What have you learnt about the darker side of human nature from ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde,’ and how does Stevenson create a feeling of evil?
‘Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is famous novel written in 1886. Stevenson became fascinated with the lowlife of Edinburgh when he attended university there, and the novel deals with the idea that ‘evil is potentially more powerful than good.’
As a young boy, Stevenson suffered from ill health and spent most of his early years in his bedroom where Alison Cunningham would labour to teach him the difference between the pursuit of life of good or evil, the latter course leading inevitably to the everlasting torments of hell. She made sure that Stevenson was not spared details of these torments, causing him to suffer terrifying nightmares which he often recalled in his memories and which afflicted him throughout his life. She would try and convince him, ‘there are but two camps in the world- one of the mundane and vicious..The other on the high road to the gallows and the bottomless pit.’
It was from one of his adult nightmares that ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ grew a story that would argue there is a light and dark side in all mankind, in the words of Jekyll, ‘man is not truly one, but truly two.’
Jekyll had a strong fascination with a dual personality of a man. Jekyll is a well respected Physician and Chemist who is ‘well made, smooth faced man of fifty with something of a stylish cast, perhaps but every mark of capacity and kindness.’ This illustrated that even the most well respected man is captured by the temptation of evil, and tampers with this.
Mr Utterson is an important figure in the novel to highlight how evil will affect people. Although Utterson appears ‘singularly dull and ‘dreary,’ he is portrayed as an honourable man, ‘tolerant to others,’ with which ‘something eminately human beaconed from his eye.’ This is supported in the book by his firm and moral belief, flailing away from the temptations to open the letter from Jekyll, ‘but no sooner was Mr Utterson alone that night than he locked the note into his safe, where it reposed from that time forward,’ believing that he has done good for Jekyll.
Most of the novel is revealed through his eyes, shown on the fist few pages of the novel where a long description of him is provided for the reader to understand his character. Mr Utterson is portrayed as a normal human, who has not tampered with good and evil, and yet still remains to become a good person. Stevenson has deliberately written the book so that the reader explores the events with Utterson and therefore is able to make the same predictions and erroneous conclusions as him on the topics of evil. From this normal point of view, Stevenson has enabled the audience to accurately judge the evil parts of Hyde throughout the novel.
Jekyll is very aware that when people meet Hyde and therefore encounter pure evil, they immediately shrink away from it. Even characters such as Mr Utterson who is a well respected man of society and honourable to his friends, seems to form an immediate ‘dislike’ to Hyde, ‘I saw that Sawbones then turn sick and white with a desire to kill him,’ because Hyde obviously emanates an overpowering sense of evil. The reader is aware that Utterson’s past is not entirely blameless, when thinking back, he is ‘humbled to the dust by the many ill things I have done,’ and therefore the reader is aware that he would not be a judgemental man because he also has made mistakes, and would not easily condemn others.
The readers can see how Hyde brings out the worst in people and, even the Doctor, an ordinary man and ‘about as emotional as a bagpipe,’ is roused to the murderous intent of Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson here, by emphasising to the readers such strong reactions which even the most high regarded character feels for Hyde, highlighting the true revulsion felt for evil, enhancing a strong foreboding feel throughout the novel, reiterating the abrupt and intense feelings towards evil at its purist form, in this ‘deformed’ and amoral man.
By introducing such a trustworthy and reputable man as Utterson as part of the novel, Stevenson is trying to show that it is porrible to be content with life, having a good nature and side to you. However Jekyll, who is also an honourable man cannot be content, he wants to separate good and evil. This idea adds an insight into the hypocrisy of Victorian society.
Jekyll was a character who broke away from these Victorian Hypocrisies and believed that it was the curse of humanity that good and evil were bound together and could not be separated, ‘it was the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were bound together,’ he gained a great interest in ‘how were they dissociated?’
Robert Louis Stevenson grew up from a well respected family, and it is therefore not surprising that his childhood was shaped by the strict code of respectability of the Victorian middle class. The novel covers a theme which is about what lies beneath the surface of what appears the honourable man, high in Victorian society. Because of the strict religions and conventional morality, men around that time were forced to hide their secret desires in their public lives, ‘The worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety…. I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public.’
