The novel ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ Essay
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The purpose of this essay is to consider the different views of human nature that Stevenson presents in his book: ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. The main character has a split personality, where one is the opposite of the other. Stevenson believes that evil is just as much a part of the human personality as good is, and this essay will analyse just how his views are revealed in his novel. It will also show the conflict of good and evil throughout the whole book, and how Stevenson’s background and other factors may have influences how he portrayed it.
Stevenson lived and grew up in Edinburgh, therefore in the novel, his references are vary vague, for example: ‘not far from the river’, or just totally made up, for example Gaunt Street. However some real names are mentioned, like Soho or Cavendish Square.
One story that Stevenson would have heard in his childhood in Edinburgh is the story of Deacon Brodie, a cabinetmaker by day and a criminal by night. There is a link as both Jekyll and Deacon Brodie have a good and evil side to them, and lead an exciting double life.
Robert Louis Stevenson had been brought up as a strict Calvinist; a belief centred upon moral values that make you conscious of the devil and sinfulness, which he eventually rebelled against. I believe that this influences Jekyll’s character, as when Stevenson rebelled against Calvinism, similarly, Jekyll rebelled against his high status and reputation, and those iron chains tying him down to what he ‘should be’ rather than what he wants to be. This is why Jekyll keeps taking the potion, he fells free without any boundaries:
‘Men have hired bravos to transact their crimes, whilst their own person and reputation sat under shelter… spring headlong into the sea of liberty.’
The above quote enlightens us with the simple facts that Jekyll doesn’t want to have somebody else do the crimes for him, and that he loves to feel free. The detail that tells us that Jekyll loves to feel free is important as it shows us just how desperate he is to do something wild. ‘Whilst their own reputation sat under shelter’ suggests that Jekyll also loves the adrenalin that if somebody found out, he could lose his reputation.
Stevenson was also born into the time when the industrial revolution was occurring. This was a great setting for his book, as there were countless factories being constructed, and there was chaos. Everybody was going about their own business, not noticing or caring that vulgar crimes were happening. Since there was a lot of distinction between classes, Jekyll was tied to his status and reputation (being upper class), while Hyde had the possibilities of doing anything, as firstly: no one would notice, and secondly: as he was not watched by his ‘friends’ to see what he was doing.
Charles Darwin produced an interesting theory, claiming that humans were not created by God, as it says in Genesis and what then believed in, yet had evolved from animals, such as apes. Darwin discovered that as long as there was heredity, variation among the offspring, and limited food, there had to be evolution. He worked on his book for twenty years, and finally published it in 1859, before Stevenson published his novel. There are some references in the text that would suggest that Darwin’s theory created some sort of impact on Stevenson, as he described Hyde as ‘ape-like’. This could fit in with the fact that Hyde is considered as very primitive.
‘And then all of a sudden he broke out in a great flame of anger… The old gentleman took a step back… surprised and a trifle hurt; at that Mr Hyde broke out of all bounds and clubbed him to the earth. And the next moment with ape-like fury…’
It illustrates that the man Hyde was attacking, Carew, had not done anything to provoke or aggravate Hyde. It also shows that Hyde would do anything he felt like doing without a single thought of the consequences. He is a man that is lead by mood and emotion rather that brain, like Dr Jekyll. This is another example to show that they are polar opposites, and it also links to how primitive he is. Primitiveness is when something or somebody is uncivilised and thoughtless. It is as thought that person has not evolved properly yet, and acts on instinct (ape-like).
Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr Edward Hyde are not two people, but two personalities inside the same body. Even their names are phonetically linked to two totally different images: Jekyll is linked to a ‘jackal’ (a small and adorable animal), while Hyde is linked to the verb ‘hide’ (this could symbolise Hyde hiding under the cover of London or under the mask of Jekyll). They are like two completely different people, one representing good, and the other evil. There is a link even between Hyde’s looks to his personality.
‘…Something wrong with his appearance, something displeasing, something downright detestable’
In that period the Victorians had a concept that outer appearance reflected personality, so evil people in those times would be represented as an ugly, crippling, deformed and just basically unpleasant in public shows and plays. This could be the reason why Hyde has ‘something wrong with his appearance’.
Jekyll feels trapped inside a world full of boundaries, so he gets addicted to the potion that enables him to turn into Hyde. Jekyll feels liberated and calms him hunger for freedom, while Hyde goes around killing and hurting people. We see the Then the inner struggle (dichotomy) appears. We see this when Mr Hyde has ‘trampled’ over a little girl, or when he killed Sir Danvers Carew.
