The book Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886, it was based on a dream that Stevenson had about the hypocritical Victorian society that he was a part of. However this dream was just the basis for the book. The main inspiration for the book came from all around him. The Victorian society had very strong morals; it was very clear to them what was right and what was wrong. The Victorians also had a very wide culture because of the Empire ruled by Queen Victoria. This wide culture and power gave the Victorians a sense of power which made them feel that all other types of people were inferior. They felt that they had to maintain this sense of power by acting, according to their society, like good men and women all should act.
The majority of people regularly visited church and obeyed by the rules set in the bible. Religion was a very large and influential part of Victorian society. During this time fifty percent of children died before the age of six. Religion was one way for people to deal with this high mortality rate. People told themselves that the people they had lost had gone to a place that was better than earth, a place without pain or suffering. All Christians believed that to get into this ‘better place’ they had to earn the right to be there during their life on earth. This is where the protestant work ethic came from. The protestant hard working ethic was present in most people.
However this image of the perfect society ruled by goodness and well being was only what most people made themselves believe in order to convince themselves that they were leading the perfect life. There was, underneath this show, a side of Victorian society that would have been viewed by an outsider as very absurd and appalling.
There was a huge underclass of beggars and starving people. Child exploitation, thievery and drunkenness were extremely common and prostitution was a booming trade. In the novel Stevenson created the characters Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to represent the two sides of Victorian life. Dr Jekyll represents the side that is presented on the outside; he is a gentleman that is well respected and looked up to. Mr Hyde represents the darker more evil side of Victorian life, the gambling, prostitution and child exploitation among other things. Just as Dr Jekyll is ashamed of Mr Hyde and tries to conceal him, Victorian life is ashamed of its bad side. The social behaviour of people was very strictly bound by the conventions of morality, this drove people to live dual lives as they could not express or discharge their inner basic needs that had been built up by living by these strict conventions. This is what happens to Dr Jekyll in the novel.
He creates his alter ego to release this build up as he cannot express his feelings and emotions as himself. This made people hypocrites; they taught their children and told other people to live in a good honest way and to always obey the bibles teachings; then they went out and totally contradicted their teaching with their actions by fighting, gambling, drinking alcohol, visiting prostitutes and getting involved with the underworld. Stevenson picked up on this hypocritical side of society and was appalled by it.
To him it seemed that it was almost as if people would live a good life based on ethics and morals during the day and during the night they would transform their lifestyles to a life of pure evil, gluttony and smut driven by greed and the human need for evil. From the book I believe it was Stevenson’s personal opinion that all mankind should live a balanced life of good and evil, without this balance there would always be a yearning or desire for the other side. This urge to fulfil the other side of life would eventually become unbearable and cause corruption and hypocrisy in all people. You can see this in the novel when Dr Jekyll creates Mr Hyde to fulfil this yearning for evil
The evil mood of the novel was also achieved by the use of setting and scenery, Stevenson portrays many different parts of the scenery in a way that presents them as evil. During the novel Stevenson uses pathetic fallacy to create different moods and to give a specific sections of the novel different feelings. Pathetic fallacy is attributing human feelings to an object. “A fog rolled over the city in the small hours,” this gives a mysterious and evil feeling because the reader subconsciously associates fog and the darkness with not being able to see what is coming; they also associate the night time with evil because evil people are stereotypically viewed as dark mysterious people.
Stevenson also uses rain and storms to present evil, “It was a wild, cold, seasonable night of March, with a pale moon, lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her,” this forms an uneasy feeling among the reader and creates a basis for which the evil can work off and grow on. It does this by creating the setting for evil to happen, in people’s minds, they cannot imagine anything happy, joyful or playful happening on wild stormy nights. They also cannot envisage horror and evil taking place in the middle of a bright sunny day. This feeling of suspicion and dread will be present as long as it is raining or weather is bad. Mixes of the weather are also used to intensify or relieve the feeling of evil.