On the surface things often appeared very proper and principled, however around this time there were signs of a weakening society, poverty and prostitution coming into existence. Stevenson, when attending Edinburgh University experienced this ‘double life’ and, in witnessing these double standards he began to relate to what lay under these ‘proper’ and honourable men. Amongst the middle classes made Stevenson determined to avoid hypocrisy and react against the strict Scottish background, which may have been where the idea of Jekyll’s character stemmed from, in which Jekyll found the motive to tamper and experiment with this evil because he was not content with his life as it was.
Another hint in the novel which made the reader aware that Stevenson did believe in ‘double standards’ of living was in the final chapters. When Utterson and Poole discover the body in Jekyll’s cabinet, amidst this disastrous tragedy, everything is still very proper, a ‘good fire glowing,’ ‘papers neatly set forth on the business table,’ and ‘things laid out for tea.’ The surrounding of this body suggest a very civilised and perfect society, however what lies in the middle of these is a very different matter, giving the idea that not everything is perfect in this persons world, which Stevenson may be trying to suggest, once again challenging the idea of Victorian’s true thoughts.
Jekyll believed that ‘it was the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were bound together- that in the agonised womb of consciousness these polar twins should be continuously struggling.’ Jekyll seems drawn to evil, even after he becomes aware of how bad Hyde is, he continues to change between them. There are hints in the book that he felt initial excitement that he had control over good and evil and could tamper and exploit this power, ‘there was something strange in my senses, something indescribably new and from its novelty incredibly sweet. I felt younger, lighter, happier in body.’
Jekyll recognises that taking this drug was a risk, ‘I knew well that I risked death; for any drug that so potently controlled and shook my fortress of identity…But the temptation of a discovery so singular and profound overcame the suggestions of alarm.’ This quote clearly highlights the fact that despite the risk, Jekyll felt drawn to evil even though he was aware that there may be consequences, showing the power of temptation that the evil had on the good inside Jekyll.
Jekyll here clearly tampers with nature, which first brings a feeling of liberation and freedom to him, yet soon there become consequences. Jekyll however feels the power of controlling evil as he is aware that he can do as his wishes with no-one recognising him, ‘Enough, then, that I not only recognised my natural body for the mere aura and effulgence of certain of the powers that made up my spirit.’
Because of the way in which the characters reacted when confronted by Hyde, Jekyll gains a compelling feeling of power as he realises that there is no-one else like Hyde. This clearly shows a motive in which Jekyll continues to tamper with the unknown, and Jekyll is also aware of why people shrink instantly away from Hyde.
Jekyll feels people form such a loathe for Hyde because everyone in mankind is ‘truly two’ being half good, and half evil, so therefore it takes time to know these two sides before judgement. However Hyde is unique in that he is pure evil, so people can immediately judge him, ‘this, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them are commingled of good and evil, and Edward Hyde alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.’ This gives a clear impression to the reader that evil can be judged quickly and people are often able to instantly recognise it, hence why they all find Hyde ‘downright detestable.’
However, changing between the two brings misery upon Jekyll when he begins not to be able to control the evil, highlighting its power and danger, especially when, as the form of Hyde, he murders Sir Danvers Carew ‘leaving his victim in the middle of the lane, incredibly mangled.’
Hyde is an epitome of evil, ‘pale and dwarfish’ in appearance. Enfield describes him as giving ‘a strong feeling of deformity,’ and yet ‘he is not easy to describe.’ He is an extraordinary mixture of ‘timidity and boldness’ yet, as every character who encounters him argues, it is not his appearance that causes the most repugnance but an uncanny influence, which Utterson calls a mixture of ‘disgust, loathing and fear.’ There are also frequent references to his devil-like qualities, as Enfield describes him as ‘like Satan’, and Utterson as ‘like having Satan’s signature’ upon his face, which are very damming comments, not said light heartily.
