What view of human nature does Stevenson present in the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

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Assignment 2 - What view of human nature does Stevenson present in the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

The title chosen by the author, Robert Louis Stevenson is, ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’.  From the title the reader can also predict that the novel is a form of horror fantasy, which explores society’s anxieties of the unknown.  The word ‘Case’ in the title suggests either a possible police investigation, some type of medical study or law.  Also the name, ‘Dr. Jekyll’, inflicts upon the reader that Jekyll is of importance and authority.  In the novel both perceptions from the title are true.  However, the title shows no indication that ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ are two characters within one person.  The book is based on human nature and concentrates on the mixture of good and evil in people.  In the Cambridge dictionary the definition for the word, ‘human nature’ is, ‘The natural ways of behaving that most people share’.  It also states that ‘You can’t change human nature’.  

‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ was one of Stevenson’s most successful novels and was written in 1885, nine years before his death.  For that reason, Stevenson is mainly remembered for using the duality of human nature in his novels because this is the leading theme in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’.  The novel is a classic mystery and involves the dual nature of man and of society.  It was written in the 19th Century, when Gothic Literature was at its peak.  This novel includes some of the main themes of a Gothic novel such as the supernatural; horror; terror and mystery.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ explores the consequences of following your desires such as challenging rules.  For example, Dr. Jekyll was using his skills as a Doctor and his knowledge to create the potion that changed him from being the respectable Dr. Jekyll into the murderer, Mr. Hyde.  For this reason, the novel was considered a horror fantasy and it concerned many readers because in the 19th century society feared the quest for knowledge and thought mysterious events were true to life.  Stevenson used the theme of secrecy, which is also a theme of a Gothic novel, as a main issue in, ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’.  Repeatedly in the novel, characters fail or refuse to articulate themselves.  They seem unable to describe a horrifying perception, such as the physical characteristics of Hyde.  They also abort or avoid certain conversations, for example when Enfield and Utterson cut off their discussion of Hyde in the first chapter out of distaste for gossip and Utterson refuses to share his suspicions about Jekyll throughout his investigation of his client's predicament.  His reason for this may have been because all around England, he saw that although on the outside most gentlemen seemed to be fine and upstanding citizens, inside they hid dark secrets. Critics have even suggested that ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ was a confession by Stevenson of his own dark nature.  He may be making a social comment on society at that time because wealthy people in the Victorian era of Britain did little to help the poor and many preached Bible values, but did not practice them.  These are all interpretations of the two faces of Jekyll and Hyde.  The Victorian society prizes good behaviour and reputation above all this is evident in the novel when Utterson and Enfield avoid gossip at all costs and they understand it as a great destroyer of reputation.  

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It has been suggested by critics that the dismal streets and dark alleys in the novel are more reminiscent of Old Town Edinburgh, near where Stevenson was brought up, than they are of London, where the story is set in the year 1885 and 1886.  Stevenson wrote the novel in the Victorian period. He probably chose to set his novel in London because at the time this was the most important city where all classes of society lived.  By using this one setting, London, which had two distinct areas, Soho and the wealthy, respectable district, Stevenson emphasises the theme ...

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