In this essay, I am going to look at Robert Louis Stevenson’s view of human nature as portrayed in the novel. “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. Stevenson thought that human nature consisted of good and evil in conflict inside a person. He believed that everyone had a good and bad side.
Jekyll and Hyde was written in 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is set in Victorian London. At this time people were concerned with appearing respectable so they were very keen on morals and manners. Society was divided into social classes. According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, the upper classes were most highly evolved and they believed they were “naturally” superior to others and that the lower classes couldn’t help some of their less respectable behaviour, such as drinking in pubs or taking opium.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a short novel. In the first part of the book it is written in short chapters, in the third person, from the point of view of Dr Jekyll’s friend, the lawyer Mr Utterson. He is commenting on the number of incidences concerning a little repulsive man who appears to have no morals called Mr Hyde who seems to be protected by the highly respected Dr Jekyll. There are finally two chapters written in the form of letters, in the first person. The first letter is from Dr Lanyon, another friend of Mr Utterson who is also a scientific rival of Dr Jekyll. He reveals what he has discovered of the connection between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Finally there is a full statement from Dr Jekyll explaining exactly what has been going on.
In the first chapter “The Story of the Door”, Mr Utterson a lawyer was walking down a small side street down a busy part of London, with his friend Mr Enfield. Mr Enfield told Mr Utterson a story which was connected with the door. He was once coming home at three o’clock in the morning when he noticed a small man stumping along the street. In the other direction a young girl of about 8 or 10 “was running as hard as she wad able to”. They ran into each other and the man “trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground”. Mr Enfield ran after the man and brought him back to were their was already a group of people surrounding the screaming child. Everyone took a strong dislike to the man.
The man had offered to pay ï¿½100 pounds to avoid a scene. The man gave them a ï¿½10 note and a cheque for the rest of the money, which was signed by a name well known to everyone. Enfield thought it must be a forgery. Enfield made the man stay with them and go to the bank in the morning. To his surprise the cheque was genuine Enfield felt that the little man must be blackmailing his friend. Enfield has since seen the little man go in and out of that door several times, but no one else. The man’s name was Mr Hyde. Enfield and Utterson both know that the door leads to the back of the house. They both agree to never mention it again.
Chapter 2 is the “Search for Mr Hyde”. Mr Utterson returns home, feeling troubled. He took out a copy of a will his friend Dr Jekyll had left in his care. Dr Jekyll stated that in the event of his “disappearance or unexplained absence” Mr Hyde would take over all of Dr Jekyll’s affairs. Mr Utterson did not like this will especially as he didn’t know who Mr Hyde was. Enfield was now more convinced that Dr Jekyll had done something that Mr Hyde was blackmailing him over.
He decided to contact a mutual friend of his and Dr Jekyll’s called, Dr Lanyon. Dr Lanyon explained that he had had very little to do with Jekyll for over ten years because he had been coming out with some scientific theories that Lanyon felt were complete rubbish, but Lanyon had never heard of Mr Hyde. Utterson decides to become Mr Seek and find Mr Hyde. When Mr Hyde appears Utterson introduces himself. Hyde is surprised that Utterson knows him. Utterson is surprised at just how repulsive Hyde is he describes him as “god bless me, the man seems hardly human”.
Utterson then walks round the streets to the front door of the house. He knocks and asks Dr Jekyll’s servant (Poole) if Jekyll is in. Poole goes to see, he returns to tell him that Jekyll is not in; Utterson explains that he has just seen Mr Hyde go in the back door of De Jekyll’s room. Utterson asks if Dr Jekyll allows him to enter his room when he is out. Poole explains that Hyde has his own key and can come and go as he pleases. Utterson comments that he has never met Hyde at Dr Jekyll’s and Poole explains that Hyde never dines there.
The first two chapters serve to introduce us to the main characters of the story and the mystery as yet unsolved, of the possible link between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Then as the story unfolds we learn about the repulsive Mr Hyde and how he appears to be protected by the respectable Dr Jekyll.
Dr Jekyll tells Mr Utterson not to worry that he is in control of Mr Hyde “The moment I choose, I can get rid of Mr Hyde, I only ask you to help him for my sake when I am no longer there”.
Dr Jekyll invents a potion which separates the two sides of human nature. Whenever he drinks the potion his totally evil side emerges. He calls this side of his personality Mr Hyde. As Mr Hyde, Jekyll can act out his evil desires without having a guilty conscience, a state which he begins to enjoy to the point of becoming addicted to it. Stevenson presents Mr Hyde as being small, ugly and somehow primitive. At the time that Stevenson wrote Jekyll and Hyde, Darwin’s theory of evolution had been recently published. So Stevenson is implying that Jekyll’s evil side is more primitive and less evolved.
Jekyll reveals in his full statement that “man is not truly one but truly two”. Mr Hyde had no feelings of guilt or remorse at trampling a young child; only fear of discovery. When we look at Stevenson’s own views about good and bad in society, we begin to understand some of the conflict we see in the Jekyll/Hyde character it is clear that it is nothing to do with nice Dr Jekyll, it was Mr Hyde’s entire evil fault. Stevenson uses Jekyll/Hyde as a device to show that good versus evil is part of he inner man for all of us. The story shows what happens when the evil side becomes the stronger – when Dr Jekyll wakes up still as Mr Hyde – unable to return to his normal self as events spiral out of control. This theme of good and evil continues to constantly interest and intrigue people today.