The Interest In Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde English Literature Essay
During the period in which Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde there were many opinions on the duality of human nature and modern science. Stevenson was very interested in how man has two sides. The Victorian period (when the book was written) was the turning point of fixation with duality of human nature (also explained in novels such as; Frankenstein, Dracula and Dorian Gray). Victorian novels used techniques to create suspense and to increase the reader’s curiosity. The technique’s they use were placing the main character in physical danger, pose mysteries or problems or dilemmas. The human nature of the central character, Jekyll, is shown through his struggle to control his evil side which can be seen throughout the novel. Another technique that is used is conflict; conflict is the driving force behind any plot. One of the most effective techniques that Stevenson used was descriptive language. It is especially effective when used to set a scene where human nature is tested creating mystery and suspense. An example of this is when how Jekyll involves himself in what we see as a poor man when we see him as a respectable gentleman. Many characters describe Jekyll’s dual identity, Hyde as inhuman and deformed which provides Victorians reaction to the poor people in London ‘having Satan’s signature’ most Victorian thought of the poor as scum or the Satan’s children. The novel however seems to describe the hypocritical nature of Victorian society e.g. a respectable man like Jekyll involves himself with a man like Hyde.
In the beginning of the novel, Jekyll seems to appear as a ‘well-made’ and a ‘respectable’ man, but as we read on we experience the dramatic transformation in his appearance, health and attitude towards Utterson and Enfield. This change engages the reader’s interest and alters their opinion of Jekyll. In the last chapter Henry Jekyll’s full statement of the case Jekyll explains to Utterson and the reader about his views on ‘that man is not truly one, but truly two.’ Stevenson felt strongly about the duality of man and human nature saying perhaps evil is inside us all and we are both good and evil. Hypocrisy is treated as a central theme as Stevenson was keen to expose the hypocrisy exhibited in all his characters, especially with the characters reaction to Hyde. Hyde is described as a person who ‘gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point’ – Enfield, his reaction to Hyde intrigues the reader’s interest and gives the reader a sense of repulsion before they have met the character of Hyde by the choice of vocabulary and techniques to describe Hyde. The character of Hyde represents the evil in us all and if we repress our dark side, it will only begin to get stronger and take over our good side. Another central theme is the beast inside man, the different faces of human personality. Stevenson was fascinated with the beast in man or the duality of man. Another central theme is secrecy. Most of the story is set during the night or at midnight creating an air of mystery. Stevenson also uses symbols to emphasize secrecy and control such as; locked doors, barred windows and windowless structures. The desire for secrecy is often expressed through characters in dialogue which tells us a great deal about the character and the character’s feelings. In 1859 Charles Darwin, in on the origin of species, had thrust into the Victorian consciousness in disagreeable theory that mankind was, in fact, descended from apes. This theory launched the idea of ‘The beast in man’ and the attempt to hide animal passions. This is shown in the novel by animal imagery and similes such as using language to describe Hyde e.g. ‘hissing’ or ‘ape-like.’ The novel is also highly supernatural which Stevenson makes to sound believable. In his view, to make the fantastic details of Jekyll's work believable, Stevenson presents the otherwise unbelievable details of Jekyll's experiments through the highly rational minds of Utterson and Enfield. These two logical men "convey something to the reader of the horror of Hyde, but at the same time they, being neither artists nor scientists...cannot be allowed...to notice details," such as the specific features of Hyde's horrific face .Towards the end of the novel, it seems as if the novel has a parable, a lesson about the deep levels of human nature and ‘that man is not truly one, but truly two’ this says there are both good and evil in us all. This was mainly directed at the ignorance of the middle class to the working class. After reading the novel, the novel left many Victorians with unanswered questions about themselves, and if they were good or evil? And the novel made them realise and correct there ways.
