Saagar Kotecha 11SZ
How Does the Author, Robert Louis Stevenson, Present Good and Evil in his Novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’?
The novel ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was written in the late 19th century (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson who first began to study engineering only with the aim of following his father’s footsteps. However, Stevenson who had not really wanted to study engineering, compromised with his father and decided to study law instead. Although he ‘passed advocate’ he did not practise law as he had already decided to become a writer. Following his dream, he chose to go to France to be in the company of some other artists, writers and painters. He later published volumes of writing which were regarded as some of his best. Immediately after Stevenson’s ‘inland voyage’ in 1876 he met his future wife, Fanny who changed the rest of his life. He was twenty-five years of age and she was a thirty-six years old independent American ‘new woman’ separated from her husband with two children. Two years later, Fanny decided to obtain a divorce from her husband and Stevenson set for California in order to be with Fanny. This was where he wrote his sensational novels.
The novel is set in the 19th century Victorian Era in “the nocturnal streets of London” when religion was more looked upon than science. However, the industrial revolution then increased the importance of science slowly pushing out religion. This novel falls into the genre of mystery and gothic horror. Gothic horror which often has nightmarish qualities and is usually based around the dark side of human nature is a genre which generally uses fantastic settings far removed from reality in order to make an uncomfortable comment about society. The novel ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelly was another famous gothic horror which influenced Stevenson as both novels are about arrogant creators (Jekyll and Dr. Frankenstein) who are destroyed by their creations (Hyde and the monster). The genre of the book is also science fiction. As Stevenson was influenced by Sir Charles Robert Darwin, a British scientist who laid the modern foundation of the evolution theory, he used quotes referring to animals which are less evolved creatures than man. Moreover, Stevenson was influenced by whose theory stated that everyone is made up of two or more conflicting personalities. During those times horror books were very uncommon and therefore, this book brought fear into the hearts of all those who read it. Many readers were surprised when Stevenson wrote this novel as there was a large contrast between ‘Treasure Island’, a story about people on an adventure and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, a Victorian gruesome gothic horror. The book reflected his two halves, the two contrasting sides of his soul, his Yin and Yang (Chinese symbol showing two sides of something: good and evil). The book is set on the duality of respectability, which is derived from Stevenson’s youth. The main themes of the book are the duality and conflict between good and evil. When Stevenson was young he lived in the new part of Edinburgh with respectable, pious, middle-aged men. From time to time, however, R.L. Stevenson went to the filth of brothels and shadiness. His character and life reflect Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; Jekyll being the respected figure while Hyde is the evil dirty side of him. Many people during the Victorian times believed in physiognomy (the use of facial features to judge somebody’s character or temperament) and therefore Hyde would have been thought of as evil because of his appearance. Physiognomy was a pseudo science as we know that one’s appearance does not judge the character of that person. Charles Robert Darwin was becoming famous because of his theories of evolution and natural selection. Like several scientists before him, Darwin believed all the life on earth evolved over millions of years from a few common ancestors. Stevenson who was influenced by Darwin uses many descriptions of his characters to animal behaviour. For example, he refers to Hyde’s anger “with ape like fury” saying that Hyde is like a creature who has not fully evolved.
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There was a rigid hierarchical class system during those times. On the top of the hierarchy would be the eminent rich class such as Dr Jekyll, Dr Lanyon, Sir Danvers Carew and Mr Utterson. Money and occupation would determine one’s status in the hierarchy. Lower than the rich class would be the butler, Poole followed by the knife boy and the maid. Finally, the lowest class would be the prostitutes who sold their dignity to earn a living.
The story is about a respected, eminent scientist called Dr Jekyll who believes that the human soul is made of two opposite beings; good and evil. He discovers a potion that can separate the two beings, allowing him to transform into the dark side of Mr Hyde, short, well built, and having a devilish appearance, and then back into his good, manner-some side. He is able to transform at will using the drug. Following Mr Hyde murdering Sir Danvers Carew, Jekyll decides to stop transforming into Mr Hyde as he now realises the danger being Mr Hyde causes. Eventually, Mr Hyde becomes stronger and kills Dr Jekyll. The lawyer, Mr Utterson investigates the peculiar situation. Finally, when Mr Hyde is about to be caught he commits suicide and the strange tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is unfolded to Mr Utterson.
Dr Jekyll was a rich and respected man described as having some “kindness” in his body telling the reader he is good. He was religious and he had “copy of pious work for which Jekyll had several times expressed great esteem”. He believed that he was still a gentleman as it was Hyde whom Jekyll described as “pure evil”. Dr Jekyll was described as “a large man”, “a smooth-faced man of fifty” and his hand is described as “professional in shape and size”, “large”, “firm” and “white”.
