How does Robert Louis Stevenson present the nature of evil in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
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First published in 1886, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, tells the story of Mr Utterson’s concern when his friend Dr Henry Jekyll, a well known chemist, befriends a rather mysterious, short-tempered man named Edward Hyde. Worried for his friend, Mr Utterson decides to investigate and soon enough discovers the terrible truth about Jekyll and Hyde’s unique relationship. In this essay I will explore whether the rules and restrictions of society cause enough anxiety to create the Hyde type character; or secondly, that evil is an innate part of everyone’s character, we are all capable of Hyde’s actions but the rules of society prevent this from happening.
Stevenson was a Calvinist. Calvinist theology is sometimes identified with the five points of Calvinism: Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints, and nature of the atonement. These five points state that God has planned out everyone’s life for them, they also state that if everyone is born with either a good or bad soul. If you have a bad soul but lead your life completely without sin you will still end up going to hell. This idea is reflected in Jekyll and Hyde; Dr Jekyll is described as: “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a stylish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness.” Whereas the description of Mr Hyde is: “Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile… a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice.”
It can be argued that Mr Hyde is part of Dr Jekyll, although Dr Jekyll is a kind hearted man, He could have an evil soul, and realising this Jekyll decides that he may as well enjoy life creating Mr Hyde as the embodiment the evil. Jekyll and Hyde was written in 1886, in this period of time Britain was a predominantly religious country, therefore there are many religious references in the book: “whilst he had always been known for his charities, he was now no less distinguished by religion.” This section compares charitable acts to religious ones; this shows that in society in those times any act of kindness would have been thought of as an act of God.
Although religion was very important in the 1800s, it was also a time of scientific progress, which challenged Christianity, For example: Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, was published twenty-seven years previously to Jekyll and Hyde. This challenged religion greatly because it challenged the creation story. At this point in time there was a split between science and religion, because people thought that you either believed in science or believed in God, unlike in modern times where people have learned to compromise.
The experiments carried out by Dr Jekyll would have seemed to have been against the church to strongly religious people therefore when Dr Jekyll is describe later on in the story as “distinguished for religion” we could infer that Jekyll is feeling guilty for experimenting with himself like this and in order to repent he becomes very religious. It could also be argued that Stevenson uses this to display his views that when people start to believe in science rather than religion, the rules and restrictions of religion and society cease to matter. This supports the argument that evil is an innate part of everyone’s character.
Duality is the main theme through Jekyll and Hyde, it is shown obviously, in the case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde where Jekyll purposely divides the two sides of his nature, and it is shown more subtly in other characters such as Dr Lanyon. An example of duality in Dr Lanyon happens almost directly after we are told about an urgent letter he receives from Dr Jekyll. After following the instructions enclosed, he gives Mr Hyde the potion that would make him metamorphose back into Dr Jekyll. After he witnesses this scientific development he cries out to god, as he is a man of science this is showing duality because in those times science completely went against everything religion taught, therefore you were either a religious person or a person of science. Duality is also shown in Mr Enfield. Mr Enfield is described as “the well-known man about town.
This shows that he is a very well respected man. However as the book progresses he tells Mr Utterson about a time when he was out in the middle of the night: “I was coming home from some place at the end of the world, about three o’clock of a black winter morning” The fact that he will not tell his friend, Mr Utterson, where he was at such a late time leads the reader to believe that he was leading a double life similar to Jekyll’s. However Mr Enfield’s secretive life differs to Jekyll’s because, instead of sneaking off in the dead of night to avoid detection, Jekyll splits the good and the evil side of his nature, forming a different character completely. Mr Hyde. This supports the idea that evil is an innate part of everyone’s character and the rules of society prevent us from carrying out the actions of Hyde. Duality as a theme underscores the other themes of good and evil in one person and of science and religion existing equally in society.
Stevenson highlights the way nineteenth century society wanted people to completely hide and deny any so called “evil” feelings by contrasts between Jekyll and Hyde. For example Stevenson uses the house as a devise to highlight the way that nineteenth century Society wanted people deny any feelings of “evil”. That is, he uses description of the house when it is used by Jekyll to identify characteristics such as kindness, elegance, and wealth. “and the door of this, which wore a great air of comfort and wealth.” This is the door Jekyll enters the house through. When Hyde uses the house he underlines ideas like secrecy, dirtiness, darkness and dilapidation. For example Mr Hyde would always enter through the back door to avoid detection this door is dilapidated and leads to the dingy interior of Jekyll’s dissecting room: “by the dust that fell from their doors, had stood long unopened.” This shows a certain amount of neglect that, and from that we can infer that it is a dark, empty and cold place.
In the text we are told the story by many different narrators. We are told of the incident when Hyde trampled the little girl by Mr Enfield first; Then the narrator changes and the majority of the book is told through eyes of Mr Utterson as he investigates the mysterious relationship between Jekyll and Hyde; thirdly the truth is revealed to us by Dr Lanyon who tells us about when he witnessed the metamorphosis from Jekyll to Hyde; Finally we are told Dr Jekyll’s full account, this answers any questions we may have at the end of the book.
The use of different narrators is a structural technique called multiple perspectives, meaning collection of different viewpoints this allows us to grasp the true emotions of the characters, and heightens the suspense throughout the book. He also uses Authentication; this is a narrative style which makes the readers feel they are reading more fact than fiction. Stevenson uses letters, diaries and casebooks to make the reader feel more as if we were unravelling a mystery than being told a story. Robert Louis Stevenson uses these devices because they make the story seem more likely that it could be true and so the reader will take the warning signs in the novella seriously. And so the threat of evil is, seemingly, a real one.
Mr Utterson and Dr Jekyll’s social class is the middle class. This means that there are greater expectations of them than the people in the lower class, such as Hyde. The social class of Utterson and Jekyll affects their behaviours; for example Utterson denies himself the things he enjoys: “though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for more than twenty years.” This suggests that the society of the nineteenth century expected you to put work before pleasure, and not seem too extravagant by spending too much money. Dr Jekyll deals with the rules and regulations of society by creating Hyde so he can enjoy all the things he likes doing without being frowned on by society. This would suggest that Stevenson has mixed views about the nature of evil. Suggesting that education can help people suppress evil but this still might be too much to ask of them.
Mr Utterson chooses to cope with the rules of society in a very secretive manner. No one, even the reader completely understands his character, even after the extensive description in chapter one: “lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow loveable.” Though he is well respected, and clearly a successful lawyer, he appears to be very cold. Secrecy is reflected through the book in many different symbols; there are locked doors, barred windows and windowless structures. We are therefore uncertain if Utterson is to be seen as a “good” character or not. Stevenson suggests that people who judge others (for example the middle class) are secretly no better than the “evil” working class.
I conclude that Stevenson presented evil as an innate part of everybody’s character, we are all capable of Hyde’s actions but the rules and restrictions of society prevent this from happening. Jekyll creates his other self, Hyde, as a way of coping and finding a way around these rules. Because Jekyll is middle class and Hyde is working class, the expectations of society for him would be much higher than Hyde. Therefore creating Hyde leads him to be able to enjoy anything (within reason) that middle class society would prevent him from doing.