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Can Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde be seen as a commentary on Victorian Society?

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Introduction

Celine Mulrean 3G Can Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde be seen as a commentary on Victorian Society? In the Victorian times of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, keeping an impeccable image and social profile is of great concern to upper middle-class professionals. But behind the strict rules of their society lie desire, temptation and curiosity. Robert Louis Stevenson focuses on three professionals, two doctors and a lawyer, who are representative of this contradictory aspect of Victorian society. They both value the façade of a proper life and have a secret side that contradicts it. Doctor Jekyll can be seen as portraying a victim of desire. He is a wealthy, successful and well-liked doctor, describing himself as “fond of the respect of the wise and good among [his] fellowmen”. Yet those qualities set aside, he is consumed by a darker, more evil side. Though he craves to set it loose, he is embarrassed by it and feels the need to hide it: ”Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me, I regarded them with an almost morbid sense of shame”. The pressure that Jekyll endures to adapt to the rules of society and therefore to suppress his desires and evil impulses provokes the decision to split his contradictory sides in two, thus to create a separate Hyde to embody the negative elements. ...read more.

Middle

Yet despite having painted Hyde as vile and primitive, he surprises others in his interactions with his good manners and education. This puts forth the connection between Jekyll and Hyde. Though Hyde is considered as purely evil, he retains a part of Jekyll, which comes out when dealing with people Jekyll knows: he uses terms such as ?I beg your pardon? and uses the polite title in front of people?s namesThis is also the case when Hyde writes the note to Lanyon, by the hand of Henry Jekyll, suggesting that no matter how much more powerful Hyde is than Jekyll, there is still a part in Hyde where Jekyll dominates. Stevenson uses the character of Lanyon as a lens through which the reader sees Jekyll. Though Lanyon plays only a minor role in the plot, his thematic significance extends beyond his few appearances. Like Jekyll, he is a doctor, but their scientific paths diverge years before the novel begins. Lanyon believes in a ?Victorian science? which is a material science that only leads to useful purposes and shuns unacceptable research such as Jekyll?s metaphysical science which Lanyon describes as ?unscientific balderdash?. As Lanyon is a fellow professional, it is appropriate that he be the one to witness Jekyll?s transformation. His account and description are credible as he is a doctor and he sees the materialization of Hyde into Jekyll in a technical way, observing every detail with the eye of an expert. ...read more.

Conclusion

Though Utterson suspects this is not the truth, he claims it is to not interfere with Jekyll?s life. Utterson can also be seen as the character that inspires the most trust. His devotion to his friends makes him their primary confidant. This can be seen first through Lanyon, who decides to reveal what he knows about Jekyll to Utterson, when he has told no one else. Next, we can see this through Poole, who comes immediately to Utterson to seek help about his master, knowing that Utterson will make the right decision. Finally, Jekyll?s full statement to Utterson proves that he is the one whom everyone seems to trust. When Utterson receives Lanyon?s letter, he is told to only read it once Jekyll is dead. Utterson proves that the trust of others is well founded, as he is dying to know the cause of Lanyon?s sudden death, but he complies with the request. Though Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an entertaining page turner and successful popular novella, it can also be seen as representing strong criticism of Victorian society. As a horror story, it also represents more generally the fears of a society?s sins being revealed. As we analyze these different characters, we realize that the upper-middle class professionals were bound to strictness, repression and self-preservation by the society they had created. The denial of the existence of primitive, more instinctive elements of man leads to a suppression of part of man?s true nature in Victorian society. Jekyll, by unleashing this other true nature, reveals the greatest fears of society: the unknowable, the uncontrollable. ...read more.

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