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The Use of Contrast in “The Lady of Shalott” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Essay

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I. Introduction

Compare the two pieces of writing, there are nearly nothing in common. The former “The Lady of Shalott”, is a poem about the conflict between art and life, also the searching for freedom and release. The latter “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, is a novella on the theme of human dual nature, good and evil. “The Lady of Shalott” is a fantastic fairy-tale, while “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is a gothic mystery story. Though they seem contradictory, but the uses of contrast in both writings have successfully achieved to create the atmosphere, highlight the character and set the theme.

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II. Contrast in Setting

Body is a refuge of soul, where as our house is a resting place for our body, therefore living place is a projection of our soul. Both “The Lady of Shalott” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” have presented a sharp difference between in habitats of the protagonists between others, in order to show the psychological distinction. The most significant feature in poem “The Lady of Shalott” was the use of colours in setting background. The poem gives a description of the town of Camelot, where it is a beautiful place that has “Long fields of barley and of rye”, wold that can meet the sky, river lies and lilies grow, crowds of people travel up and down by the river to the island of Shalott, an island named after the Lady.

We may expect it as a poor habitant for people to live in, but the truth is it is a quiet nice nature environment with few people passes by: whiten Willows, quiver aspens, breezes in colours of dusk and shiver. There is only one thing that does not match: “Four gray walls, and four gray towers”. This is where the Lady of Shalott locked in. Not only the beginning, but through out the poem are contrast of Shalott’s colourless life with the colourful (reflection) of the surrounding: “red cloaks of market girls”, “mirror blue”, ” purple night”, which are antithetic to her world. Such strong contrasts are set as psychological reflections of the Lady’s solitude and loneliness, within the environment.

She could see the picture-like nature in a mirror but cannot go into it; the reapers know her existence by her singing, which creates a deep mournful and grief climate. Metaphorically, the colour contrast also imply the contemplative artist isolated from the bustle and activity of daily life. Artists are stick to their “magic web”, to craft their works of beauty alone, their life is bound by monistic art work (monochromatic) and lost their diversity in life (chromatic).

For “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” the contrast of setting is presented in other way. The author specifically put the living place of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde together. Jekyll’s house is set in a once handsome but now decayed square. It is opulent and “wore a great wealth and comfort”; in contrast, for the house where Hyde appears to live, however, it is ” a certain sinister block of building” that located in Soho Street, dirty and neglected. It has three windows on the second floor, which are always shut, but clean, pervading a sense of out of place and mystery. Though the both place are so extreme, the strange door of Mr. Hyde’s house is actually attached to Jekyll’s house and that Hyde has a key to access it.

This contrast are virtually symbolized the nature of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll appeared to be a handsome doctor, has a high social status, but he has a hidden desire to conceal pleasure, as he grew older, he found harder to balance his dual nature. On the contrary, Mr. Hyde has the image of Dr. Jekyll’s ill part, he was ugly, detestable and deformed. He has no mercy and sense of guilty in nature, but self-indulgent to luxurious life. Their characters were projected to their house, as Jekyll has mentioned twice, “Jekyll was now the city of my refuge”, ” (my last earthly refuge)” in his full statement. Jekyll’s house is decaying as a result of his corrupting nature; he is losing his moral battle.

Yet Hyde’s house presented his permissive nature of luxury and good taste in pleasure: wine, silver plate, elegant napery and good picture. Furthermore, both two houses are intercommunicated which implied the interrelationship between the character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In fact, the buildings are adjoined but look out on two different streets. Because of the convoluted layout of the streets in the area, the casual observer cannot detect that the structures are two parts of a whole, just as he or she would be unable to detect the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde.

In sum, both “The Lady of Shalott” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has shown the psychological difference of each character by contrasting their inhabitations

III. Contrast in Appearance

Although the two stories have similarities in comparing the setting, for appearance, it is a totally different case. For “The Lady of Shalott”, it is complex, it contrasts the appearance of Shalott and Lancelot as a symbol of artist and real life. As mention in the previous paragraph, Lady of Shalott is isolated in monochrome, it is reasonable that she is a plain, flat woman, who lack of coenesthesia. Even though she has a “lovely face” as Lancelot speaks of his comment to her in Part 4, none of any others in Camelot noticed her presence in the tower.

The description of the poem told that she “robed in snowy white”, such gauzy colour, gives even more a sense of transparent. Conversely, Sir Lancelot is a bright solid man: he is “A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d”, who “sparkled on the yellow field”. Many colours are used in Part 3 for the appearance of Lancelot that stands opposed to the shadow-image of Shalott. (Her name seems also compound of shadow-Lancelot/ Camelot). To explain the relationship between Shalott and Lancelot, they are the moon and the sun. In ” Symbolism in Tennyson’s Minor Poems”, by Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, would give a good start to my stance:

“The Lady of Shalott is an artist, weaving beautiful pictures which are supposed to reproduce real life but which are derived entirely at the second hand through the mirror. At the beginning of the poem she is perfectly happy with her artificial, lifeless creation…”

The Lady of Shalott functioned like a moon, which reflects the light from the sun (real world). Of course, the moon would have no question to her job; this is also for her own good. (The sun is too hot for the moon to get close) Sadly, Her consciousness awaken as she saw the two lovers in the mirror:

“When she catches the first glimpse of real emotion, even in the mirror (the young lovers) she suddenly begins to rebel, crying out, ‘I am half sick of shadow!’ A soon as emotion touches her personally through her interest in Lancelot, she defies the curse, and enjoy her brief hour of genuine life, even though she knows it will be her last.”

