Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

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The Message & What Inspired R.L. Stevenson?

The message behind the story is about human naature - how everyone has good and evil inside them almost like alter-egos. If people were to explore their 'darker side' it could lead to problems, but if they were to try and conceal and deny their darker side then it could also lead to problems.

R.L. Stevenson was interested in the behaviour of a Victorian 'gentleman' - how the acted outwardly respectable and carried themselves with respectable appearance, yet they would inwardly indulge in immoral behaviour. He was particularly interested in a certain man named Deacon Brodie, this man was a respected cabinet maker but whom lead a secret life as a robber.  

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Reputation & It's Importance

In the book reputation is a very important factor to the gentlemen of the novel. Uncontrolled emotions and immoral behaviour would ruin their reputations. If their reputations were ruined then they would lose many social advantages of being a gentleman and society would no longer see them as a gentleman.

Stevenson's message here is that reuptations cannot be trusted because it is merely a mirror of what the person wanted you to see. When a society values reputation over anything it then makes it difficult for the people to know what someone is really like. For example: Utterson finds it difficult to undestand Jekyll's situation because he values Jekyll's reputation above anything else. But when he suspects that Jekyll is being blackmailed and hiding Hyde from the police he doesn't say anything because part of being Jekyll's good friend means supporting Jekyll in maintaining his respectability and having willingness to keep his secrets. Another example: Upright men such as Utterson and Enfield do not gossip as they see gossiping as a great destroyer of reputation; they agree not to talk about Hyde anymore - Enfield says 'I am ashamed of my long tongue, let us make a bargain never to refer to this again'. 

The importance of ones reputation emerging above all other things in the book shows the neccessity of appearances, facades and surfaces which often hide a sordid underside.

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The Duality of Human Nature

Jekyll states "man is not truly one, but truly two" referrring to the duality of human nature. Before Jekyll even created Hyde he felt as if he was leading a double life; outwardly he was a respected genttleman yet inwardly he committed sins and was guilty of irregularities that he kept hidden. Jekyll feels as if good and bad are struggling within him, yet when he tries to separate them he is unable to because he is radically both.

However, when Jekyll obtains a potion which unleashes the pure evil within him he becomes so deeply fascinated and infatuated with that side that he can no longer control the metamorphosis process. Jekyll, over ridden by anxiety and a lack of sleep committs suicide at the end of the story but as he lay writhing on the floor he becomes Hyde. This suggests that if we allow the darker side of human nature to become more prominent in our lives then it will dominate our whole character. In the book Stevenson uses the language of battle to describe the struggle between good and bad. Stevenson writes that there is a war going on within Jekyll and 'the two natures that contended in the field' of his mind sound like battlefields.

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The Duality of Human Nature (continued I)

The good and the bad in Jekyll can be seen as sinful and virtuous. If Hyde was removed from Jekyll's life then Jekyll would be a man leading a virtuous life and he would be distinguished for religion. Even after Jekyll's creation of Hyde, Jekyll is still a mixture of virtue and sin and Jekyll - according to Victorian times would be seen as an ordinary secret sinner. Jekyll creates Hyde because he wants to rid himself of sin as he feels like a double - dealer when he lives a outwardly respectable life whereas inwardly he is rather immoral and sinful. But he is unable to seperate his good from his bad because Hyde is a concentrate projection of the evil within Jekyll, so Jekyll doesn't transform into Hyde he projects Hyde.                                                                                       Jekyll believes that if he had done it with more pious intentions then he could truly be rid of all his sins, he believes that Hyde could could've been created as 'an angel instead of a fiend'. Utterson describes Hyde as having the devil's signature upon his face. He (Hyde) is said to have writtten all over Jekyll's religious text with startling blasphemies.

During Stevenson's the time when the novel was written there was a branch of christianity that wa knwon as Evangelicalism and it taught that all mankind was sinful as Adam and Eve hadd sinned. Stevenson shows complex attitudes to sin and even suggests that the sinful side is inevitable and can even be stronger than the good side, through  this novel.