Stevenson uses the buildings and things around him to affect the mood of a passage. “A certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street” This gives the feeling of unease to the reader, it is a building thrust into your face, it is unusual and abnormal. Unusual things are often considered suspicious. The word “sinister” produces a mysterious and evil feeling within the reader because it is associated with all things evil. The reason this sentence gives a feeling of evil is not just because of the individual words he has used; Stevenson uses alliteration. This is a number of words that all have one common sounding syllable; there are two common sounds linked together in the sentence. “certain sinister” and “block of building,” the first two words give the sound “sss” it is a smooth sound that creates the feeling of evil and all things sinister because it is linked to the sound a snake makes, snakes are often associated with evil and the magical world.
The second part of the sentence gives off the sound “B,” this is a very explosive sound, it is not usually dragged on and because of this it creates and image of something exploding in your face. Stevenson has very cleverly followed this explosive sound up with a string of words that gives reason to the explosive feeling the reader is experiencing,” thrust forward its gable on the street”. After this one sentence the reader has experienced several feelings towards the building and a reason for those feelings. Dr Jekyll’s house is presented as both evil and good. It is brought forward as this because both Dr Jekyll (good) and Mr. Hyde (evil) live there. When Dr Jekyll enters his house he goes through the front door, this side of the house is presented and seen as the front to a respectable gentleman’s house.
When Mr. Hyde enters the house he uses the back door. Immediately without description the reader has an image in their mind of this being slightly suspicious, the word ‘back’ envokes feeling its second best, it’s the side that is not presented to people wanting to enter the house. The door is a part of Dr Jekyll’s laboratory; this is an odd building that raises suspicion and uncomfortable feelings in passers by. It is a dark windowless building in the middle of a lively and bright street,” he eyed the dingy, windowless structure with curiosity, and gazed round with a distaste.” Instantly this creates an uncomfortable feeling of a mysterious evil presence in the building.
The way a character is presented and acts also affects the feeling we have towards that character. “a face of a man without bowels of mercy,” this presents Mr. Hyde in a very negative way, Stevenson has designed his description of Hyde to reflect an image of pure evil. The use of very emotive language achieves this effect; emotive language means words that produce a specific emotional reaction. The words “without bowels of mercy” provoke an image of an evil face and a personality that fundamentally matches the face. Stevenson backs up the feeling that the reader has about Hyde with evidence, “Mr. Hyde broke out of all bounds and clubbed him to the earth. And next moment, with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot.”
The reader no longer just has a feeling that Hyde is evil, they know he is because of his actions. This again suggests the hypocrisy of Victorian society, on the outside Mr. Hyde could be considered a gentleman, because of the way he dresses and presents himself at first sight, underneath this shell is a man that by his actions can only be considered pure evil. When he is murdering his victim Hyde is described as ‘ape like’, suggesting primitive behavior. This novel was written shortly after Darwin published his theory of evolution. This theory suggested that man was not created by God; in fact he evolved from apes. This, at the time of its publication was considered to be an outrageous and totally incorrect theory; it was the stereotypically view of Victorian citizens that the world was created by the hand of God and all mankind descended from Adam and Eve, the first man and woman.
Victorians, from an outside view, were considered to be the most sophisticated and civilized of all mankind; however Stevenson believed that they were just as uncivilized as the rest of the world, they just hid it behind a wall of strict social conventions. He refers to Hyde being “ape-like” because he wants to show that fundamentally the Victorians were just as primitive in their behavior as all other cultures and civilizations.
Stevenson has expressed and presented evil in a number of very different ways to create an effect that stimulates the readers’ mind in such a way to produce a feeling of pure evil and hatred for Hyde. Although all these ways are quite dissimilar to each other they all are aimed at teaching the reader one thing, Victorian society was full of corruption and hypocrisy that lead to people living dual lives that was on one hand good and on the other evil.