How does R.L Stevenson explore good and evil in human nature in the novel?
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a Victorian novel written by R.L Stevenson in 1886, it explores the duality in human nature, the ideas of a good and evil side in all humans. Stevenson uses a lot of different ways to explore good and evil in his novel; by taking Jekyll an ordinary man and giving him an urge to take to his evil side, showing that there is good and evil in everyone.
He does not say there people are either ‘good’ or ‘evil’, he shows that even though each human being has a good and evil side, in some cases their good side can be over powered by their evil side. R.L Stevenson implies that evil is simply a lack of conscience and not a purely evil person set out to do bad things; as shown in the murder of Danvers Carew and the trampling of the young girl. Stevenson gives a well valued message that Hyde isn’t just a part of Jekyll but there is a Hyde in everyone which can at anytime overpower your better nature.
This novel is part of a series of the genre of novels that explore the idea of transformations from human to beast which reflect human nature in an eerie but resounding way. Other novels involve beasts resembling werewolves, Dracula and the living dead, this idea of having two sides to personality. Victorians had very strict views on what is normal and what is not. These novels were written during the time that people began to be fascinated with psychology and how the brain works. They thought that people with deformities or mutations were inferior. Stevenson shows this when Mr Utterson’s first impression of Mr Hyde is ‘disgust’ and he describes him as ‘pale and dwarfish’ which shows that people’s judgements were based on appearance more then anything, as without having met Hyde properly Utterson makes assumptions on his nature.
Dr Jekyll was a well known respected doctor, who lived in Cavendish square, he created the character of Mr Hyde, in order to divulge into things that most people at this time would find unacceptable. The novel is written in third person mostly following the thoughts of Mr Utterson a lawyer, which adds a perspective to the novel which would not have been achieved if Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde had narrated.
When Utterson discovers that Jekyll has left everything in his will to the unknown man Mr Hyde and that Hyde receives it if Jekyll dies, or ‘goes missing for a period of more than two months’ he decides to investigate. When he asks Dr Jekyll about Mr Hyde, Jekyll becomes uncomfortable and refuses to discuss it, ‘I do not want to hear more, this is a matter I wish to drop’ but he insists that his desires are to be honoured and so all Utterson can do is obey. A year later, a maid witnesses the murder of an MP, Sir Danvers Carew, the murderer escapes; however the maid is able to identify the killer as Edward Hyde.
Utterson and the police go to Hyde’s apartment, but the housekeeper tells them that he is gone. When Utterson confronts Jekyll to ask the whereabouts of Mr Hyde, Jekyll shows him a letter from Hyde telling him that he has disappeared forever, and Jekyll claims that he himself is through with Hyde, as he appears to be starting a new life without Hyde. Utterson starts to notice that his friend Mr Lanyon appears to be on the verge of a physical collapse, he dies three weeks later. A letter is delivered to Utterson and he is told not to read it until the death of Dr Jekyll. When it is opened after his death, Utterson discovers that Jekyll had a split personality, which occurred after the drinking of a potion. His alter ego was in fact Mr Edward Hyde.
Dr Jekyll is viewed as being a ‘good’ character along with Utterson and Lanyon;
They are all religious and live to the law. He is described by Stevenson as a ‘well made, smooth faced, man of fifty’ with a ‘ mark of capacity and kindness’ The fact that he had a ‘smooth face’ showed he was a good man as this was a great part of Victorians impressions of people. However Hyde is the opposite, he is described as ‘small and very plainly dressed’ he proves to represent Hyde’s ‘evil’ side through his blatant disrespect for the law and aversion to human nature.
In this age people who failed to live according to the biblical commandments or law were seen as criminals and mentally insane. Jekyll uses the potion to transform him into the violent and volatile character of Hyde; this could be a metaphor of drug abuse which was very high in the Victorian era. Therefore one of Stevenson’s messages through the novel could be perceived that the use of drugs is evil, they are addictive substances which give us the desire to transgress. It would be unlikely for any man especially Utterson to imagine Jekyll and Hyde as friends, and so this brings in the first element of mystery to the novel.
The words Stevenson use to describe the movement of the two men also shows the fact that they are complete opposites, as far as their personalities are concerned. Where Hyde’s actions are described using language like ‘Shrank back with a hissing intake of breath’. This use of negative language makes you imagine a man very much like an animal, and not very human at all this is as metaphor extended by the use of the word hissing, implying that he resembles a snake, which is an animal traditionally perceived as evil. This originates from the story of Adam and Eve, as the snake was the one who persuaded Eve to eat from the apple. Jekyll’s description of movement is quite different, ‘You could see from his looks that he cherished for Mr Utterson a sincere and warm affection’.
