The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Essay
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In my essay I am going to discuss the story called The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This story is a pre 20th century gothic novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson. When I say a gothic novel I don’t mean something of the dark ages but rather a story that has a dark deep story which ventures into the unknown. This story is typical of the 19th century when people had radical ideas which were questionable to those in Victorian society.
The story starts with a person called Mr Hyde trampling over a young girl and producing a cheque with Dr Jekyll’s name on it to pay for the damage done to the girl. Later Dr Jekyll’s friends find that he has made a will to a man named Mr Hyde that was to be given to him under doctor Jekyll’s death or disappearance. His friends think that he has been threatened or forced to make a will to this wicked man Mr Hyde.
Later in the story the whole mystery was revealed to us. Dr Jekyll was involved in an experiment which was supposed to break the bond between good and evil. This barrier of good and evil could be put in comparison with Soho and Cavendish Square. The experiment that Dr Jekyll was involved in made his evil side come out which was Mr Hyde but to do this Dr Jekyll had to drink a potion. After a while Hyde’s appearance could no longer be controlled with the potion but came out when ever Dr Jekyll dosed off. This is why Dr Jekyll made a will to Hyde because he was afraid that he will never be able to turn back to his normal self and Hyde will have money to spend instead of having nothing. Later I will discuss this in more detail but now I will talk about the setting of the novel.
In the novel Stevenson uses different characters to show and express the theme of man’s hypocritical and divided nature, one of these characters is Dr Lanyon. When he is with his friends his behaviour seems to show someone who is a good friend and will do a lot to help his friends out but when it comes to his reputation he will not help his friends as he previously would have if it did not involve his reputation and others who have ruined their reputation by their deeds. One example of this is when he was dying he said “I have had a shock and I shall never recover.” There it sounded as if he has signed his passport to death, yet later when Jekyll is mentioned he says “I wish to see or hear no more of Dr Jekyll”. He didn’t say why he didn’t want to see him any more he was very vague as he was trying to keep his own reputation and that of Jekyll’s. This may seem a nice thing to do but if it involves something as serious as someone changing into the wicked character of Hyde who kills people such as Sir Danvers Carew then to protect them seems wrong.
Gabriel Utterson is supposed to be the “perfect gentleman” he shows this by trying to find out peoples problems and trying to solve them but without the problems being gossiped about. An example of this is when he found the will that Dr Jekyll had made to Hyde which would have allowed Hyde to have Jekyll’s money after his disappearance for more than 3 months or his death. This concerned Utterson so he talked to Jekyll himself and said “I have been waiting to speak to you, Jekyll……you know that will of yours?”
That is just one of the many quotes that could be found since it shows that he had a true interest in his friends and by the manner of the sentence construction it looks like he is speaking to Jekyll in a calm manner with a listening ear and someone who speaks like this would unlikely be a gossiper. Despite his kindness and loyalty to his friends he still wasn’t the perfect gentleman since he was attracted to those of the Victorian underworld. This suggests that visits to places like Soho is not out of the question and this defies his outer reputation so the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ fits nicely here as even though Utterson seems such an upright man he still ‘under his cover’ has something to hide.
Furthermore the woman at Hyde’s room is another example of hypocrisy. She is smoothed faced and well mannered when she comes to the door but no doubt has evil dealings with Hyde which her demeanour hides.
Mr Hyde is the most controversial of characters. He is the evil side of Dr Jekyll. We know the sort of things Hyde gets up to such as his assault on people, his murders and the fact that he resides in Soho gives an idea of his conduct. These sorts of actions are not associated with Dr Jekyll but it is still him that is doing it. This shows that even though Jekyll seems to be respectable he has evil thoughts and this is expressed through his metamorphosis into Hyde where all his evil comes to the fore.
Discussing Jekyll shows that once he had conducted his experiment and proved that he had broken the barrier between good and evil he continued conducting these experiments and he knew what Hyde was doing but he still let Hyde rampage until he couldn’t be controlled. So this shows that though one may have good intentions in the beginning they can be changed by unforeseen circumstances so it shows that it is hard to control that quality of evil. You could say that Enfield leads a double life as he saw the girl being trampled down he must have been out at that late hour of 03:00 and he would have only been out at that time if he was venturing down the streets of Soho doing things that upper class Victorian society would not allow him.
