Explore the ways in which RL Stevenson uses setting to portray good and evil in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson, the writer of this novel, was born on the 13th of November 1850 and was immediately indoctrinated with religion. His parents and his Nanny, both equally influential during his childhood, were strictly religious. They read the bible to him every night and encouraged him to lead a religious lifestyle.
Throughout his life, Stevenson suffered from weak lungs. He was told that it was a punishment from God and that he had evil within him. People often avoided or judged him because of it, which caused him to question religion and rebel against it.
His parents had chosen which university and career they wished their son to follow, but Stevenson disappointed them on both notes. He started to associate with people from working class families and was fascinated by their different lifestyle. The fact that two different extremes could live so closely together amazed him. The division between classes in 19th century London lead him to set his novel in that city as it is an analogy to the personality of Jekyll and Hyde.
Through the character of Mr. Utterson, we learn how reputable and restrained in demeanor the upper class society of 1866 was encouraged to be. He was described as “lean, long, dusty, dreary”, someone that enjoyed many things but held back to agree with society’s strict moral codes. “He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages.” However, if you continue reading, Stevenson’s description deepens: “something eminently human beaconed from his eye”. The eyes are often seen as the opening to a person’s soul, a place that will show you their true personality and feelings. By using that contradictory phrase, Stevenson subtly represents and introduces the idea of duality.
Mr. Utterson is of great importance in this novel. He is the first character we’re introduced to, and Stevenson has chosen to tell his readers only his knowledge. Throughout the novel, Mr. Utterson unravels the mystery of Dr Jekyll’s split personality and acts like a detective, telling us what he learns along the way.
The novel continues in this trend up until the final two chapters of the book. Here, we learn from Dr Lanyon and Dr Jekyll in letters written in the first person. These last two chapters are almost like a court case. First we hear from Dr Lanyon, who tells us all he knows and gives evidence to prove it. Then we hear “Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case”, where Jekyll confesses the truth and gives a formal statement, almost as if he was taking the stand.
This novel doesn’t have one decided genre, it is a mixture of genres. It’s been described as many different things: supernatural, detective, doppelganger, fiction, gothic ect. It has characteristics of a Victorian novel because of its lengthy and detailed descriptions.
As a result of the industrial revolution, many working class families flooded into cities looking for work. This affected London in particular, which had a rapidly expanding population. Very quickly the lower class citizens significantly outnumbered the upper classes.
Because of the sudden growth in population and the changes to society, a fear of a revolution grew. The upper classes realized that the working class were a very large, potentially threatening mass and avoided them at all cost. This contributed to the division between the classes. In the novel, Stevenson makes the character’s fears of Hyde reminiscent of the Victorian’s fear of the working class. “I never saw a man so disliked, and yet I scarcely know why”.
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which had been proved using science, directly disagreed with years of established religious belief. Insufficient knowledge about the creation of humans combined with the complete disarray in society, evoked fear and a sense of confusion. Some people came to inquire weather or not his theory could be reversed; if humans could degenerate and return back to a primeval state. Hyde embodied this fear of regression, as he strongly resembled that man, “with ape-like fury”. By creating the character of Hyde, Stevenson tapped directly into the Victorian’s fears.
Cities were divided by extremes of wealth and poverty. On one hand, there were people living at the height of luxury and on the other, people living in extreme poverty, “the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood”.
The upper classes looked down upon the lower class and treated them with utmost distaste; and despite having pockets full of gold; they felt no need to assist them financially. Stevenson illustrates this point through the behaviour of his characters. He is making social commentary that the upper classes are not as angelic as their demeanor would imply.
Stevenson uses fog metaphorically to depict the battle between good and evil. “the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths.” In this quote, fog represents evil and daylight represents good; evil defeats good, which is an analogy to how Hyde is slowly taking over Jekyll.
Fog is also a metaphor for concealment; it covers up misdeeds and crimes. “The fog settled down again upon that part, as brown as umber, and cut him off from his blackguardly surroundings” It prevents clarity in vision and thought whilst also creating a sense of confusion. In one scene, Utterson is on his way to Hyde’s house “about nine in the morning” however, because of the thick fog, the day appears like “twilight” and “it would be dark like the back end of an evening”. By transposing evening and morning, Stevenson creates an atmosphere of darkness as well as a great sense of confusion and mystery. This represents how society was confused and unsettled at the time. It also illustrates Utterson’s confusion around the issue of Jekyll and Hyde.
