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Theme Of Evil In The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1639 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is a novel written by Robert Stevenson. Written in 1885 it was based on a dream of Stevenson about the hypocrisy of the Victorian culture he was part of. However the main inspiration of the book was in fact the nature of the Victorian society itself. Due to the extensive empire reined by Queen Victoria, the Victorians had a very broad culture. This combined with the incredible power possessed by the Victorian people, gave them a sense of superiority over all other types of people. Owing to this the Victorian people felt in order to show and maintain their power they must act, in the eyes of their society, like exemplar men and women.

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Therefore this resulted in people trying to present themselves differently to their true nature. They tried their best to portray this image of a society with great righteousness and well being, just so they could convince themselves they were doing right in the eyes of God, living perfect lives. However beneath this cover lived a sinful underworld, this other side of Victorian society would have been seen as appalling to most. There were children being treated like slaves while people begged and starved on the streets, theft and murder occurred frequently and prostitution was rife. Both of these sides of Victorian society were portrayed by Stevenson in the novel.

To do this he created the characters Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Dr Jekyll presents the well respected side of Victorian life; honest and hard working. While Mr Hyde presents the evil side of Victorian life, the side ridden with crime and corruption. And just as the Victorians were ashamed of its bad side that went against their morals, Dr Jekyll is embarrassed of Mr Hyde, so he tries to conceal him. The Victorian people had to live very constrict lives following strict moral rules. However over time their desires would build up, due to them not being able to express and release their true nature, forcing people to live dual lives. This is witnessed in the novel; Dr Jekyll creates an alter ego to give him a platform to release his inner needs and emotions. This lead to widespread hypocrisy; people taught others to live good lives and always follow the ways of the bible; and yet they would go out and live a life of sin themselves behind closed doors, drinking, fighting and gambling. Stevenson was shocked by this hypocrisy which he saw stick out in his society. It seemed to Stevenson that most Victorian people almost live two lives, transforming between the two. They would live a life based on morals and good will by day, then transform to be evil and sinister by night driven by greed and the human desire for evil. Furthermore I believe on review of the novel that it was Stevenson’s opinion that good and evil are not separate, they are combined and therefore people should try to live a balanced life excepting its unity instead of trying to split the two. Balance is needed to prevail in the struggle of good and evil, and without balance there will always be desire to unleash the other side. In which the urge to release this side will increase until it’s so excruciating that most would turn corrupt. This is shown in the novel as Dr Jekyll creates Mr Hyde so he can discharge his evil desires.

A sense of evil is also created in other ways during the novel. For instance Stevenson uses the setting to achieve an evil mood; this is combined with pathetic fallacy to give the reader a sense of unease. For example Stevenson writes, “A fog rolled over the city in the small hours,” this creates a feeling of mystery and evil because the reader links the fog and darkness to not being able to see what’s coming. Additionally the phrase ‘small hours’ means night time, this is associated with evil because most evil people tend to be portrayed as dark mysterious people. Concluding this theme of weather, Stevenson also uses 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 again forms unease with the reader, enhancing the progressive evil sense in the novel, giving it a platform to develop on. It does this by creating an image in the readers mind; they can’t imagine nice happy things happening in this violent place. This creates further unease from then on during the novel, whenever the weather is bad.

Furthermore the buildings in the novel also helps the setting create an evil theme. “A certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street” this quote gives the reader a sense of unease; it makes the building sound strange and abnormal. This creates unease because things strange and different are often considered suspicious. There are also individual words in the above quote that create an evil feeling, firstly the word ‘sinister’, This word is nearly always associated with evil things. However the sense of evil is not just created by single words in the above quote, Stevenson also uses alliteration. There are two examples in the above quote, for they both have similar sounding syllables. Firstly ‘certain’ and ‘sinister’, both words make an ‘sss’ sound. This sound creates an evil sinister feeling, this is because it is the sound a snake makes, snakes are considered evil because in the bible a snake represents the devil. Furthermore the rest of the sentence repeats the ‘b’ sound, a sound often associated with explosions. Stevenson enhances further the feeling of explosiveness the reader has with, “thrust forward its gable on the street”. That sentence alone gives the reader a mixture of feeling towards the building.

However the building is presented as both good and evil. This is very symbolic; the good represents Dr Jekyll and the bad Mr Hyde as they both live there. When Dr Jekyll enters the building he always enters via the front, just like this his character this side of the building is described to be very respectable. However Mr Hyde always enters the building via the back door, even without a description the reader has a suspicious feeling. This is because the word ‘back’ gives the impression that the door is almost hidden, it’s the side that is not presented to people wanting to enter the building, and therefore it feels unwelcoming. The door, in which leads to Dr Jekyll laboratory, is a strange building that passersby feel is suspicious making it an uncomfortable place. It is described to be a very dark windowless building, this contrast with the bright lively street it is part of, “he eyed the dingy, windowless structure with curiosity, and gazed round with a distaste.” The appearance of this building creates unease with the reader, especially combined with the mysterious aspects it portrays, the reader is lead to believe inside there is something evil and sinister.

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Characters are also presented in ways to affect the feelings we have towards that character. This allows the reader to foresee the evil in certain characters. For example Mr Hyde is firstly described as, “a face of a man without bowels of mercy” this allows the reader to instantly recognise him in a negative way as an evil character, Stevenson portrays him as an image of pure evil. He does this by effectively using emotive language. The phrase, “without bowels of mercy” creates an image of an evil looking person with a personality to match. This feeling that the reader has about Hyde is strengthened by the following sentences, “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.” Now the reader has evidence of the characters evilness, rather than just a judgement based on their appearance. However Hyde could be viewed as a gentleman, due to the way he presents and dresses himself, but really under his shell is a man who can only be described as pure evil. This further highlights the hypocrisy of Victorian society. When performing this horrific sinful act Hyde is described as being ‘ape-like’, this suggests his behaviour was primitive. Not too long before this novel was written Edward Darwin published his theory of evolution. The theory said that humans had evolved from apes. This was considered a despicable claim at the time, this being it went against the teachings of the bible. The Victorians thought it was ridiculous and an insult that they had apparently descended from apes. Therefore I believe Hyde behaviour being described as ‘ape-like’ is again showing the Victorian hypocritical ways as their behaviour was as primitive as other cultures at the time. Conclusively the Victorians were considered extremely sophisticated and civilised for their time period. However Stevenson believes that they were no better than the rest they looked down on, they just put on a false social front.

In conclusion the novel uses these various techniques to present evil, these various techniques leave the reader with a strong hatred for the character of Mr Hyde. The techniques used by Stevenson were all quite different, however I believe they combine to tell a message he was trying to give across. He was trying to show even though evil is seen as being ugly and despicable, we should not try to conceal it and hide it away; instead we need to try and create unity between the two. If the Victorians had done this and accepted that not everybody can be perfect perhaps they would not have lived such corrupt dual lives, where the side they tried to hide from society were of a pure evil nature.


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