Stevenson used the idea of there being a beast inside a man in the character of Hyde. We saw that Hyde had animal like qualities. In the novella he was found to be ‘shrinking back with a hissing intake of breath’ signifying that he had snake like qualities in him. Also, when Poole was describing when he saw a ‘thing’ in the house which he thought may have been Jekyll he said “If it were my master why did he cry out like rat and run from me”, that shows another animal like quality that Hyde possessed. Here Hyde was depicted as using animal like qualities, without conscience suggesting that evil is easily committed. This theme of there being a beast in a man was developed by Charles Darwin’s theory of humans developing from apes so Stevenson gave his central character these qualities had beast like qualities.
Following on from that Victorian people were obsessed by the idea of recidivism. This is when they thought that the poor were going to turn into animals and the rich were worried by the collapse of societal values. This suggests that we all have evil in us. I don’t think that we have good or evil in us but it is up to us to be good or evil. Anyone can do anything evil, but the thing is whether their conscience will bother them. In 99 people out of 100 people their consciences will bother them if they killed someone on the other hand in the case of Hyde he had no problem killing another human being.
Stevenson uses a number of symbols to reinforce important themes in the novel. Perhaps the most powerful symbol in the novella is found in the contrast of the rear and front entrances of the house. The door that represents innocence and decency is the front door. This is the door where Dr Jekyll usually enters. This door represents excellence because it is in Cavendish Square; this area has a reputation of being the dwelling place of the most respectable people in London. The front of the house, where the front door is situated, is clean and maintained to an exemplary standard and gives an air of purity. However, the door and the stylish exterior belie the existence of Hyde in Jekyll.
A door is used to depict the evil secretive side of Dr Jekyll. This can be said because the lab outhouse is an old dilapidated building as shown by this quote “and bore in every feature the marks of prolonged negligence. The door which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained.” This shows that no care was shown to this building that was in fact part of Dr Jekyll’s house. This rear door was in Soho even though it is the same house as doctor Jekyll’s. Since there are two sides of the house it coincides with the two sided nature of Dr Jekyll whose other side is Hyde. This is why Hyde uses the back door that represents evil because it is in Soho and is derelict and why Jekyll uses the front door which is clean and represents Jekyll’s innocent nature.
Soho gives the connotation of iniquity and wickedness, because in Soho there were many poor people who went to all kinds of lengths to get money some of these are things like stealing and prostitution which you do not associate with purity and hence door denotes vice. Stevenson seems to be saying that being poor is being evil, however you can’t judge a person from their material possessions but the environment they are in can affect their behaviour.
In the novella Stevenson uses images of buildings with locked doors, those without windows or barred windows. I think these symbols give a sense of being trapped. In this case evil is trapped behind locked doors. Some doors were opened to no one. This was not uncommon in Victorian society. These were things associated with recluses. The reason why I use this is that Jekyll was locked in his cabinet for a very long time. This is a symbolism of Dr Jekyll’s soul trying to suppress something evil from coming out which is Hyde. This is shown in Dr Jekyll’s narrative when he says “It took on this occasion a double dose to recall me to myself” so he was trying to suppress Hyde by taking this double dose of potion. Some other images that will fill this niche well are barred windows because this depicts some thing urging to get out but is being obstructed by a barrier. This at first represented Hyde when Jekyll had only started to take his potion but later this represented Jekyll when Hyde was raging and Jekyll was keeping him out.
Stevenson uses the characters speech in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to show us how honest or dishonest characters are. Some of the characters are honest in their speech and usually which is calm and straight forward because they have nothing to hide. On the other hand, even though Poole was honest he was very frightened when he was talking to Utterson about the mysterious happening of Dr Jekyll he said “I have been afraid for a week and I can bear it no more.” Here Poole was being very honest about the fact that he was scared of the situation in the house so honesty does not always mean that you are going to be relaxed but you still can be tense when telling the truth. Enfield can also be an honest talker even though he is a bit of a gossiper.
Some other characters that are not so honest include Lanyon and Jekyll. We can tell this because they are reserved secretive and even formal with their own friends. For example, Jekyll speaks in a very reserved manner and secretive way with his own friends. An example of this is when he is speaking to Utterson about the will “You do not understand my position, I am painfully situated, Utterson; my position is very strange. It is one of those affairs that cannot be mended by talking.” There we see that he was very vague with his own friend, which is a very strange position. You could at least explain to your friend but since Jekyll had Hyde to hide he glazed over the subject leaving Utterson mystified.
There is another example of this in the case of Dr Lanyon when he was speaking to Utterson about Jekyll he said “I swear to God I will never set eyes on him again.” He did not say why he would not set eyes on him. Even though he was saving the reputation of Jekyll and keeping to his doctor’s agreement not to release any information he still should of told Utterson because when Jekyll turned into Hyde lives were at risk as Hyde was a person of evil. So Stevenson shows that Victorian people of the upper class still strayed from their strict boundaries and were hypocritical they did this because they had something to ‘Hyde’.
