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How does Stevenson present good and evil in “Jekyll and Hyde”? Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

The Victorian era in general also had its own dual personality, the rich and the poor, the saved and the fallen and the worthy and the disgraced. Cities were no different. Stevenson grew up in Edinburgh, a large Victorian city, not unlike London. Within both cities there were two distinctly different areas. The high class town houses and mansions and the slums and squalid flats where the impoverished and outcasts dwelt. The Victorian era placed high expectations on the respectable classes and dismissed those who did not meet these expectations. Stevenson demonstrates the fact that the pressures existing in high society were so great that many of the rich and respectable lived a double-life of propriety and shame. They went out at night and through dark alleys to experience what went on in the other half of the city.

Here, among the dim lit alleyways and under the protection of darkness, the upper class were frequently involved in such illicit activities as gambling, prostitution, brawling, heavy drinking and opium taking. They wanted both to break from the restraining shackles of society and to experience the thrill of something dangerous that was shunned by the tight morals that governed the upper class. Therefore many people, such as Enfield, led a more secretive, concealed life at night rather than in the day.

This is not only mentioned at the start but throughout the novel. The example of houses is used, “somebody must live there. And yet it’s not so sure; for the buildings are so packed together…that it’s hard to say where one ends and another begins.” There is also a safe where Jekyll’s will is kept but it is “from the most private part” that Utterson takes it. There is also the simplest of examples in that Jekyll’s alter ego is called Mr. Hyde, (Hide). This secret, shaded society knew full well that if they were discovered, their well-respected position and occupation would collapse from underneath them.

At the start of the novel, Mr. Enfield, recently returned from a surreptitious escapade in the slums, and the ascetic Mr. Utterson challenge Hyde for running over a girl, “killing being out of the question, we did the next best. We told the man we could make a scandal out of this.” Their main weapon, like many high-class men, was being the cause of ruining his reputation. Stevenson emphasizes this capability in men and the damning effect it could have upon people.

The Victorians got a vicarious thrill from hearing of those who had been caught in these outrageous acts and about the dreadful and shocking things that went on in the slums. They read of these in so-called ‘Penny Dreadfuls.’ In 1888, the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders struck fear into those in the slums but created a greater sense of adventure in the more respectable classes. The murders also had other, somewhat different, consequences in the upper class. The rich organised ‘Hunt the Ripper’ outings into the poorer areas of London and even fabricated false revelations that perhaps either the Duke of Clarence or Dr. Banardo were secretly Jack the Ripper. This shows that not even the most rich or influential Victorians could escape the truth of what went on in the slums.

Stevenson emphasizes this fragmentation of society by creating the two opposing characters of Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll. The 2 doctors both built their careers on a stern, upright reputation among the high echelons of Londinian society. However, this is where their similarities end as their viewpoints differ on scientific morality. Lanyon is content with normal scientific life. Jekyll however, in line with the Victorian ethos of discovery and adventure in both science and everyday life, is determined to discover new horizons and areas of study.

Jekyll is pleased and feels liberated when he is Hyde but this is too much for the traditional ethics and mindset of Lanyon and he dies as a result of shock when seeing the transformation. Lanyon had held a particularly contemptuous view of Jekyll. Lanyon refers to Jekyll as his “flighty colleague.”

He dislikes Jekyll’s experimentation and he calls them, “a series of experiments had led (like too many of Jekyll’s investigation) to no end of practical usefulness.” Jekyll’s ambition to separate the two segments of good and evil in humans is not only driven by the discoveries of other scientists who gained world fame, but also perhaps to prove those who doubt him wrong. “But the temptation of a discovery so singular and profound at last overcame the suggestions of alarm.” Dr. Lanyon and other famous scientists therefore increased the expectations on Jekyll who then was subjected to self-imposed pressure to discover the secret of the duality of man and prove Lanyon wrong.

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh into a strong Presbyterian community. He was brought up by stern Calvinistic parents with whom he frequently disagreed. He uses Jekyll as a parallel to himself to show what it is like to be tied down and compares this to the joy of being free from whatever one is suppressed by. Stevenson also uses Jekyll

and his self-conflict to convey the internal battle of choice that we all experience. Whether it be

to steal something or not or to go into the slums or not, Stevenson emphasizes the internal conflict that we have between right and wrong, good and evil, “in the womb of consciousness these polar twins should be continuously struggling.”

This was obviously much more amplified for Stevenson during his childhood. He had to choose whether to live in the strict, narrow street of Calvinism, like his parents or to break off the shackles of conservative Presbyterianism and live a more liberal life. This internal conflict is a phenomenon known as zerrissenheit.

This concept of zerrissenheit stays with us to this day as recently the famous celebrity Vinnie Jones commented on his lack of control over his temper saying, “I’m like a Jekyll and Hyde… I need help.” This shows that the idea of zerrissenheit portrayed by the book stuck in Victorian minds and still survives today even thought the book was written nearly 120 years ago.