‘Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde… grasp of conscience… his good qualities seemed unimpaired he would even make haste… to undo the evil done by Hyde’
Jekyll has to face a hard decision: good or evil? He is torn apart as good is ‘the right thing’, while evil is the thing that feels good and is effective. The above quote shows us just how torn apart he is, as he feels dreadfully guilty, yet he carries on taking the potion. I think that Stevenson used Hyde to represent the heavily primitive side of the human personality, yet he also used other characters, as there are more demonstrations of a primitive conduct.
In the Victorian times, reputation was all that mattered. If you did not have a reputation, you were not considered as a gentleman. A typical example of how determined people were to get a good reputation is Mr Utterson and Mr Enfield. They would be seen walking together every Sunday, yet they hardly paid any attention to each other.
‘…What these two could see in each other and what subject they could have in common… they said nothing, looked singularly dull…’
This implies that the pair only walked in each other’s company to be seen. This could be because they both were high in society, so they had connections, and they could use them to get a even better reputation. It would even be reasonable to say that they would be prepared to ruin each other’s reputation if that made them get a better one themselves!
Mr Enfield also portrays the theme of evil, in the incident of the little girl. At 3am Mr Hyde basically ‘trampled’ over a girl. He collided with her and just carried on walking. Mr Enfield was there and called him back, and blackmailing him, he ordered money from Hyde so as not to blow the situation out of proportion.
‘We screwed him up to a hundred pounds for the child’s family…’
However in the begging of telling this tale, Mr Enfield tells us that he was
‘…Coming home from some place at the end of the world, about three o’clock…’
This means he has been visiting a prostitute. This is not the right conduct for a man of high status. This is tells us that Enfield had no right in blackmailing Hyde, as Hyde could have done the same to Enfield.
The theme of evil is also showed through some minor characters, such as the policeman. When Carew was murdered, the policeman that was running his case had no real interest in doing his job, but in who the dead person is.
‘…His eye lightened up with professional ambition. ‘This will make a great deal of noise’…’
Solving the case of the murder of Carew is all that the policeman cares about, as he wants to be famous as the policeman that solved the case of the murder of Carew. The policeman is supposed to be kind and good to people, but if he were presented with an ordinary working class victim, he would not have much interest. This means that he is very hypocritical.
Another minor character that has a nasty side to her personality is the maid that works in Hyde’s house.
‘A flash of odious joy appeared upon the woman’s face. ‘Ah!’ said she, ‘he is in trouble! What has he done?’
This tells us that the maid is cruel and sadistic. She seems to enjoy that she seems to know more about him and have some dirt on him. She seems happy that he is in trouble, yet all that they are concerned about is that she has ‘excellent manners’.
All the minor characters have a theme of hypocrisy running through them. When they are in front of people, they get judged, so they have to act good in front of people, while when nobody could notice, they act their true self, and are evil.
Stevenson describes London as being a city of contrasts. The setting and the weather are perfect for a novel about hidden truths and double lives. There was a lot o smoke, pollution, disease and crime that were spreading, so this was a perfect place to situate a person like and Hyde because he could hide under the blanket of all these escalating problems, and he would hardly be noticed.
Another thing that made it gloomy and yet perfect for Stevenson’s purposes was the mixture of fog and smoke, often called ‘smog’, and the maze like streets since in maze-like streets you can get lost, there are many dead-ends, and you are usually alone in mazes. The main reason however, was that nobody cared about anyone else.
London is used as on immense metaphor as the River Thames was used as a dumping ground for among other things human waste, and as it runs through the centre of London, it can symbolise the foul elements within the whole book. Also, it symbolises good and evil living side by side, as the north and the south are cut in half by the river Thames. The whole of London could symbolise the human personality, because the north could be the good side, and the south could be the evil side, and the river Thames could be there the boundary between good and evil is.
The Victorians were infatuated with death, black, ghosts, mourning and spiritualism, although they did not admit to it and acted as if they were fascinated with fairies and the kind. This is like all those people with a reputation that are pretending to be someone they are not.
In the ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Stevenson presents the human nature that he believes everybody has: good and evil together, He uses everything possible to create the atmosphere of duality, secret, and crime. I think Stevenson is telling his readers not to hide who you really are, yet not to totally forget about one side of the human personality. You should be just like the river Thames: just weaving through the middle.