Stevenson’s Portrayal of Good and Evil and the Nature of Mankind Essay Sample
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- Category: fiction
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Stevenson’s Portrayal of Good and Evil and the Nature of Mankind Essay Sample
Throughout Robert Louis Stevenson’s popular novel, ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ there is numerous examples of how characters represent the nature of mankind and how Stevenson portrays good and evil. In 1879, seven years before the book was released, psychology was considered a science for the first time. This is what would have encouraged Stevenson to write a book based on the subject, as many people would be intrigued by it. He uses these three concepts to help readers relate to the story and therefore feel drawn into the twisted lives of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
To arouse strong feelings of suspense and curiosity, the atmosphere Stevenson creates is extremely important to help the reader feel as if they were a character in the novel. Stevenson wishes that the reader to feel Mr Utterson’s uneasiness by showing the first half of the book though Utterson’s views alone. ‘Mr Uttersons nerves gave him a jerk that nearly threw him from his balance’ is an example of when the reader feels the same shock as Utterson. Stevenson chose Utterson because the character of Utterson is good so the reader can compare good (Mr Utterson) and Bad (Hyde). Mr Utterson is kept in the dark on the whole secret of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde so the reader is also not told about mans duality until the last two chapters.
If the reader knew about Jekyll and Hyde being one person before the end of the book they would lose interest. Stevenson also uses one thing to represent another to create atmosphere. Fog is often used as a representation of secrecy as fog makes objects hard to see. The sentence ‘A fog rolled over the city in the small hours’ is an example of how Stevenson uses fog. In this sentence he says about things happening in the small hours which at the time the book was written would have been very effective as believed this was the witching hour and as people were superstitious this would immediately make people curious. It is also a time most people would be scared to be walking around in anyway. Stevenson creates dark unpleasant atmospheres to portray evil.
As it still is today, to be a doctor was a very respected and trustworthy profession. You were expected to enjoy doing good such as going to church and keep away from less distinguished habits like getting drunk. It just so happens the things that were considered unsophisticated were also the things that mankind’s nature finds thrilling. Jekyll found the cravings to be evil hard to control, hence him trying to invent a drug that removes his evil. Mr Utterson on the other hand is more disciplined in his actions.
‘Though liked the theatre he hadn’t crossed the doors of one for over twenty years’. He doesn’t do things that may bring shame upon himself, even if those are the things he enjoys. Stevenson uses these two characters to represent duality of mankind’s nature. Jekyll is so determined to separate mans good and evil he risks death to test the transforming potion. What Jekyll turns into is a purely evil character that feels no remorse, no shame and no feelings- a character that wants to have fun no matter what the costs are.
Though Jekyll and Lanyon had a similar upbringing, their beliefs on the subject of science especially when it came to mankind’s nature, were altogether different. Jekyll did not accept he must act as expected to be respected. He wanted excitement in his life but he also wanted the comforts of an honourable gentleman such as himself. This is the reason he wanted to get rid of evil. Jekyll believed in the newly found science of psychology, his views were more modern than Lanyon’s. Jekyll went further than just believing in the science of the mind though. He knew that man had a good and evil side. Because Stevenson had both views on the subject the reader can feel he has information on the subject that isn’t biased.
Jekyll believes that man is hypercritical due to the fact that man is not one but truly two. He believes man is naturally good but also has an evil side that creates feelings of greed. Usually the good side of a person is in control however though good is the larger part of man, evil is much stronger. Once evil is released it grows creating a person that’s pure evil such as Hyde. This is why once evil is released it begins to take over. Hyde started small but he grew, in body and mind, each time he was released. Every time Hyde was released he grew stronger and good became weaker. Stevenson portrays evil to be fun and therefor it is also tempting. Once Jekyll had been evil once, he was addicted to the carelessness and enjoyment it brought to him. When Jekyll is out of the mind of Hyde the feelings of guilt and shame come rushing back. He tried to undo the problems Hyde caused whenever he could to reduce the feelings of remorse.
The reader doesn’t expect Jekyll and Hyde to be connected with each other how they were. This is because the personality Stevenson creates for each of the two characters is very different. Jekyll is to the reader has a completely opposite personality to Hyde. Everybody, including the reader thinks, Jekyll is a perfect gentleman, this is what causes such a shock when Henry Jekyll’s full statement of the case is read. People in the novel didn’t realise a man that acts so gently could be so cruel. If Jekyll had to choose between fun and boredom he’d choose fun, if he had to choose between good and evil he’d choose good.
The problem is he can’t have both, the things that Jekyll finds fun, because of mankind’s nature also happen to be evil. He has to choose between fun and evil or boredom and goodness. If he chose the first it would be out of greed for himself, if he chose the latter one it would be only out of guilt and shame of what would happen if he chose evil. Stevenson portrays good to be weak, to be good you have to care for others as well as yourself, doubling the burden. To be good is therefore also to be vulnerable. He portrays evil to be strong, you need to only think of yourself and what you want, and this is why Hyde overtakes Jekyll. Hyde can concentrate on taking control over Jekyll, he has nothing else to worry about.
Stevenson knows if the reader was alone late at night with ominous surroundings, they would feel scared. This is why his scenes where evil takes place are often set here. He knows how the reader portrays situations and uses that knowledge to create such shocking scenes. Stevenson knows that we associate all Hydes looks with evil. Short, ‘to look at brings out the sweat like running’, with rough skin, broad shouldered, ugly, heavy footsteps, and having hoarse voice would not describe a beautiful princess. It describes evil, it describes Hyde. Stevenson portrays evil to be like this because it in mankind’s nature to feel a certain way with unusual situations.
Hyde is so evil that he goes beyond what one would usually associate with evil, he can’t even be looked at without the ‘visible misgiving of the flesh’. Jekyll is a representation of mankind’s nature as there is a Bad part of man who in Jekyll, is Hyde. Jekyll feels ashamed of this part, hence the reason he wanted to conceal this from the public and especially his friends Utterson and Lanyon. Jekyll didn’t want to talk about Hyde to Mr Utterson when the will was mentioned. There is also a good side to man, which is the side Dr Lanyon and Mr Utterson first know Jekyll to be the kind thoughtful doctor. Finally there is Jekyll alone, not pure good or evil, just a confused worried man. Hyde knows Jekylls vulnerable and uses it as an opportunity to take control of Jekyll’s mind for the last time.
Once Hyde had taken over Jekyll’s mind Jekyll could no longer keep going, Jekyll regret what he had done and died feeling filled with guilt and shame. If he knew what would happen would he have still gone ahead? Is mankind’s curiosity too strong? Does that make curiosity evil? So many questions are left unanswered but I have learnt from Jekyll’s experiences it is probably best leave to it this way.