How does Stevenson explore good and evil through the characters of Jekyll and Hyde?

Authors Avatar by thefatkoalagmailcom (student)


Are the differences between good and evil distinct, or ambiguous? Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, expands upon the ideas of the benevolent and malevolent in his novel, in order to expose the austere nature of Victorian society at the time. He does this through the use of dualism, repression and the overtones of religious guidance. The novel, published in 1886 and set in a nameless British city, applies moral views stemming from the Victorian era, a time of strict social conduct, emotional restraint and rigid adherence to religion.

Stevenson investigates the duality between good and evil by suggesting that all humans have evil within them, but subdued and hidden. This is implied in his divergent descriptions of the two; he portrays Jekyll to be, “A large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty”. The triple adjectives all play to the stereotype of a successful, handsome middle-aged man which was seen as the accepted stereotype of all men in the Victorian Era. The phrase ‘well-made’ has a double meaning, suggesting both physical masculinity and wealth, a successful businessman having carved his own fortune. ‘Smooth faced’ not only suggests attractive features but also an unblemished reputation, which in all society is greatly idealised and upheld: a tarnished image was tantamount to social ruin. However, when Jekyll is in the form of Hyde, he is “not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable.” The repetition used in this line describes how difficult it is to create an adequate portrayal of the man: significance of Hyde’s inconceivable yet hideous abnormality. This inability to express Hyde’s characteristics reinforce the notion that Hyde is a creature not of this world, one undescribable by human words. This idea of a hidden aspect is furthermore complimented by Hyde’s savagery, primitive and animalistic in its Victorian environment. Hyde is often depicted as excessively hairy and grotesque, to be ‘something troglodytic’, a word for prehistoric creature. Stevenson implies that Hyde simply represents man’s natural form, stripped of culture and conscience. In the Victorian era, so said to have been an age of expansion, the connection between evil and barbarity was easily formed, possibly due to discovery at that time of other differing cultures. The potency of evil is also revealed when Hyde alters the relationship to the point where, “at the very moment of that vainglorious thought, a qualm came over [Jekyll], a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering ... [he] was once more Edward Hyde.” Merely with an indecent mind, Jekyll unconsciously transforms into his doppelganger, without the use of the potion. The visual imagery of associated with this makes it seem as if a disease suddenly manifested inside Jekyll, insinuating disgust and surprise. By this, Stevenson seeks to advise readers of how evil is omnipresent yet dormant if unprompted.

Join now!

In addition, Stevenson uses the theme of repression to accentuate the conflict between one’s true self and public appearance as shaped by social construct. This coexistence between the two is especially evident in Jekyll’s lengthy hiatus, free of Hyde. In the novel Jekyll, when having to choose between his two personalities, ‘preferred the elderly and discontented doctor...and bade a resolute farewell to the liberty [of Hyde]’, clearly abandoning Hyde. Yet, in spite of his serious pledge Jekyll turns to his doppelganger in the space of a few months. He states that despite his determination in suppressing his urges, 'time ...

This is a preview of the whole essay