Jekyll is an example used to convey that there are two sides to people, one a pure evil and the other more balanced and normal, “Man is not one but truly two.” Jekyll also imposes upon audiences the fact that if the evil partition of the body is let out too often then it grows stronger and gradually takes control. This is portrayed in the fact that Hyde becomes bigger and it takes more of the tincture to return Jekyll to himself. “I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming incorporated with my second and worse / the body of Edward Hyde had grown in stature”.

However Jekyll realises this himself, but crucially, does nothing to stop it and so sways us towards the opinion that he was the master of his own undoing. Jekyll also makes the point that one must not become too restrained. Otherwise when, not if, our slightly darker side rears it head it will come out in a more ferocious and evil manner than if its reins are loosened every once in a while. He claims that “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring. / I was conscious when I took the draught of…a more furious propensity too ill.” It could be that Mr. Enfield was not victim of Hyde because he vented his own internal Hyde when he visited the slums whereas Jekyll did nothing of the sort.

In the late 1850’s, Charles Darwin worked on evolution and in particularly human development through time. His works The Origin of the Species was published in 1859 and fell in line with other scientific discoveries made at around that time, particularly those of a psychological nature. Sigmund Freud and Richard Kraft-Ebing were two of the most illustrious founders of psychology and psychoanalysis and worked at the time of the publication of Stevenson’s novel. Their works include The Interpretation of Dreams and Psychopathia Sexualis respectively.

There is no doubt that these 3 scientists influenced Stevenson. He uses Darwin’s ideas to form the character of Hyde. Hyde is described using ape-like and troglodytic adjectives almost every time that he is mentioned. Hyde is described as “a masked thing like a monkey, / troglodytic, / dwarfish; he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation.”

Stevenson also uses some of the contemporary psychological discoveries, especially those by Freud. Freud hypothesized that the mind was made up of 3 parts: the id, ego and superego. Hyde is the id as he is primitive, unreasonable and out of control. Jekyll is the ego who controls the body. However, the ego gradually loses control of the body to the id. Jekyll then assumes control of the superego and puts a stop to Hyde and his evil, sacrificing himself at the same time.

Almost all Victorians were firm Christians and Stevenson uses this to emphasise the internal struggle in Jekyll. Perhaps he is not only pressured by high society but also by religion as when Hyde is liberated he scrawls blasphemies all across the Bible in Jekyll’s cabinet, “a copy of the pious work for which Jekyll has several times expressed a great esteem, annotated, in his own hand, with startling blasphemies.” Perhaps this concentrated outburst shows that as Jekyll was growing up he was forced to go to church and kept in line with a strict religious upbringing. Although nothing explicit is mentioned about Jekyll’s upbringing, the religious aspect also relates to the author’s own Calvinistic childhood.

I do not think that Jekyll is a victim of his times, but rather of himself. There is no doubt that pressures did exist in Victorian society at his time, especially with the advent of many scientific discoveries into humans. We must not, however, forget that Dr. Lanyon-who came from the same privileged, learned background and who was under the same scientific pressures as Jekyll, did not succumb to the cheap thrills of separating humans into two parts. As can be seen from the fact that when Jekyll shows him what he has done he is so shocked that he dies.

When Jekyll first turns into Hyde he finds it sends him “into a sea of liberty.” Yet he gradually lets Hyde take control of him and realises that he is doing so, “It took double dose to recall me to myself and alas six hours later…the drug had to be re-administered… from that day forth it seemed only by a great effort… and only under the immediate stimulation of the drug, that I was able to wear the countenance of Jekyll.” Both these quotes appear in Jekyll’s final statement, which itself is hypocritical. This also portrays the hypocrisy of Victorian society.

Jekyll begins his final statement by excusing what he has done. This then rapidly changes into a state of denial. “I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high. / I was in sense a hypocrite / One accursed night.” He tries to explain what he has done; “It was thus rather the exacting nature of my aspirations, than any particular degradation in my faults that made me what I was.” He then tries to make us sympathize with him and the freedom, which he gains from becoming Hyde. “The veil of self-indulgence was rent from head to foot. ” He finds himself, “springing headlong into the sea of liberty, ” and he refers to himself as an “elderly and discontented doctor.”

Jekyll then finally realises what he has done is wrong and he becomes repentant and is filled with remorse when considering Hyde’s brutal murder of Sir Danvers Carew. “As the acuteness of my remorse began to die away, it was succeeded by a sense of joy. / My reason wavered / I could have screamed aloud; I sought tears and prayers to smother down the crowd of hideous images and sounds with which my memory swarmed against me.”

Jekyll fools himself into a false sense of security, which is the root of his inevitable downfall. He claims, “I will tell you one thing: the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr Hyde.” He realises that this cannot be done and makes a further promise in the hope of making himself true to his word, “I will resolve my future conduct to redeem the past.” Jekyll even writes out a will so that if anything goes wrong he can remain Hyde “without any pecuniary loss”. This is the clearest indication that perhaps he intends to remain Hyde without any foresight into what the consequences of that will be. With hindsight, Jekyll deserves no more sympathy than anyone else in the novel. He is the architect of his own downfall, and it was his ignorance of the fact that his life was falling away from him that inevitably leads to his unavoidable demise.

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