‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is set in Victorian times, where the well-respected lawyer Utterson investigates the mysterious goings on surrounding his good friend Dr Jekyll and the evil Mr Hyde. The book was written in 1886 and therefore contains many theories around in Victorian times such as physiognomy. This is when people believed physical appearance could define a criminal type character. This is evident throughout the book due to the description of Hyde and also of more civilised characters. The idea of original sin is perhaps ‘watered down’ in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by introducing the idea of drugs to bring out evil characteristics in one person.
The setting of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is set in Victorian London. Stevenson uses clear descriptions of misty nights and a ‘night under the face of the fogged city moon’, which give an impression of evil and mystery to the story long before it has truly begun. ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is at one point mentioned as ‘very cool and a little damp, and full of premature twilight.’ This is a first hand example of the split personality coming through, the darkness showing through too early, damp, a total opposite to the respectable setting of Victorian London.
Many people in Victorian times believed in the theory of physiognomy, however, Golding also makes some symbolic use of appearances. In ‘Lord of the Flies’ Jack and Ralph first met when the conch is blown. Jack leading the choir is described as ‘tall, thin and bony: his hair was red’ ‘His face was crumpled and freckled, and ugly without silliness’ this gives the idea that Jack looks evil. His red hair and black overalls can be associated with the colour of the devil and the colour of death / destructions.
The use of physiognomy in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is very obvious, especially in the descriptions of Hyde. Many different characters give across description of Hyde as ‘a little man who was stumping along’ and to further demonstrate Hyde as an evil character, he is often described using reference to animals, as in the line ‘Hyde shrank back with a hissing intake of breath’.
Although often Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems to be a light-hearted tale of mystery and intrigue, Stevenson takes great pains to show that the evil Mr. Hyde is very deadly. There is certainly nothing comical about the trampling of the little girl on the street corner.
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ does not use much biblical reference, although very much like Adam & Eve who ate the forbidden fruit to gain knowledge, Lanyon’s desire for knowledge used his hardship resulting in his death, ‘that I must die and yet I shall die incredulous’.
Stevenson also did not introduce much allegory although the themes portrayed in the novel can be related to modern times. The obvious parallel to issues nowadays is the use of drugs. Stevenson uses the drugs to all Dr Jekyll to change into Mr Hyde, and his dependency on Hyde may be compared to a drug addiction. The line ‘I could stop whenever I want’ is used in Jekyll’s defence but in reality (like many addicts) they are not in control.
The elements of symbolism in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ also seem to be much smaller than in ‘Lord of the Flies’. The home and laboratory of Dr Jekyll are on opposite sides of the spectrum. His home is seen as respectable and upright. This is shown in the lines ‘the hall, when they entered it, was brightly lighted up; the fire was built high”. His laboratory in comparison is described to be rundown and filthy. Both Dr Jekyll’s home and laboratory are joined together, but look like very separate buildings. This represents the characters of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, who stemmed from the same person but have completely different appearances.
The windows to Dr Jekyll’s laboratory are enclosed with iron bars. These bars mean Jekyll is literally and symbolically imprisoned. The iron bars literally enclose the windows and the Victorian community confine Dr Jekyll to only revealing his ‘respectable’ side.
Yet Stevenson’s story doesn’t have a happy ending. Jekyll is able to admit that after a few months of experimenting with Hyde, eventually the little man’s demands became increasingly extreme, seeking more and more power. Soon Jekyll has no control over Hyde, who appears by himself whenever Jekyll dozes off to sleep. He admits, “I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse.” Finally Hyde causes Jekyll to commit the ultimate act of self-destruction: suicide.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ contains both the 1st and 3rd person, which gives both an overview of events and more in-depth personal thoughts into the main story. The two types are narration are shown in the overall narration of the story which is in 3rd person, and in Lanyon and Jekyll’s letters, where the type of narration turns to 1st person, ‘I saw what I saw, I heard what I heard’. The use of two types of narration could be related to their being two characters who were at one time connected (Jekyll and Hyde).
Both books have major relevance in contemporary times, and can be linked to recent events.
Similar to ‘Lord of the Flies’ and the actions of the boys, in the news lately stories have been published about young boys brutally murdering others. A prime example is the Jamie Bulgar case where two young boys murdered a two year old.
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, can be related to scientific attempts, such as cloning and genetic engineering, as they have yet unknown consequences, just as Dr Jekyll did not understand how the drugs he took would affect him.
Also hypocrisy is a part of contemporary life. Many people behave in one way in public but another elsewhere. This is also brought out in the novel as Dr Jekyll was forced by civilisation to act differently in public and this caused him to experiment with drugs, (therefore separating his two sides making it easy to act respectively at all times.
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ and ‘Lord of the flies’ have similar themes although written in two largely different times. They also relate closely to current themes suggesting that some ideas are consistent over time. The themes of good and evil and the relation to ‘original sin’ are demonstrated within both novels suggesting that each individual has the opportunity to be both good and evil. This is best in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ as the same person splits his personalities, which allows it to be both good and fully evil at different times. In ‘Lord of the Flies’ this is shown in a different way, by using children as the main characters. In this way, it uses the reader’s preconception that children are innocent and are not born evil, but can become so.