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The Duality of Human Nature (continued II)

Darwin introduced his theory of humans having a common ancestor with apes around about the time the book was being written. Many Victorian upper-class-men accepted this theory and believed themselves to be more evolved than the working and lower class men of Victorian times. Darwin's ideas went against many of Christian ideas that men were separate from animals. Especially to the Victorian's it was an unsettling idea that there is an animalistic side to everyone which causes them to be capable of uncivilised and violent crimes. In the novvel Stevenson uses this idea describing Hyde as the animal within Jekyll to the Victorian Gentlemen Hyde 'seems hardly humanhe lets out a scream of 'animal terror'. Hyde is almost like a less evolved version of Henry Jekyll as he disrupts the ordered, civilised world Dr Jekyll and his friends live in.

R.L Stevenson also uses the idea of duality to criticise respectable society and its hypocrisy. Victorian London's hipcrisy can be shown in the way Jekyll's house from the front 'wore a great air of wealth and comfort' but is also linked to the shabby door to the laboratory. The gentlemanly characters in the novel (Jekyll is a good example of this) look down on immoral behaviour and activities yet carry out those same immoral activities in the night. Throughout the book Stevenson could be suggesting that society should stop concealing their real appearances.

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Science & Religion

Dr Jekyll and his good friend Dr Lanyon are scientists. Scientists have a profession which relies on rational methods and hard evidence. The tension between religion and science was a great source of conflict in Victorian society whic can be portrayed through the characters of Lanyon and Jekyll. Jekyll finds interest in religious texts and calls on God for help at time whereas Lanyon belives religion and science should not mix like many other members of Victorian civilisation. Lanyon deals with the science of the material world and shows distaste when Jekyll begins experimenting with science to deal with the hard law of religion (all humans are sinful), Jekyll's work leads wholly to the mystic and the transcendental. During the 19th century many scientists began to believe that it was in fact the evolution theory that created the world than what it is said in Genesis, but many Victorians thought this view was dangerous. Stevenson reminds the reader of Jekyll's hypocritical action using religious language as he openly carries out charitable deeds but is sinful in private. Jekyll is said to be a 'secret sinner' and Hyde 'the spirit of hell'. Jekyll doesn't deal with his guiltty conscience after the murder of Sir Danvers Carew because he thinks it is all Hyde's fault yet this allows Hyde to become stronger and in the end Jekyll is destroyed. Stevenson uses vague language to present science as mysterious, the "transformation" of Jekyll into Hyde is said to be hideous and Jekyll reports that it originally provoked 'racking pangs', 'deadly nausea' and 'a horror of the spirit'.

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Science & Religion (continued I)

Science is also shown to be rather powerful - it causes death and destruction when it was used to upset the order of the conventional order of Victorian life. Stevenson uses strong language to portray that Jekyll's respectable side trapped the sinful side of his personality as shown here; Jekyll's drugs 'shook the doors of the prisonhouse of {his} dispositon'. His experiment was left incomplete and even he, a respected scientist could not control the power of the evil he had unleashed. The language of torment tht Jekyll uses links to the Christian idea of hell and in the ennd Jekyll becomes the 'chief of sufferers' experiencing torments as Hyde grows in strength.

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Stevenson's narrative has many gaps this makes the reader more suspicious of things that are left unspoken or unexplained. For example Utterson has supposedly done many ill things that he leaves untold to the reader making them seem almost shameful. Enfield never explained where he was returning from at 3 O'Clock in the morning making his activities seem rather scandalous. Jekyll asks that Utterson respects his silence and says he cannot share what he already nows as he can't admit to Utterson that it is in fact himself that Hyde originated from. Throughout the novel the Victorian Gentlemen are determined to pretend as if nothing is happening when bad things happen (e.g when Enfield tells the tale of the girl being trampled over he refers to it as merely a bad story). Stevenson uses locked doors as symbols:

  • The back door to Jekyll's house has 'neither bell nor knocker' and it's associated with Hyde.
  • Jekyll slams the window shut when Utterson and Enfield spot him staring out the window and later on locks himselff in the cabinet.
  • Jekyll's ingredients are all locked in drawers and safes.
  • The smashing of the cabinet wall is a significant moment in the story as it is almost like Jekyll's walls of secrecy have been broken.
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