Stevenson continues to reinforce his point of evil defeating good by repeating this concept and using language from a semantic field. “A great chocolate covered pall is lowered over heaven” Heaven is metaphorically being weighed down by a dark and heavy object. In this quote, he’s also making a connotation of death, which adds to the mystery and darkness in the scene.
Stevenson uses pathetic fallacy to create an atmosphere of foreboding and tension, setting the scene for a dramatic moment. “Lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her” Here, Stevenson describes the moon almost as though it has been defeated by the wind. The fact that the moon is tilted represents society’s disarray, as it is not as it should be. “It seemed to have swept the streets unusually bare of passengers” Stevenson personifies the wind as almighty and powerful, which creates an air of fear and calamity. “the thin trees in the garden were lashing themselves along the railing”. This extreme act of violence is similar to self-flagellation. It represents Jekyll recognizing his bad behaviour in Hyde, and punishing himself because of it.
The Victorians prided themselves on the highly moral lifestyles and believed their lives could not be lived with any more restraint or good manner. To believe this, they were very wrong. To begin with, they knew the levels of poverty to which many people lived, and instead of sharing their wealth and helping the poor, they chose to look down upon them. How could they say that’s morally correct?
The majority of upper class Victorians were outwardly respectable and yet, in some way or another indulged in something that society chose they should not. For example, Jekyll indulges when he takes drugs – whilst knowing the consequences of doing so – to turn into Hyde, and Utterson is indulging when he sets out to find Hyde. In this sense, many Victorians were extremely hypocritical.
The maid stands out as being particularly hypocritical as she took delight in the prospect of her master’s involvement in crime. “She had an evil face smoothed by hypocrisy” Instead of being fearful for her master’s well being, she was delighted and curious about his involvement in crime. “a flash of odious joy appeared on her face”
In Victorian times, there was a ‘front door/back door’ rule that society tended to follow: Upper classes entered the front of a house whereas lower classes entered through the back. Hyde isn’t admitted through the front door of Jekyll’s house and subsequently we are shown that he is socially inferior. The front door to his house, through which Jekyll enters, opens onto the fashionable Cavendish Square, however the back door to his house, through which Hyde enters, open onto a more squalid street; Jekyll’s house is socially divided. “We see very little of him on this side of this house he mostly comes and goes by the laboratory”
Jekyll had an expensive, traditionally upper class house that had a great sense of grandeur and both the inside and outside are pleasing to the eye. “the door wore a great air of wealth and comfort”, A large, well-made, smooth faced man of fifty” Jekyll’s beautiful house corresponds with his kind personality, just as Hyde’s unsightly house metaphorically agrees with his evil and cruel personality. “blistered and distained”, “black, sneering coolness”.
Jekyll’s beautiful house has an ugly attachment on the back, Hyde’s house. This symbolizes the piece of Jekyll that is not as good as the rest. The fact that it is at the back of the house, and not noticed by the public is an important detail because it illustrates the hypocrisy behind closed doors.
Throughout the novel, there is a definite fight between good and evil. In the build up to the end of the novel, Stevenson repeatedly illustrates evil defeating good, but at the end of the novel, I believe it is good that wins. Though the character is in the form of Jekyll when he dies, with him dies Hyde. Stevenson uses Jekyll and Hyde as an analogy to the hypocrisy in the upper classes. I believe, when Jekyll dies, Stevenson is illustrating how society changes and with it, so do their moral codes. Instead of the upper classes rebelling against their own morals, they slowly begin to change their views and ways of thinking.
When Hyde dies, Jekyll goes with him. Stevenson could have chosen to let Jekyll live and for the evil part of Jekyll, Hyde, to die, but he didn’t. By doing this, I believe he is trying to prove the point that one cannot live without the other. To have good in the world, there must be evil, which translates into Victorian society. I think he is trying to illustrate his belief that evil exists and to have it is just part of being human. He’s trying to establish that the thing that is morally incorrect is not evil itself, but denying evil. The ‘evil’ that existed in Victorian society was the things that were deemed to be evil rather than those that were implicitly evil; for example drinking, bawdiness, and sex.
Stevenson is highlighting the point that society in Victorian times was very hypocritical, and the book attempts to mock the hidden nature of their desires.