Using a number of different techniques and images Stevenson creates a dark and menacing setting for the novel. Most of the action in the novel that in involves Hyde takes place under the cover of darkness and Stevenson frequently reminds us with this by giving us images of light and dark.
Light can change people’s moods all the way from bright and cheery to the opposite of dark and menacing. It is interesting that Stevenson uses a dark “black winter morning” when Enfield meets Hyde. This dramatic tension something bad had happened at that time hence Stevenson uses darkness to depict something sinister. Stevenson also refers quite a lot to lamps as they have to do with light. In the story it says “My way lay through a part of town where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps.” This depicts darkness in other words evil, and there is some good, the lamps, but where there is too much darkness and too few lamps it is like evil overwhelming the good. This scene was at 3o’clock in the morning when most good people are asleep so this gives criminals the chance to be active without being spotted so this is why that scene was effective because the corruption by far outweighed the good.
Stevenson compares the streets of London to a labyrinth, which depicts that London is an easy place to get lost in therefore it would be a criminal’s paradise as they can do anything and weave themselves through the streets of London away from pursuers such as the police or victims of the crime. This can also depict Dr Jekyll’s lost soul as he can’t seem to bring himself back but being continuously being over ridden by Hyde, his evil side.
Stevenson shows us how deserted the streets of London were at night time “Street after street and all the folks asleep street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church.” That really shows how deserted the streets of London were as empty as a church. This is when Hyde went about his dealings such as the murder of Sir Danvers Carew. Another example of the silence is in Chapter 2 “By ten o’clock, when the shops were closed the by street was very solitary, and in spite of the low growl of London from all round, very silent.” So if a place is ‘very solitary’ and ‘very silent’ it must be desolate except for those who do things under the cover of darkness such as criminals and those who have something to hide.
To create setting with a particularly threatening and depressing atmosphere, Stevenson uses words and phrases such as “great chocolate coloured pall lowered over heaven” to depict a dark and lifeless time with no brightness to be seen. Another example is “mournful reinvasion of darkness”. This makes it seem as if bright has been there for a very short time but and darkness is coming again. This shows that it must be winter time. Also used is “some city in a nightmare” that quote explains itself. “Dingy street”, “brown as umber” and “blackguardly surrounding” all describe what Soho was like.
These phrases also seem to show a war between light and dark. The above is a description of the morning but there is also a lot of mention of dark. This war between light and dark has been made by Stevenson to reinforce some of the central themes of good versus evil. A quote between shows this war between light and dark is this “for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of day light of daylight would glance between the swirling wreaths” so that shows only for a while there are sunny spells and quickly they disappear from the fog. When those two forces are equal this was like when Jekyll resumed have his dinner parties. Stevenson uses every day phrases to depict great powerful images and these images are relevant to people in his day so that is why his stories work so well.
By setting his novel in the heart of London, between Cavendish Square and Soho, Stevenson allows us to see the divisions between the rich and the poor in Victorian society. All of the main characters in the novel are rich excluding the illusive figure of Hyde who is a rich person because he is Jekyll but lives as person who is neither rich nor poor. The rich characters are supposedly solid, respectable men, and should be possessed by people like lawyers and doctors. These are men who have a high social status in Victorian society and could afford a large house with a butler and many servants. This gave these people, such as Jekyll, a sense of power over other people. In our story it seems as if Dr Jekyll’s reputation for being an upright, good and exact person is being lost with his association with Mr Hyde that is why he seems to shy away from the subject of Hyde when it appears in conversation.
The area where Dr Jekyll, Mr Utterson and Dr Lanyon live is a wealthy and respectable area in the heart of London’s West End, Cavendish Sqaure. It is imperative that men of such status live in these areas, as they complement the high social status they are supposed to have. They would not find themselves in an area such as Soho, let alone live in it, but one person Mr Hyde is a disreputable man and seems to have no awareness of social standing. Soho is amazingly within a mile of Cavendish Square but the contrast of the two places is immeasurable. One would presume that because two areas are in such close vicinity they would be fairly similar, in the case of Soho and Cavendish Square you would not be more wrong. Soho is destitute, the streets are grimy and you would find it impossible to find a clean spot, beggars sit outside the door hoping people will give them money, there are people who are ready to jump you if they get a whiff of money on you, and women that prostate themselves in brothels to get money.
