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How does Stevenson present the conflict between good and evil in Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

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Introduction

How does Stevenson present the conflict between good and evil in 'Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'? 'Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' is a novella by Robert Louis Stevenson set in Victorian London and written in 1886. It can be said that Stevenson took ideas directly from his own experiences when creating the plot, as many aspects of the novella can be compared directly to his life. Stevenson grew up in Edinburgh, which had the same dramatic contrast between the rich and the poor sides as the London in which 'Jekyll and Hyde' is set and it is clear that he was influenced by the things he saw when going about his every day life; the divide between wealth and poverty. The idea of the unhappily conflicted personality of Jekyll could easily be based upon himself; the young Stevenson aspired to become a writer but this profession was looked down on by society as writers were seen as leading immoral and hedonistic lifestyles. His parents certainly disapproved of his choice and wanted him to pursue a more respectable career. Stevenson decided to take a law degree, but did not stop writing, thereby creating for himself a double life. The genre of the book is gothic horror and could also be said to have elements of science fiction. One clear influence would be 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley, written in 1818. This, like 'Jekyll and Hyde', has themes of the worrying developments in science and compromising morality as well as controversial comments on society. Another source of inspiration is the 1859 book by Charles Darwin: 'Origin of the Species' in which Darwin looks in depth at the ideas of evolution. This book was particularly shocking since it suggested that all human beings were once animals, which were believed to not have souls. Such an outrageous statement clearly contradicted the views of the religious majority. The period in which 'Jekyll and Hyde' was written is important because of the rigid morals held by most people in Victorian England. ...read more.

Middle

Hyde does not care about anybody, but he clearly cares about his own welfare as he takes measures to protect himself from capture after committing crimes, and is afraid of death. This is clear when Jekyll says that Hyde commits "temporary suicide" by returning to Jekyll's body and safety. Hyde does not hate Jekyll in himself, but hates being imprisoned inside him and that Jekyll has the strength to cage him and destroy him. He cannot hurt Jekyll without hurting himself, so resorts to showing his loathing of Jekyll by playing childish spiteful tricks on him. Jekyll describes Hyde as "ape-like" and "troglodytic," suggesting that he is not only inhuman but pre-human. This takes ideas from the theory of evolution by Darwin, and could mean that Hyde is a step back in evolution and therefore fuelled by natural instincts rather than carefully considered thought. His emotions are very extreme; he is filled with a mixture of rage, joy and fear. He tends to act on impulse by striking out when he is enraged without any thought of the consequences. This idea of Hyde being more of a beast than a human being also plays with the ideas of religious Victorians that animals did not have souls and would not go to heaven. Hyde converses with others with a cold sarcastic politeness, speaking courteously enough unless angered. He is not initially rude when forced into a conversation with Utterson, but may have recognised him as a friend of Jekyll who it would not be wise to draw attention from. His temper flares very easily, and he can do anything when this happens. He is in a furious mood when Jekyll lets him takes control again, and this leads to his attack on Danvers Carew. When he is caught in public without his potion, he strikes a woman in the face for attempting to talk with him, and is close to assaulting the driver of a cab taking him to safety. ...read more.

Conclusion

This can easily be seen as analogous to modern addictions such as drugs and alcohol, which can seem wonderful in the beginning and then quickly take over your life as Hyde did until it seems impossible to stop. The same patterns can be traced between the feelings from substance abuse and Jekyll's addiction to the feelings and emotions he felt being Hyde, which shows that this is still very relevant in today's society. Like Jekyll, modern scientists are being criticized for their research, such as cloning and work into genetics. Some people argue that they are meddling with God's work, and even those who are not religious may say that this kind of research is immoral and wrong, or that it could lead to problems like diseases if our whole natural system is changed artificially. Even if this does not happen, sometimes human beings can go too far with what they think is right. The thirst for success can often blind people to what they actually want to achieve, for example a scientist working on perfecting human cloning may be purely working for the glory of the discovery rather than improving the world by his findings. This is human arrogance, which was Jekyll's weakness. I think that the message in Jekyll and Hyde is that although evil dwells naturally within everybody, it can be overcome and that we all have the strength to overcome it. Jekyll's pride caused his inner demons to take on a life of their own in Hyde, and although it cost him his own life, Jekyll's morals and conscience were the victor in the end. Stevenson was trying to put forward the idea that humans are not either good or evil, nor are we sane or insane, but we are all the same to being with, built up of different emotions, thoughts and feeling which can lead us one way or another depending on our upbringing, choices, experiences and actions. So although everybody has a potential for evil, they also have a potential for good, and power to overcome evil. ...read more.

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