Addressing The Problem Of Evil English Literature Essay

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'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde' is a novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson which was first published in 1886. The story follows a London lawyer named Gabriel John Utterson, as he investigates the crimes of the mysterious Mr Edward Hyde, which appear to be linked in some way to one of his oldest friends Dr. Henry Jekyll. In this essay, I will outline the purpose and function of the literary features, the fantastic and uncanny, examine how they operate within this story, and how they are used to address the theological issues of original sin and the problem of evil.

Tzvetan Todorov, the founding theorist of the fantastic, defines it as what happens during the period of hesitation, when an event occurs which we cannot explain by our own natural laws, and we are left with two choices; either we must admit that we have been victim of an illusion of the senses or a product of the imagination, and thus the laws of our world remain as they are; or we have to allow for the fact that the event has actually taken place, and that our reality is in fact governed by laws unknown to us. [1] He claims that the fantastic occupies the duration of uncertainty experienced by someone who knows only the laws of nature, confronting what appears to be a supernatural event. [2] 

Todorov states that "the fantastic requires the fulfilment of three conditions." [3] The first of these conditions is that the text must oblige the reader to consider the fictional world of the characters as reality, and to hesitate between a natural or supernatural explanation of the events described. The second condition states that this hesitation may also be experienced by a character, so that the reader's role, and to some extent their decision about how to explain the events, is entrusted to a character. Here the hesitation becomes epitomised and the reader will begin to identify themselves with the character. The third and final condition requires that the reader must develop a certain attitude towards the text: they will reject both allegorical and 'poetic' interpretations. [4] 

Todorov also makes a very important distinction between the fantastic and two other modes, the uncanny and the marvellous, which ultimately offer a resolution. In the uncanny, events may at first seem extraordinary, shocking, disturbing or unexpected, but can eventually be accounted for by the laws of reason. For example, if a character realises they are mad, or have just woken up from a dream [5] Freud has also distinguished the uncanny as an experience which stimulates in us a sense of fear in the unconscious, when everything that should be kept secret comes to light. [6] The marvellous or the fantastic-marvellous, on the other hand are the class of narratives which are initially presented as fantastic but which end with an acceptance of the supernatural. [7] This requires that all allegorical and poetic interpretations of the text are to be rejected, and there can be no ambiguity or doubt about the explanation of the events.

The problem of evil covers a variety of arguments faced by religion - particularly Judeo-Christian religions, regarding the fact that evil exists in a world created by an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent God. There are several arguments for the problem of evil, and these in turn have prompted several different responses in the defence of God and religion. St Augustine for example, believed that God created the world perfectly and the evil was brought about by the disobedience of humans and angels when they were given free will i.e. the fall. As a result, the state of perfection was ruined by sin, and since Augustine believed we were all present in the loins of Adam, he believed we all inherited his sin.

St Ireneaus, whilst he agreed with Augustine that evil was a consequence of human free will and disobedience, differed in his belief that God created the world imperfectly, so that we might achieve a sufficient amount of spiritual development to become a 'child of God.' This idea has been developed by more recent philosophers, in particular John Hick, who suggests that the process of 'soul-making' or spiritual development, comes as a response to the evil within the world. Whilst God could not and would never create evil because evil isn't believed to be an entity in itself, but rather the privation of good, he also cannot intervene with human events because this would result in an interference with our free will.

The original sin is said to be this genetic defect that the whole of humanity inherited from Adam and Eve when they were given free will and disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The concept of original sin is said to encompass both the spiritual disease and the condemnation that goes with it. Whilst the story of the fall originates in the book of Genesis, the severity of the consequences for the rest of humanity don't become a prominent feature until the New Testament, for example, in Romans 5:12-13, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinner - sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law" [8]  and in Romans 5:18-19, 'Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.'

It is not until the end of The One Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that the majority of the themes within the story present themselves. One of the most striking of these themes is of course the dualistic nature of the soul, which is only brought out within the final two chapters of the story, where we learn that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are one and the same person. Here we find ourselves fulfilling the first of Todorov's three conditions, as we consider the events as reality and hesitate as to whether to consider them explicable in natural or supernatural terms.

