Robert Louis Stevenson’s supernatural, Gothic thriller, “The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was written in 1886, in the Victorian era. During this period many developments occurs in different fields such as medicine, technology and industry. Victorians were reluctant to these developments. Stevenson was interested in the duality of human nature and this interest was aroused by his home town, Edinburgh. He realised that there were two sides to the city. One good side, with respectable people with high statuses, while the other side, the bad side with prostitutes, urban degeneration and the use of brothels.
Stevenson often had dreams where a civil, respectable man could turn himself into a monster while remaining behind a facade of honour. The original idea of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” occurred to him in a nightmare which is known as the “fine bogey-tale”. The dream was about a man who drinks a potion and transforms into a devilish character. Stevenson’s idea was to create a straight forward horror story. However, after reading the original version to his wife, she suggested more could be made of the tale. After a lot of thought, Stevenson burned the original manuscript and rewrote the entire novel in only three days.
Stevenson examines man’s relationship with good and evil, and comments on the constant war and balance between the two. Dr. Jekyll is the picture of social class and professional excellence, while Mr. Hyde is the embodiment of Jekyll’s hidden evil nature. The novel is about a man who is given a lot of respect; however he is fed up of his good side and wants to unleash the evil side to him, while remaining behind a fai?? ade of respect. He then creates a drug which separates these two characteristics, so that he no longer lives in bondage, when in control of both sides.
This potion would then temporarily transform him into the heartless Hyde. In the Victorian period levels of statuses were made apparent by the way they acted and how they lived. The working class were seen as lower down than the upper class. This made sense to them as the working class didn’t have the luxuries or the wealth that the upper class had. Victorians showed a respectable face to the public and preferred to hide their evil side, so that there reputations would not get degraded. During the Victorians period, it was the time where new technology was being introduced and development of medicine was occurring.
However many people began to question the idea of these improvements and some were against it. The Victorians were prudish people, who were not familiar of the thought about the supernatural and upon transcendental medicine. The people of the time did not have the thoughts that Stevenson was having about the duality. This novel therefore intrigued the people in the Victorian time. The main themes in the story are duality of human nature, respectability and hypocrisy. Dr. Jekyll changes into Hyde to express the duality within him.
In the Victorians time, status meant a lot to the professional classes. If there unknown actions were to be revealed to the public, it would become a public scandal, it would damage their name and there whole reputation, as well as there status. This is why Dr. Jekyll does not tell anyone that he is Hyde. This illustrates the theme of deception and hypocrisy. Jekyll is a man with a split personality, the good side Dr Jekyll and the evil Mr. Hyde. These two bonded appearances have completely different prospective to life and therefore the story emphasizes the existence of duality.
Dr Jekyll is a respectable doctor who uses his profession to produce a transcendental medicine in order to unleash his evil and fulfill his dark desires without having to face public scandal. Jekyll dwells with unconventional science and creates a new and evil identity, Mr. Hyde, through whom he searches evil for pleasure without being recognized in the society. His two morally opposite identities reflect the dual personality of human nature. Stevenson uses this split personality to show the darker side of a decent man, and that even the most respectable men can turn evil.
Furthermore he puts forward the universality of this theme; that there is a dual nature in every human being. The theme of duality runs throughout the entire story. Jekyll pursues his scientific experiments and validating his work, he claims, “Man is not truly one” hence in Jekyll’s view, every soul contains elements of both good and evil, but one is always dominant. Throughout the novella descriptions suggest the key theme of duality. From the beginning chapter, duality is reinforced through the details of the setting. An evil atmosphere is described with emphasis on gothic features along with welcoming.
Stevenson begins describing the setting with two appearances; he juxtaposes positive lexis with negative to compare a street to its area. Jekyll’s street was known for its “general cleanliness and gaiety of note”. It was instantly “caught and pleased by the eye of the passenger”. However on the other side of the bystreet, was an unsightly “sinister block of buildings” the building has no “windows” and had “discolored walls”. These description hints a Gothic image. The street of ‘smiling saleswomen’ is in contrast to its ‘dingy neighborhood’. Here duality is expressed in the form of light and dark.
This relates to the gothic setting of the novella. Stevenson uses pathetic fallacy to show the images of dark and light. This creates tension and suspense but also to convey duality. For example Hyde is associated with “black secrets” while Jekyll is seen as the “sunshine”. Black suggests deception and secrecy. While light and sunshine indicates purifying of the soul. In Jekyll and Hyde this darkness coexists with light, because Hyde coexists with Jekyll. Stevenson might be trying to convey the message that the bondage between good and evil can never be broken, that good always coexists with evil and that appearances might not be a reality.
Stevenson also shows duality in Jekyll. Jekyll is known for his “warm affection” and is “liked well”. This shows us that Jekyll was a good man, who was respected. His friends were described as “all intelligent, and all judges of good wine”. This conveys that Jekyll had a high status, as in the Victorian times wine was a symbol which indicated status and respect. Hyde on the other hand, is described as a “fiend” and a “juggernaut” this shows us that Hyde was the total opposite of Jekyll. Stevenson also uses Beastal imagery, such as “hissing” and “growling” which have been used to describe his actions.
He has been described as a “deformed” character, and a man who people take an instant “loathing” to. His existence makes those around him feel uneasy yet there is no explanation given as to what makes them feel such a chill. Stevenson uses a lot of negative lexis to describe Mr. Hyde’s house. Phrases such as ‘dingy street’ and ‘gloomiest’ are gothic giving connotations of strangeness, mystery and horror. Again imagery of light and dark is used to build suspense and add to the duality of the setting. The atmosphere around evil is portrayed with unpleasant descriptions. The fog is described ‘as brown as amber’.
This metaphor shows the pathetic fallacy of gothic atmosphere and builds a sinister and unnatural climate around Hyde. There are images of urban degeneration, which convey the insecurity of the area such as ‘ragged children’. This adds to the mysterious atmosphere of the story. All these characteristics in both men are found in one body. This shows that evil and good can coexist, but because they are in bondage one controls the other. There are various reasons why Dr Jekyll such a respectable and honored man developed an extensive interest for Mr. Hyde. The main reason is obvious, to take pleasure in searching for evil.
However Stevenson describes other reasons, which curved Jekyll into evil even more. His desire for a younger appearance was amongst the many reasons why Jekyll had such enthusiasm about Hyde. Jekyll gave up his grace and ‘well made, smooth faced man’ description for a younger yet ‘deformed’ Mr. Hyde. His wish to separate the ‘bondage’ between the good and evil so he could fulfill his dark desires without being recognized by the society became a purpose for creating Mr. Hyde. He believes he has total control over Hyde, as he says; “the moment I choose I can get rid of Mr. Hyde”.
However Stevenson shows situational irony as later on Jekyll loses control and the potion does not work any longer. Conclusively Stevenson clearly states the human nature as possessing two aspects; he leaves open the question of what these aspects consist of. Either evil or good, perhaps they represent the hidden animal and the fai?? ade that the civilization has imposed. In this case, it was the key to the lab door, symbolic of satanic power, which gave access to evil, the secret lab. As the key was destroyed, so was Hyde. Stevenson enhances the effectiveness of the novella by leaving us to look within ourselves to find the answers.