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How does Robert Louis Stevenson explore human nature in his novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’

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Stevenson’s interest in human nature was caused by his strong upbringing giving him desires to do the opposite to what he was being told to do. He wanted to explore outside the strong moral boundaries that had been set to him while growing up.

An influence on R.L Stevenson was William Brodie; well know as Deacon Brodie (1741-1788). He was a Scottish cabinet-maker, deacon of the trades guild and Edinburgh city councillor, who maintained a secret life as a burglar, partly for the thrill, and partly to fund his gambling. This links in with the idea of Jekyll and Hyde because Jekyll had a good job and a good repretation, just like Brodie. By day Brodie was a respectable business man however, by night he turned into a burglar and thief just like Jekyll turned into something bad at night: Hyde. In the novel, Henry Jeykll is striving to separate the two parts of his human nature.

Gothic horror is the genre of this novel: urban, modern and recognisable which makes the story feel more realistic and believable to the reader.

The narrative structure of the novel tells us about others, not themselves, mainly with characters saying parts with “him”, “they” and rarely “I” or “myself”. This links in with the theme of secrecy because characters are hiding information about themselves while revealing things about other people.

When this novel was released in the Victorian times, it had a greater impact on the audience than it would have done if released at this current time.

The people reading it in the Victorian times would have been frightened and affected by it because of the use of the recognisable setting, e.g. Soho and Cavendish Square, London. Jekyll (a good natured person) lived in a wealthy area of London: Cavendish square and Hyde (a bad natured person) lived in a dirty run down area of London: Soho.

Also, these days everyone knows the term ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, but back then people were left to figure it out for themselves making it have a great impact. These days it is a repeated idea, used in film, television and books, but back then it was unknown.

Science vs. Religion made this novel more of a shock to the Victorian audience. The fact that Jekyll had to take a potion to become Hyde makes it even more taboo because in religious views this would be the act of the devil. ‘He put the glass to his lips, and drank at one gulp. A cry followed; he reeled, staggered…’ P.41 this would scare people even more because of religious views that potions/magic is the act of the devil.

R.L Stevenson used Jekyll and Hyde as characters to show that everyone has a bad side, no matter who they are. ‘Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde…’ P.46. this gives the audience a message/warning that no one knows what they themselves are capable of. Everyone has evil inside them, but it is an option whether you use it or not. For example, Jekyll is very friendly and respectable, but then turns into his evil side (Hyde) and no one would recognise them. ‘I do not think I ever met Mr. Hyde?’ P.13. says Utterson, who is Jekyll’s friend. Utterson only sees the good side of Jekyll and does not recognise the other side of him: Hyde.

R.L Stevenson also uses some minor characters to reflect his view on human nature; he uses them to explore his ideas of self-interest, e.g. how someone uses something bad to make themselves look good. We see this in the character of the policeman. ‘And the next moment his eye lighted up with professional ambition’ P.16. The moment the policeman found out that it was a murder case he knew it would be well followed in the eyes of the media, he quotes ‘This will make a great deal of noise’ P.16.

The policeman knows that it would make him like a hero if he finds out who the killer is, and he uses this as an advantage to himself. This shows Stevenson’s view of self-interest: that someone will use something bad to make themselves look good. The policeman is solving the case to make himself look good and not solving it for the moral reasons of catching a killer. It is a fine example of the evil self-interest side of human nature.

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