This novel written by Stevenson in 1886 is a highly gripping story, which provoked the religious and moral thought of people in the Victorian era.
Dr Henry Jekyll, a scientist and a dearly respected man seeks to discover his inner self through a potion. Jekyll believes in the “duality of man”: indeed; “man is not truly one, but truly two. ” He seeks to take the evil within him, leaving him truly good. However, this leads to a tragic ending as the potion “unleashes” the “beast” of Hyde; that he cannot control the monster within himself.
Through the curiosity of Mr Utterson, a lawyer and a very good friend of Dr Jekyll, we learn of the ugly and violent Mr Hyde and his odd connections with Dr Jekyll. The Victorian society held many anxieties. For example, Charles Darwin and his theories surrounding evolution, contained within his publication The Theory of Evolution. Darwin’s claim was that all humans evolved from apes.
This was very much disapproved of at the time, especially amongst the educated classes and religious world of Victorian England; because they could not accept that people as civilised and rational as them could possibly have anything to do with animals.Religion also contributed to disapproving this theory. This is because England was at that time predominantly a Christian country. They believed that the human race began with Adam and Eve and that our purpose of life is to glorify our Lord.
Nevertheless, Darwin’s claims left doubts in the hearts of (even) the religious people and soon this became a weak point in the Victorians. In Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde we are told in The Carew Murder Case that Mr Hyde beats Sir Carew with an “ape-like fury”. This is very effective because this phrase emphasises the fear that Darwin created in the minds of people.Ape-like” has clear overtones of Darwin’s prognosis, drawing specifically upon his idea to strike further fear into his readers.
Suddenly, Stevenson is able to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Darwin’s theory, coupled with Hyde’s “ape-like behaviour”, would have struck people’s imagination, daring to visualise the horrific reality of humans being tainted with such brutal and animalistic behaviour. He painted our worst fear: the regression of humanity, and the satanic consequences of this happening. Hyde’s “ape-like fury” also relates to another weak point of Victorian society.
Sigmund Freud was a psychologist who studied the sub-conscious mind. He claimed that the human mind was essentially made of two components: the conscious and subconscious mind. This directly reflects the earlier quote for Stevenson merges Freud’s idea in the “duality of mankind”. According to Freud, the conscious mind is where humans have capabilities to reason, contain rationale, and store our values, beliefs and conventions.
All our hidden urges, dark desires and monstrous thoughts are suppressed into our subconscious mind.The fear was that if the subconscious part overpowered conscious thought, all mankind’s dark and evil thoughts and behaviour will be brutally exposed. If this sub-conscious mind were to be a person, it would be the most monstrous and unmanageable beast who will murder and ruin the rational and moral sides of society. Clearly, Stevenson uses this anxiety in personifying Freud’s subconscious beast.
Indeed, when Hyde is exposed, he comes “roaring out”. The signifier “roaring” reflects the sheer strength and destructive power that Hyde is capable of.Stevenson mirrors Freud’s theory in creating Hyde. Jekyll could not “suppress” the “urges” of Hyde; language synonymous with Freud’s psychoanalysis.
He pictures Hyde as “growling” with “intent”. When Jekyll attempts to “cage the beast”, Hyde eventually comes “roaring out”, gaining strength and growing in “stature” until, eventually, Jekyll metamorphises into Hyde completely. By the end of the text, Hyde has overpowered Jekyll, becoming the “dominant self”. In short, bad overpowers good.
Again, this reflects contemporary fears and anxieties.Hyde is the embodiment of Freud’s subconscious, the “twin element”, the “polar self” within all of us. The thought of humans degenerating into Hyde’s behaviour is, once again, a frightening thought for nineteenth century readers. Robert Louis Stevenson sets his story in the heart of London; in the domestic interiors of such respectable, professional people as lawyers, doctors and men of science.
Yet in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he shows us a city with so much divisions and homes disrupted by mysterious occurrences.London held so much anxieties involving( not only Darwin and Freud, but also) city living and fears surrounding crime, prostitution and the widespread of venereal disease often brought into middle-class homes by seemingly respectable men. This was regarded as a threat to national identity. Religion was crucial for Victorians.
Before all era’s phobia began, society was held together firmly by religion. However, when those fears set in, they made society crumble from its highly stable position. Although the theories were making people reluctant to believe them, some however began to doubt religion.The number of the people grew and society lost the strong religious reputation it had before.
This again relates to the fears of the new Victorian England. The narrative structure of the novel contributes to the structure of the whole novel itself. The narrative structure is not consistent throughout the story. The majority of the novel is written in an omniscient third person and the last two chapters are in first person-‘Dr Lanyon’s narrative’ and ‘Henry Jekyll’s full statement of the case’.
This particular structure is split to imply the basis of the story (split personalities).Gothic fiction (which was popular in the eighteenth century) deals with irrationality, transgression, frequently involving madness and the supernatural. The idea of a gothic story runs throughout this fictious tale. A gothic story intimidates the minds of people.
It is very mysterious and there is always a monstrous element involved, in this case Hyde). There is a lot of mystery involved around Dr Jekyll’s and Mr Hyde’s peculiar relationship and Mr Hyde (the gothic element and evil character) walking around freely, doing as he pleases. Hyde is said to be “growling” and he “leaps”.These phrases are all signifiers of Hyde’s brute behaviour.
Also, the emotive description of Hyde, “it was weeping”, the pronoun ‘it’, emphasises a fear of the evil that scientific experiments might unleash. Most of themes in this story relate to it being gothic. Surely, one of the ways in which Stevenson conveys this message is by continuously referring to the darkness of the environment. He does this in order for the audience to relate to the mood so they could decode the gothic image successfully.
In the ‘Last Night’, Stevenson describes the weather as this: “The wind, which only broke in puffs and draughts ….
ossed the light to and fro”. Also in ‘Incident of the letter’ he writes, “The fog” in a “downed city” with “fallen clouds”. The fog suggests an unclear future, also the idea of the “fallen clouds” and “drowned city” are referring to the mood of the novel and are settings for the ugly and mysterious surroundings. Stevenson crafts a dreary and dark image of the city in London.
He creates a feeling of the city being incapable of absolutely anything constructive. Certainly another fear cast upon the audience is the continuous reference to Hyde as Jekyll’s other self.Physically Hyde is smaller, shorter more “dwarfish” and “displeasing” to look at. He is seen as “deformed” but with no “marked deformity”.
In contrary Jekyll is a “smooth-faced “man, but has so many “dark desires” that he cannot control the urges within himself into becoming Hyde- the “monster”. In conclusion Stevenson has made Hyde the”dominant” self ‘ the dark empowers over good. Jekyll- as the good individual- is overwhelmed by the power and destruction of Hyde. His experiment has proved him wrong- he cannot control what has become of him.
Hyde becomes the lasting image of our “dual opposition within” so we have an iconic monster – Mr Hyde. This novel evokes to the audience the senses within our selves. As humans we detest anything unusual, mysterious and provocative. Stevenson has patently portrayed this.
Although, we as a twenty-first century audience do not live and have similar concerns and anxieties, this novel has captured our inner fears and marked us with permanent goose bumps. Personally, I feel that this novel was extremely powerful in conveying its messages and creating fear and dread in society.