In what way do ‘Strange Cases of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson engage contemporary and modern readers?
In this essay I will explore in which ways Robert Louis Stevenson passes his message from ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ to engage contemporary and modern readers. Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer. Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850. During his childhood he suffered extreme sickness in winter, and left him extraordinarily thin. But although he must have felt quite uncomfortable from his sickness, he started to grow up his interest of writing stories. In ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ Stevenson’s literature could fall into the category of gothic literature which combines elements of horror and he uses horror as the basic atmosphere of the story.
The story was set in the Victorian era which is also the author’s century. During the Victorian era, the population in Britain increased dramatically. For example the improvements of medication increased rate of children surviving infancy and people could live longer. Although the population of the country as a whole was rising at an unprecedented rate, but problems were also created. The population explosion resulted in a scramble for any job available and huge numbers of skilled and non- skilled workers were looking for jobs. It caused wages to drop down to barely subsistence level. Many people were driven into poverty and consequently into a life of crime as people’s desire of money increased. And may be this criminal atmosphere became part of the author’s lifestyle, so Robert Louis Stevenson emphasizes the conflict of humanity’s sense of good and evil as the inner ideas in ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’
As poverty during the author’s century, many contemporary readers did not have the opportunity to enjoy an education. Apart from the richer priest, doctor, lawyer or the socialite, many people like Pool who is a servant of Dr Jekyll were only able to read simple and direct language as in the ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ has during the Victorian era. Indeed contemporary readers might only be interest in these simple books as these types of books express to these contemporary readers a direct and simple message, which is easy to understand. For example the title’ story of the door’ on page 5 makes it easy for readers to follow and the story imagining what that chapter will be about. So the title of each chapter guides both contemporary readers and modern readers what this chapter will be taking about.
On the other hand, modern readers are more likely to be attracting by the book. For one thing, the story is too well known as the book had already been translated into most of the language around the world. For another, the story contains some graphic horror element which would attract the modern young readers. For example the horror picture from the dark front page can attract certain types of readers, who are interested in horror stories. Furthermore, with the development of printing and publishing technology in recent years, books have allowed to become cheaper; People can afford to buy the book. Also unlike the condition of the contemporary readers, modern readers are able to read more complicated words, as they had been educated. In my opinion, I think that Robert Louis Stevenson encourages the modern readers not only to read and enjoy the story, but I think that Stevenson also want the modern to think more deeply about the nature of human being and engage him this way.
The characteristics of some of the characters in ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ are quite distinctive and the author uses these characters to create tension and extend the mystic atmosphere throughout the whole story. I believe that Mr. Utterson is the most attractive character; the whole story is built on his response to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and because of that he becomes one of the main characters in the story. For example’ Bless God! It’s Mr. Utterson’ on page 35 shows us that Mr. Utterson is well- respected by the others. Also he is important in the story as he is acting as a narrator in the story.
Secondly I find that Mr. Utterson is the most emotional character as he expresses many different types of emotions every time he receives news on explores something in regard to Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. For example,’ Bless me, Poole, why are you here?’ on page 34 indicated that Mr. Utterson feels very strange about the appearance of Dr Jekyll’s servant. On the other hand, this statement tells me that he is not only regarding Dr Jekyll as an old lifelong friend, but that he cares for and is very concerned about Dr Jekyll.
Lastly I find that Mr. Utterson is a very active person and he likes exploration because he would like to push towards finding answer to his questions after he observes the changes in Dr Jekyll and the strange occurrences between Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde rather than avoid the problems or just ignore it. For example ‘ take a seat….Now take to your time, and tell me plainly what you want’ on page 34 demonstrates that Mr. Utterson is a rational person because he would think and digest the problem before he make any response to that problem. Mr. Utterson is the character who attracts me the most as I am a modern reader, I get attracted with Mr. Utterson not only because he was living in a higher class during the Victorian era, but I can see that Mr. Utterson is representing the justice in the story. For example the descriptions of Mr. Utterson ‘ are in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove.’ page 5. This statement proofs that he is a positive person and willing to help the other people.
For the contemporary readers, I think that they would regard Mr.Utterson as their dream role model because there was a great different between poverty and wealth among people during Victorian era, and I think most of the people who were living in a wealthy condition might not be able to understand the poor and hopeless among the lower-class as there was no need for them to empathy with these poor people. Mr. Utterson seems to be the person who behaves completely different to the others as he is well respected in the London community inside the story. ‘His friendship seemed to be found in a similar catholicity of good-nature’ on page 5 shows us that he is popular and well- known inside the story.
Exploring the science technology being used by Dr Jekyll, I find that there are a couple of mistakes that Dr Jekyll had made. For example’ I drank this but it was without efficiency.’ This statement on page 66 proves that Dr Jekyll made a major mistake in scientic experiment as he did not calculate or use the correct amount of chemicals during his experiment so he could not get the expected reaction. The other major mistake that he had made was that he did not check the quality of his chemicals before he used them. ‘Every time I brought the stuff back, there would be another paper telling me to return it, because it is not pure.’ This statement on page 37 shows me that Dr Jekyll regretted very much that he had drunken the unclean chemicals and it caused him trouble.
From the story we know that Dr Jekyll was a popular person because he had done a lot of charity work to raise money for others. However as I am a modern reader, I think that the author decided to create Mr. Hyde as a punishment for Dr Jekyll as Dr Jekyll does not like the personality of Mr. Hyde. Dr Jekyll declares his hatred in his statement ‘ half an hour from now, when I shall again and forever reindue that hated personality, I know how I shall sit shuddering and weeping in my chair.’
This comment on page 66 demonstrates that Dr Jekyll does not want to be replaced by Mr. Hyde. Finally I find that the transformation of Dr Jekyll into Mr. Hyde is not realistic but weird and as I am a modern reader, I feel very strange that a six feet tall man can transform into a strange, repugnant man who looks faintly like a pre-human by just taking a drug without undergoing an operation. On the other hand, however how strange the transformation is, I believe that the description of a double personality is realistic because there are patients who are suffering this illness in our modern world.
To engage contemporary readers, the author uses the theme of unexplored science or illness during the Victorian era to give a surprise to contemporary readers. Mr. Utterson, who is educated and is a lawyer, has never heard about personality disorder as he is unaware of Dr Jekyll’s transformation. ‘Turn it on its back and beheld the face of Edward Hyde. He was dressing in clothes far too large for him, clothes of doctor’s bigness.’ on page 41 shows me that Mr. Utterson has seen this strange scene and also ‘Hyde is gone to his account; and it only remains for us to find the body of your master.’ on page 41 proves that Mr. Utterson was still uncertain where Dr Jekyll had been.
I am sure that if Mr. Utterson had never heard anything about double personality, then the rest of the other contemporary reader would not hear that as well. So the author uses this undiscovered science to engage the contemporary readers. I believe that Dr. Jekyll created Mr.Hyde because of his theory about that man has a good side and a bad side, and he developed a potion that it can release the evil in the form of a totally different person. Unfortunately he did not control the portion well and the tragedy happened. However he still believed that his theory was true as he states in his statement in the last chapter “that man is not truly one, but truly two.”
The ‘Strange Cases of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is a horror and mysterious story. It engages both contemporary and modern readers. Robert Louis Stevenson success with this story is not only because he understood the demand from the contemporary readers, but he also observed that the world was tending to be more scientific and so he incorporated some techniques inside the story for these readers in the future (all of us).