Up until this point we had been aware of some form of mysterious connection between the two characters, but it had seemed as though this connection was likely to be an event of the uncanny, which would be explicable in terms of our natural laws. This feeling is emphasised by the character of Mr Utterson, who seems to epitomise human rationality, and never once allows himself to consider that something supernatural might be at play. Because of this, we too expect a natural resolution, for example if Mr Utterson had woken up at the end to discover his entire investigation had been a dream, or if as we are led to believe at certain points throughout the story, Mr. Hyde is blackmailing 'an honest man…for some of the capers of his youth.' [9] The revelations in the final two chapters however, lead us to believe the events described can only be explained by laws unknown to us, and are thus supernatural, and this brings out the some of the central themes of the story, as well as transforming the novella from a work of the fantastic-uncanny to a work of the fantastic-marvellous. Once we discover that 'man is not truly one but truly two' [10] the story reveals itself to be dealing with some important theological issues, in particular the question of whether we are as Irenaeus and Augustine would suggest, born inherently imperfect, with free will, or if evil is in fact an entity in itself, and we are born with a seed of it inside of us, which either blossoms or diminishes throughout our lives.

In the case of Dr. Jekyll the latter seems to be more fitting. It seems as though he discovers the evil counterpart within himself quite by chance, rather than by 'any particular degradation in my faults'. [11] When he completes his first grotesque transformation into the monstrous Mr. Hyde, he describes himself as being 'less robust and less developed' because the evil side of his nature had been 'much less exercised and much less exhausted' [12] than his good side; he has lived a moral life, done work for charity etc. His original intentions are actually quite the opposite of what eventually becomes of the situation, and are in a way quite admirable; he believes that if both the good and evil within him 'could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way', [13] but as temptation gets the better of him, like it did Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit, his transformations become more frequent, and Mr. Hyde soon becomes bigger, more powerful and more uncontrollable. Stevenson uses the uncanny to describe Mr. Hyde throughout the story, for example, when Mr Utterson meets him for the first time and expresses and 'unknown disgust' [14] towards him. As the story progresses, the feelings of the fantastic and uncanny are emphasised by the inability the rest of the characters have to describe what exactly it is that is about Mr. Hyde that the find so disturbing. This is symbolic of the idea that we do not always recognise evil until its too late.

Another important theme is Dr. Jekyll's desire to become God-like. Despite knowing the dangers and potential death that his potion may induce, Dr. Jekyll's overwhelming desire to become more powerful and knowledgeable, with the ability to divide and separate the human soul (and thus become God-like) leads him to drink the potion. However what actually happens is that rather than becoming more powerful, he creates Mr. Hyde, the embodiment of evil, who he eventually becomes a slave to. Stevenson hints at the uncanny to create a sense of this changing role of power throughout the story, for example when Mr Utterson worries about Dr. Jekyll being 'in deep waters' and the whole way through the story we are given subtle hints that Dr. Jekyll is in over his head, while the real connection between him and Mr. Hyde remains a mystery.

The obvious parallel to be drawn here is to Adam and Eve's desire to eat from the tree of knowledge, in order to become more like God, despite having been directly forbidden to do so. In both cases the desire for power and liberation results in the opposite; Adam and Eve, are banished from the Garden of Eden and bring sin upon the rest of the world, and Dr. Jekyll becomes unable to control his evil counterpart, Mr. Hyde, which eventually leads to his death. Another parallel to be drawn here is that in both cases, the evil that is created by disobedience and temptation requires some sort of sacrifice to counterbalance it, for example, the life of Dr. Jekyll, and in Christianity, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The final theme with 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' is that of the conflict between science and religion. Stevenson uses the literal grotesque and supernatural transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde to demonstrate that the more we try and use science to become more evolved and God-like, the more we are disobeying God, and hindering the spiritual development which Ireneaus talked about. By trying to scientifically enhance ourselves and gain more physical and intellectual power, we are having the opposite effect on our souls, by nourishing our 'evil counterparts' just as Dr. Jekyll allows Mr. Hyde to grow stronger, until he eventually lose control of him. Stevenson shows this idea of a backward spiritual evolution symbolically, with the supernatural notion of Mr. Hyde becoming increasingly animalistic - Mr Utterson even goes as far as to describe there being something 'troglodytic' about him. In this sense, our desire to become physically and intellectually greater is actually leading us further away from the religious ideas of 'soul-making' and is decreasing our likelihood of being saved by the grace of God.

I think Stevenson uses the fantastic and uncanny very cleverly throughout the novella. At first the story seems uncanny and the reader feels as though there may be some rational, albeit slightly shocking or disturbing explanation for the mysterious events that are occurring, but at the end it seems pretty much like the only option is to accept a supernatural explanation for the events described, and thus the story becomes marvellous. I think this works well because it serves to emphasise many of the important theological themes within the story, which I have addressed in this essay, and had there been an ambiguous ending, I think the impact of many of these issues would have been lost.