affluent house portrays the respectable and upright Dr Jekyll and the dignified element to the story. The connection between the two buildings represents the connection between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The buildings are attached but they look out onto two different streets. Because of the layout of the streets, the fact that the buildings are two parts of a whole is undetectable without prior knowledge, just as the fact that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same is undetectable.

Another example of two scenes that illustrate duality is Hyde’s house; the interior and the exterior. Stevenson tells us in hindsight that Jekyll had bought and furnished a house to live in when he transformed into Hyde. We are given a description of the outside of the house, we are told that it is placed in a ‘dingy street, a gin palace’ and that ‘ragged children’ huddle in the doorways that surround this sorry excuse for a home. No sooner have we read about this distasteful house are we made subject to the description of the houses interior. The rooms are ‘furnished with luxury and good taste.’ Adjectives such as ‘elegant’, ‘good’ and ‘agreeable’ are all used in the description of the interior of Mr Hyde’s house. The conflict between the inside and the outside of Mr Hyde’s house is a prime example of Stevenson trying to portray a world of hypocrisy and double standards to the audience.

As well as themes and settings, Stevenson uses many literary techniques to get across the idea of double standards and hypocrisy. The first example of this is the descriptions of the street and Jekyll’s laboratory in the very first chapter. Stevenson describes the shops on the street as ‘standing out like rows of smiling saleswomen.’ This simile creates a joyous mood, as does the statement ‘the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood.’ The word ‘shone’ portrays radiance and tells the reader that the street is much better and livelier than all around it. It almost gives an impression of the street being something special.

When describing the dreary laboratory belonging to Jekyll, Stevenson uses powerfully depressing adjectives and personification to show just how sinister the laboratory is. It is described as having a ‘blind forehead’ and a door that is ‘blistered and distained’. All of these descriptions depict human characteristics, especially blistered and distained. These adjectives bring about a depressing mood, and help in portraying the evilness and ugliness of the building.

By using these contrasting accounts Stevenson is not only showing duality and hypocrisy but also emphasising and symbolizing the character and habits of Mr Hyde. The laboratory which appears as no more than a door is seen as different from all of the houses that surround it. It is not considered normal. This demonstrates the fact that Hyde’s principles are not normal, as the laboratory is where Hyde is situated for a lot of the book. The laboratory is neglected and uncared for unlike everything around it. During Victorian times outward appearance was very important amongst society, it was necessary that everyone’s appearance was very respectable, so that people would receive the right impression of them. Hyde is quite the opposite; he doesn’t care about how he looks or how he is seen. The way the laboratory stands out because of it dingy manifestation shows how Hyde is different and the odd one out in society.

The duplicity of Victorian society is also shown, by the quote ‘Though so profound a double-dealer.’ This assertion by Jekyll in the final chapter of the book shows Jekyll’s motives for the extended research into the duality in man and the eventual potion making. It explains that his initial hypothesis was based on himself as he in public and in private behaved as though he were two people. The alliteration in this quote also helps to portray the theme of double as the very word is in the phrasing and the alliteration is on two words.

Another way in which Stevenson uses literary techniques to portray his main theme is in varied sentences. Stevenson uses a lot of short sentences to create tension and to change the pace that the story is being read at. He uses sentences such as ‘and his blood ran cold in his veins’ and ‘they’re all afraid’ this helps builds tension and prepares the reader for climax’s within the story.

Robert Louis Stevenson was a man with a definite flare for writing. He has managed to portray the theme of hypocrisy and double standards to his readers in a clever way and with a unique style. This theme could have been shown simply and entirely by the two main characters: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but Stevenson goes further with his work, he shows duality in every possible way he can, oxymorons, contrasting descriptions. The world of double standards is apparent from the very start of this eloquent novella. It is the passion and depth that you can so clearly see in his words that make ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ a novella loved by all ages.

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Show how Stevenson through themes, language and setting creates a world of double standards and hypocrisy. (2017, Nov 04). Retrieved from

Show how Stevenson through themes, language and setting creates a world of double standards and hypocrisy

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