These words such as ‘cherishes’ and warm affection’ are positive adjectives which make Jekyll seem a happy, kind man. The use of the word cherish is highly effective as it is usually associated with mother and child, and a child is also normally related to innocence, and therefore ‘goodness’ However when Hyde is mentioned the descriptions become quote the opposite. ‘The large handsome face of Dr Jekyll grew pale to the very lips and there became blackness about his eyes’. This shows Jekyll’s evil nature being brought to the surface by using the colour black, a symbol of death and evil. Eyes are often thought of as the ‘window to the soul’ and so the fact that his eyes are changing shows that the transformation is more than just physical as it represents the change in his personality.
The character of Utterson is also considered ‘good’ in the book, this is shown when he says ‘Poor Henry Jekyll’ this implies that Utterson has compassion for him and is sympathetic towards his friends, compassion is meant to be the thing which defines a human being, and when someone lacks this they are often automatically thought of as being ‘evil’. Utterson also instinctively recognises ‘evil’ this makes him look as if he has a ‘good’ soul.
Lanyon is shown to be a ‘good’ character, he is said to be ‘hearty, healthy, dapper, and a red-faced gentlemen’ and ‘at the sight of Utterson, he sprang from his chair and welcomed him with both hands’ this shows that he is jolly, happy, and excitable. Lanyon, Jekyll and Utterson are viewed to be good friends and didn’t have a bad word against each other apart from Lanyon and Jekyll’s different views concerning science.
The inspiration for a man with two different sides to him came from ‘the city of two halves’. The city had two parts, the Old Town and the New Town, which represent the different sides of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The new town was very well built, with new buildings and respectable residents with good jobs and a lot of money. The Old Town however was decrepit and had a bad reputation. You could say that this is an example of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ just like the two characters depicted in the novel. Stevenson was fascinated by the Doctor and Surgeon John Hunter.
He was an anatomist, and was fanatical about dissecting many different things; this obsession earned him the nick name of ‘The Knife Man’. Stevenson thought the home town of this famous anatomist would be an ideal settling for his novel. John Hunter lived in London in Leicester Square; he had a lovely house on one street, where he welcomed his guests, which connected through an anatomy theatre where he held his demonstrations. This also connected to another building on a different street where it is believed hundreds of corpses were delivered for his work. The house is almost identical to the one in the novel, and leads people to believe that house may have two sides to it, alike to Dr Jekyll.
It is not brought to our attention that Hyde Is Jekyll’s alter ego until the end of the book. Although most people nowadays know that Jekyll and Hyde are both the same man, it is important to remember that the book was not written with that in mind, and none of the characters are aware of it. This also makes the story more interesting because the elements of detective story in the gothic horror, and the clues throughout leading us to the climax near the end. If however you are aware of this it adds a sense of dramatic irony as you know and the characters in the novel do not, this adds more depth to the novel although it wasn’t intended.
Dr Jekyll wants to withhold his reputation as a respected doctor, but often succumbs to his urges to do things that are unacceptable. He creates Hyde to separate his ‘good’ and ‘evil’ sides allowing him to act more freely and without the restriction of the rules placed on us by society. Jekyll’s insecurities may be seen as a result of the devision of the social classes in those days, and because he was a member of the upper middle class he was restricted in his actions as he couldn’t do what was deemed as ‘unacceptable’. He uses Hyde to bring out is evil side without doing anything bad himself, and so the guilt is not on him. Jekyll describes the struggle of good and evil as being evil is entertaining, as you can do whatever you like without consequence however in reality this is not the case in real life, law is the foundation of creating an equal society, and if the law still enables us to have free will then people will have no need to be evil.
The experiment of Mr Hyde and how Jekyll enjoys this transformation from good to evil does not however make him ‘evil’ himself, the need every human feels that they can live how they like, does not necessarily make them an ‘evil’ person, but Hyde is shown as ‘evil’ in itself because he is this single part of Jekyll that’s mind is only controlled by evil. This brings up the point of whether the laws and order of society are the only thing stopping humanity from deteriorating into anarchy. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a tale of a man’s struggle between good and evil. It shows that each person has this struggle within them, and that good or evil is not a product of individual nature or nurture. He explains that both good and evil occur as a result of human nature; however it is the choices we make that decide which is prominent.