The first glimpse of the real world alerted her- herself as a shadow object and brings her to depression; the second glimpse is already a direct watch to the sun-Sir Lancelot, such a flaming, dazzling, sparkling image-hurt her eyes, stricken her heart, shaken her soul, the primitive calling from the deepest part of her interior, she could no longer wait-freedom, love, bran-new-life-it is only an instant, for she would soon be burnt in the strong sunlight; mournfully, she sang her last carol in loudly, to spend her remain lifetime, die in sorrow and regretless. This tragic accident, symbolizes how artists live in the struggles between art and life; who is creating reflection from the world that they has no experiences in it-they spent a lifetime to create one masterpiece, but what have they get at the end? Or else, if they give up the “magic-web”, the world also left not a place for them, since the only thing they know to do is creating art, which is not a useful survive skill in reality.

To compare, if “The Lady of Shalott” is a romantic style of presenting an internal struggles of human’s dream and reality; “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” would seem more familiar to us, as its theme is on human’s dual nature: good and evil, which is a typical motif in western literature. Mr. Hyde is small, ugly, ape-like, “an extraordinary- looking” young man who appears as “something displeasing, something downright detestable”, “deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity”. In contrast, Dr. Jekyll is a tall, handsome, well off and respected, who is “large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a stylish cast”.

There appears no identifiable physical connection between Jekyll and Hyde yet, at the end of the novella, they are revealed to be the same individual. Indeed, stereotype concept is used in to show their difference in appearance: that the good ones appear to be pure as angel while the ill ones is as wicked as devil. Most of the characters in the novel share the same feeling when they see the appearance of Mr. Hyde: Satan has been made flesh down to earth. Dramatically and inconceivably, the two companies are one.

Though the ill company is displeasing enough, what truly horrifies the reader is: the dark nature and good nature sourced from the same body. The author nakedly presents human’s evil nature, by giving it an earthly body and an ironic name: Mr. Hyde-devil that secretly lies inside our nature is now concrete. Readers are forced to face the disgustingly sin that they never want to talk about, same as what Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield’s doing. It seems that Jekyll is forgivable even he creates such a monster from his nature; at least he faced his ill part, and felt ashamed of it. Is this made him forgivable? An unsigned Review, Secret Sin, ‘ Rock’ has given quite a good explanation to this question:

“…The inner sanctum of their own hearts they are conscious of another self, a very different character.. So far this is more or less common to all. It is a result of the fall of man that we have ever present a lower nature struggling to get the mastery…The man whose passions are strong has no intensions of becoming the sensualist, though he, too, gives way to the fascinating power of temptation.”

It speaks to the point that what the author actually is doing: though Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s appearance are an antithetic contrast, the inner part is not totally opposed. Dr. Jekyll’s nature is a compound of a large proportion good nature and evil nature in minority, for he has to “live a respectful life ‘to be seen of men’ (‘Rock’, line 50), while Mr. Hyde is “who had not a single trace of the better nature” (‘Rock’, line 30-31). Even though Jekyll at last tried his best to win back the mastery of his body, he did not worth to be forgive for indulging his evil’s nature, ‘fell before the assaults of temptation’,

Although the contrast in appearance of both “The Lady of Shalott” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” are nothing similar to each other, but they both show a good use of contrast in constructing the theme.

IV Conclusion

To conclude, the use of contrast in the two “The Lady of Shalott” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has obtained to create the atmosphere, highlight the character and set the theme. Colour contrast is mainly used in setting, showing the solitude of Lady of Shallot, who is struggling between her creative art and free life, where as, extreme opposite contrast in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is intensively used to deceit reader on the surface, presenting the fact that our inner part “those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s nature is an entirety which is inseparable.

Cited Works

Critical essays on the poetry of Tennyson, London: Routledge & Paul, 1960

Symbolism in Tennyson’s Minor Poems, by Elizabeth Hillman Waterston, 1948

Alfred, Lord Tennyson / edited with an introduction by Harold Bloom. Broomall, PA : Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.

F.E.L Priestly, Language and Structure in Tennyson’s Poetry, London: Andre Deutsch, 1973. 47-49, 51-52

Christopher Ricks, Tennyson: New York: Macmillan, 1972. 79-82

Robert Louis Stevenson, the critical heritage / edited by Paul Maixner, London ; Boston : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.

An unsigned Review, Secret Sin, ‘ Rock’, 1886.

Cain’s Heresy: Binary Ideology and Hypocrisy in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/By: Aaron Allen, 2004

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