Every novel uses different narrative methods. These methods add to the suspense and heighten the emotional impact. In Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Stevenson decides tell the narrative from different perspectives. This is effective because it shows the characters (Utterson, Lanyon and Jekyll) views clearly. The main characters all seem to be respectable, middle class men who ‘witness’ the story, this creates intrigue and questions the readers e.g. why are such high classed men would get involved with such crime. Throughout the novel, the mystery is revealed progressively leaving the reader in suspense and thinking about the novel. Also none of the characters are fully aware of the outcome of the novel so no one gives the story away. An example of this is knowing that Jekyll and Hyde is in fact the same person which intrigues the readers interest.
The last two chapters are presented like letters addressed to Utterson which makes the reader believe the incident more as if it had really happened. Stevenson created the thought of the letters actually being ‘real’ documents. The ‘real’ documents make the incident authentic. The murder of Carew in Chapter 4 is presented as a newspaper reporting a crime which had happened (although it is not a newspaper article). ‘In the month of October, 18-, London was startled by a crime of a singular ferocity’ this is shown as if it was the opening sentence to a front page article. A newspaper is also presented as a ‘real’ document which, again, engages the reader and its interest with Hyde and uncovers the truth and mystery behind the relationship between Hyde and Jekyll.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde appears to be set in Victorian London yet Stevenson clearly has Edinburgh in mind with, like Jekyll, its twin identities (the prosperous and respectable new town and the old town of poverty and desperation). In Victorian London, the higher and middle class mocked or ignored the working or lower class. Stevenson brought the ‘evil’ more immediately into the reader’s minds. An example of this is in Chapter 1 when we hear of how Hyde tramples over an innocent little girl for no sudden reason. This engages the reader and questions have they done something as evil as that before? Most of the characters are respectable and middle class, Stevenson purposely does this to make the upper class realise their ways and not ignore the working class. This intrigues the reader’s interest on how the transformation of a well respected character to a low classed citizen. As we read, we discover that Hyde lives in Soho, a poor part of the west end of London, full of crime and poverty. The other part of the west end (where Jekyll lives) is respectable, clean and full of higher class citizens. This shows the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde. It also represents duality of London and the people in London. The respectable façade of the house seems to have an ‘air of invitation’ and to be ‘well polished’ while the back door is ‘blistered and distained’ with ‘marks of prolonged and sordid negligence’. This style of language intrigues the reader and makes them question how this could be the same building. The weather in the novel echoes what will happen. The misty, dreary London seems to echo the unsettled mood of the characters and the ark mystery of the story. In the last night, Stevenson describes the night as ‘ wild, cold, unseasonable night of march, with a pale moon’ and ‘the wind made talking difficult, and flecked the blood into the face’ which immediately makes the reader think that something big or dramatic is about to accrue. The weather also responds to the conflict in the readers mind.
The readers throughout the novel think that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are two separate people but are shocked to find out that they are one. The impact of the last chapter makes the readers think (especially the middle class Victorians) about if there are evil in all of us or if we are pure evil. Modern readers already know the basics of the story and that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, as it has become a public awareness through the media. Many reporters call people leading double life’s a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ and there have been many shows mentioning the quote. In 1888 (a mere 2 years after the novel was published) a man named Jack the Ripper prowled the streets of London. It was suggested in the press that the murderer might be leading a double life – a respectable gentleman by day, an atrocious monster by night. Strangely enough, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was being acted in the west end, Coincidence? As we finish the novel, we realise the characters all have secrets. The most obvious secret is that of Dr Jekyll’s secret shelf. In Lanyon’s letter, he explains how he kept the secret of Hyde’s true identity which makes the reader wonder why he kept this so secret when he’s so angry about it. We also realise that all of the men are respectable and shouldn’t have dark secrets (this links in with hypocrisy). In the nineteenth century, reputation was key to live a happy life and was very important in society. Most of the characters were very respectable but all had a slight dark side to them which makes the reader think about themselves, wondering whether they are as good as Jekyll or as dreadful as Hyde.
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