Mr Hyde, the evil side of Dr Jekyll, is described as being “deformed somewhere” but many of the characters “cannot specify the point” of where the deformity is. This is why Hyde is quite so repulsive and as physiognomy was strongly believed in, for Hyde’s appearance to be so repulsive he must have been evil. As the people do not know how to describe the evil which is seen in Hyde they describe it as a deformity. He is also described as “hardly human” and “like Satan” showing the extent of his evil appearance. Hyde was “dwarfish”, young and his hand was “lean, corded and knuckly”. Jekyll and Hyde are opposites showing evil and good in their appearances and personalities.
Mr Utterson, a trustworthy and respected lawyer is described as “backward in sentiment”. The author tells us of his rationality and how he keeps his emotions to himself. Robert Louis Stevenson also mentions a “catholicity of good nature” and his dual personality. “When he was alone” he “drank gin” which was illegal according to Victorian laws but as for Mr Utterson, not only did he like Gin but he also drank “to mortify a taste for vintages”. He is respectable but he sins. Little is known about him throughout the novel but the reader trusts him. His full name ‘Gabriel John Utterson’ is symbolic of the Christian faith as two of his names are characters from the bible which also helps us as readers to have trust in him.
Dr Lanyon, also a well respected man, is considered “hearty” and therefore we know he is a good person. There is nothing secretive about him as we know that he was a close friend of Jekyll and that he knew of Jekyll’s experiments which caused him to think of Jekyll as the “devil”.
Sir Danvers Carew was a Member of Parliament and greatly respected. He was given the honour of knighthood showing his respectful position in society. It was monstrous of Hyde to kill a “gentle” man for no apparent reason.
Good and evil are presented in ways other than through the characters. Jekyll’s house has two contradicting sides, one well maintained and the other neglected. The well maintained side of the house is well kept and is the only part visitors see, whereas the other more secretive side where guests are not allowed to enter is dirty and neglected. The ill maintained side that contains Dr Jekyll’s laboratory is where Jekyll created the magic potion splitting the good and evil of his soul.
Hyde’s dialogue is one of the many devices which helps to show the reader Mr Hyde’s evil nature. His speech and manner is different from that of a gentleman. Talking in short sentences, being rude, never speaking in a normal tone by either mumbling or by raising his voice portrays his foul character.
Another device used by Stevenson to highlight the intensity of the following chapter of the novel is the weather and setting. When it is a fine day, nothing evil shall happen whereas when the weather is bad, it is anticipated that something evil is imminent. Before the murder of Sir Danvers Carew the weather was described as “a fog rolled over the city in the small hours”. The weather turns grim just before a disaster strikes. This is repeated throughout the novel and it is used to camouflage Hyde adding tension and mystery. The settings are again a contradiction: Dr Jekyll lived around Regents Park, an extremely wealthy place and Hyde lived in Soho, the poorer part of London, an area full of prostitutes.
The two doors of Jekyll and Hyde are also opposites which are used to describe the rich and poor class structure. The front door was said to be clean, expensive, new looking and well maintained which is likely to have been used by family, friends and other guests. However, the back door was said to be poorly kept, run down and dirty and was used by the workers, highlighting the class difference.
The technique of using multiple narrators is used in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. They are used in order to suspend the reader in a state of uncertainty. Stevenson sets out the information which is available in a puzzling detective case providing separate narrators’ perspectives with the use of narrative techniques such as testimonies and letters which are written by well-respected people that have little overall understanding of the case themselves. By using different accounts of the same case Stevenson delays the understanding of the reader thus serving suspense and realism projecting into the reader’s imagination into the fiction which is experienced by the characters. The purpose of chapters nine and ten are to reveal to the truth to the reader and to end the suspense. Dr Jekyll is the final narrator and is also the one who reveals to the reader and to Mr Utterson that Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll are the two sides of the same soul.
The reaction of the unsuspecting Victorian would be devastating as during those times, horrors were so rare that this book would have brought fear to everyone who read it. I feel that the idea of people being good and evil is true but the actions people choose are what make up the overall character of that person.
Jekyll resorts to drugs to satisfy his desires. This book is relevant in society today as people resort to alcohol, drugs, crime, and other evil things for pleasure and relief from aspects of their life. They are then ashamed but do not have the will power to stop or know of no other way in which to live their lives.
Good and evil are well represented in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. Using the good and evil of the same person was an extraordinary idea by Stevenson. He manipulated the ideas of Freud and Darwin to create an exhilarating novel.
Dr Jekyll does try to do the right thing at the end. Stopping the intake of the potion which changed him to Mr Hyde was a start in ending the disaster he had caused by unleashing Mr Hyde. In order to relieve his conscience, he donated a lot to charity even though nothing could change the fact that his other form had killed Sir Danvers Carew. Finally, the evil overcame the good which was what made the ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ a gruesome, gothic Victorian horror.