The novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in the year 1886. The novel focuses on the concepts of good and evil being in everyone from birth, also the struggle of keeping the evil held back. In this essay I am going to focus on the main themes of the novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. The main two themes Mr. R L Stevenson focuses on in this novel are the concept of duality and the representation and symbols of evil.
This novel really shows how the world around Stevenson influenced his writing of this novel. Victorian England was a repressive society with strict codes of morality but with high crime areas in the cities. Stevenson wrote ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ based on London with the dark underground parts of the city being used quite often. I think that whilst R L Stevenson was being treated for his lung ailments he would have been influenced greatly by his nurse, Alice Cunningham.
I am led to believe this as his nurse used to scare him greatly with threats about what god would do to him if he didn’t do the moral thing. When Jekyll and Hyde was written, Gothic literature was very popular. Stevenson may have been influenced by the book Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley, as this uses a lot of gothic terminology this type of literature is still popular today and has had many famous Gothic novels preceeding this. “I held the corpse of my dead mother in my hand” This is a very strong use of gothic language.
Gothic language is easily noticed as it has a strong relationship with death, dark and eerie things, for example. “A fog rolled over the city” This is used as a signifier that something terribly horrible has happened. In Jekyll and Hyde there is a theme of two sides of London, the morally corrupted underground and the upstanding moral part. This was common in many cities in the Victorian age and Stevenson may have been involved in it because his father was middle class, though the middle class was critical of the underworld.
The middle class often secretly participated in the morally corrupt things such as gambling, prostitutes and drugs. The novel begins with the lawyer Utterson and his friend Enfield in the underground area despite being middle class respectable people. “Dingy neighbourhood” The use of the word dingy represents that Utterson hates the underworld despite being inside it, you as reader can only connate that he is in this area because he has been indulging in one of the activities looked down on by the middleclass citizens.
The evil incidents caused by Hyde increase in severity as the book gets nearer the end also Hyde seems to be less and less bothered by the things he does. Hyde’s language also follows the same pattern as his behaviour. Its starts off quite human like, “Name your figure” Mr Hyde says this after trampling over the small girl, it shows that he worries about the grief he has caused and offers to give compensation to the family of the small girl. This all makes him seem like a caring human after the atrocious behaviour he just had.
And ends up acting in a more abrupt animalistic way, even after causing greater crimes. It is as if the evil of Jekyll Is either becoming worse, or that the evil is being separated more efficiently, I personally think that the potion Jekyll drinks is amplifying the evil deeds done by Hyde until nothing more evil can be done. An example of this is when Hyde runs down the little girl he gives compensation to the family but later on the deeds he commits are more evil and he cares less about.
Stevenson must have thought very carefully about describing Hyde to make him sound like pure evil. He uses animalistic language in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, an example of this is. “With ape-like fury” Animalistic language is used to try and show that Mr Hyde is like a ravenous animal who is totally out of control and who has no moral codes to obey. This makes Mr Hyde seem inhuman and like a wild beast. Stevenson cleverly decided to set the story of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ out into different episodes, rather then use the usual chapters.
Each episode describes each event from more then one angle. This gives the story a more rounded view, this is because the reader can either accept or discard the different characters views which gives the reader more freedom and can decide for themselves how immoral some parts of the story are. This can still be done even though only three accounts of the story are given. I think that Stevenson’s view of evil is that all human beings possess both evil and good, but if we nurture the evil side it will develop and try to take over.
(Or that there may be a way to bring it out, like the potion in the book) I don’t think that Stevenson’s view was that it was the repressive Victorian society that brought out the evil of Hyde. Stevenson uses the structure of the story and the language inside it very well to create the Gothic feel to the novel and the metaphors make Hyde sound more beast then man. I think that the text’s representation of evil is that everyone has a good and an evil side to their personality but with nurture the evil side can be freed.