These are the sort of places that respectable people go to satisfy their desires under the cover darkness. In contrast Cavendish Square is clean and filled with lavishly furnished and structurally sound buildings unlike those in Soho where the houses are decrepit and beyond repair. Since the houses in Cavendish Square are so grand you would think that they would be housed by honest people but we know that not all of the people are as honourable as they seem. Going into more detail the lives of those in Cavendish Square would consist of many dinner parties, studying and for the younger generation there would be plenty of balls.
Most of these upper class people would distain the thought of leading a life like those in Soho as they were very comfortable and were engulfed around this lifestyle. Also the difference between the women of the upper class and lower class is that those of the upper class would have very little free choice as these were controlled by a man of the family whether that is their husband brother or father. In the lower classes the women had more say as they had to do what they could to earn money to live on but this was unnecessary for the upper class as a few pounds here and there would not make much difference to their hundreds of thousands to millions of pounds.
In this essay Stevenson was trying to make us think about the nature of humans in Victorian society. In Victorian society there were great rifts between the rich and the poor. These rifts made the upper class think that the poor were beast as they had to go to seemingly animalistic means to get the food that they needed. What these upper class people didn’t realise was that if you put two completely different people in close proximity the worst of people would come out. This can be said because if you went in to the country in that time you would find farmers doing their work to get money, they had the opportunity to earn an honest living but not in London. London was an over crowded place at that time and was nowhere as large as it is now.
Factory work was the most popular line of work for the lower class people but those found in Soho were unable to find jobs to earn an honest living. The upper classes obviously did not realise the reason for poor life in Soho hence became obsessed by the idea of recidivism. This is why I think this story has that theme as Stevenson was trying to explore ideas as to why the poor lived in such an animalistic state. Stevenson has made me think of why the lower class Victorian society had to go so low to survive that is why I have the explanation above. The setting of Victorian London is a fitting setting for this type of novel because this is a time when there were lots of mysteries that were not mentioned because of superstition and so remained a mystery.
In a modern society though these are no longer mysteries as the problems to these solutions has been solved. The solution is to treat everyone equally or have equal opportunities; with this no one can blame any one for their poor quality of life but themselves. Unfortunately this can only be said of richer countries as they have the monetary capabilities to give every one these opportunities. In Victorian times you automatically were judged by the class you were born in to and had a poor education so therefore you did not have the opportunities of those today. The reason why Stevenson wanted us to think about the difference between classes is that he grew up in Edinburgh where the difference between the classes was greater he witnessed poverty, disease and over crowding near to his place of dwelling, a middle class New Town. This could be associated with the closeness of the two places of Soho and Cavendish Square. This city fed Stevenson’s young mind of the supernatural so that is why he thought of the character of Hyde; pure evil.
Another point of discussion is duality. Stevenson made us think whether men have an evil side or not. I do not think that men can separate themselves into two simply by drinking a potion but they could have a dual personality by leading a double life. This point was a prevalent point in the story with the example of Jekyll hiding things from people using his double personality to do what ever he wants to. Many people did this in Victorian times but not having two characters but using the cover of darkness to do what they would not dare to do in the daylight as their respectability was very important to them in other words they were hypocritical. Stevenson was trying to use this subject of respectability which he had a problem with. He wanted to see what other people thought about his life style without using himself in the story but by substituting himself with the two characters of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
When he was 17 and studying engineering he was living a respectable life by day and under the cover of darkness he was living a debauched life that would not befit the life of someone in the middle classes. Because of the hypocrisy he witnessed, and was going through himself he wanted to bring to peoples attention that the seemingly perfect upper and middle classes were not what they seemed but on the whole a hypocritical bunch of people. Now days the things that the poor got up to don’t seem as bad but when we look to authority we find it shocking to learn what goes on. An example of this is of Bill Clinton. We all know the story that he was having an affair with someone else when he was married and managed to hide it for some time. So think again, hypocrisy still goes on today.
This essay had a great deal to do with the Victorian culture as this idea of duality perplexed many doctors and scientists of that day Stevenson tried to find the explanation for himself and no doubt other people of the day had tried to find the answer. Like the person who wrote a short story called Markhiem that had characters living double lives in it. Stevenson had a fetish about this idea of duality, it was no doubt because of his illness and inability to spend much time outside his bedroom and therefore his nurse told him stories about the differences between life of good and evil with the life of evil leading to a life in hell.
This made him have terrible nightmares which stuck to him through out his whole life this is why in his stories he described Hyde as having the mark of ‘Satan’. Stevenson recalls his nurse telling him “there are but two camps in the world – one perfectly pious and respectable, one of the perfectly mundane and vicious: one mostly on its knees and singing hymns, the other on the high road to the gallows and the bottomless pit.” This no doubt made him think of the idea of recidivism because if one were so vicious they must be nearer to an animal instead of a human.