This is the way in which Stevenson has chosen to portray pure evil, as being like the devil. As well as through the description of Hyde’s face, although vague, the reader is aware that Hyde has a ‘displeasing’ look about him, and a ‘ghastly’ face, this is also reflected through his actions. Hyde is portrayed as a very insensitive and amoral man under his ‘deformed’ body, making the reader understand that Hyde is evil through and through. He is seen to ‘trample calmly over the child’s body’ after he ‘trod the child down,’ ‘regardless of her screams.’ This clearly demonstrates his lack of conscience, shown even towards an innocent young child. The way in which Hyde ‘trampled calmly over the girls body,’ and seemed ‘cool,’ making no resistance after he could see what he had caused upon this innocent girl, stresses to the reader how purely evil Hyde really is, with no morals.
The atmosphere described by Enfield after witnessing this, ‘hellish’ encounter of the girl and Mr Hyde is one of menace. Enfield describes the place as ’empty as a Church,’ on a ‘black winter morning,’ which helps the reader to picture how evil effects its surrounding, and the type of place it appears in.
Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ around the time when Darwin’s theory began questioning the story of Genesis. In 1859, Charles Darwin had trust into the Victorian consciousness his unpalatable theory that man kind was in fact, descended from apes, which opposes the Genesis creation story. Stevenson would have been aware of the controversy which grew from these ideas, and sought for a way to launch his ideas about ‘the beast in man.’
Hyde clearly represents this in the book and is described in a number of animalistic images. Poole describes him as a ‘thing’ which cries out ‘like a rat.’ Hyde, in keeping with Darwin’s theory is made to appear ‘apelike,’ as he is said to moves ‘like a monkey.’ When Jekyll awakes one morning to find that the change to Hyde has become involuntary, he sees that his hand is ‘thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair,’ referring to images of apes, linking in which cave like images, ‘troglodytic.’ By referring to these images, I think Stevenson is trying to show the reader that Hyde is lower down on the evolutionary scale compared to normal humans.
Hyde is also connected with images of other animals. When Utterson confronts him, Hyde is described to be ‘hissing’ like a cornered snake. Serpents are creatures often associated with the evil side, in biblical context linked with Satan and temptation, which again emphasises that Stevenson wanted the reader to directly associate Hyde with Satan, and therefore evil with Satan.
In the book, Hyde and Jekyll; appear to be totally different beings, however, they are found not to be completely separate beings. Hyde is a manifestation of all the evil and bad parts which are in Jekyll, ‘although I had now two characters, as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still the old Jekyll, that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement I had already learned to despair. The movement was thus wholly toward the worse.’ By showing the reader that Hyde’s character actually fed off Jekyll’s immoral character traits, Stevenson is trying to show its reader that every human has an evil part to them, even if good does overpower this evil (as shown in Mr Utterson’s character), and Hyde was Jekyll evil side in a person, ‘none the less natural to me because they were the expression, and bore the stamp, of the lower elements in my soul.’
The doses that Jekyll has to take to remain himself begin to become greater and greater. Stevenson did this I feel because this showed that once evil is let in, and the temptation of evil has accomplished drawing in the interest of good, then it will thrive and become more powerful. By showing the increasing amount of drugs that Jekyll needed to control the evil within him, is a way of conveying the idea that evil has begun to prosper and become increasingly dominant. I feel that by showing the initial excitement turning suddenly to the horrific misery of murdering Carew, clearly shows that Stevenson feels nature should not be tampered with.
It is not just the characters themselves that convey evil to the readers. Stevenson wanted to illustrate to his readers that evil will affect the things around it also. Even the door in which Hyde passes through is described as ‘blistered and distained,’ showing the impact evil has on everyday objects. The doors appearance suggests that evil is passing directly through the door in the form of Hyde, into this ‘certain sinister block of buildings.’
Stevenson uses descriptions of settings to extend the feeling of foreboding in the novel. Hyde’s lodging is in a ‘dismal’ part of London and yet his actual rooms ‘were furnished with luxury and good taste,’ ‘agreeable in colour,’ which is a stark contrast compared to the location of the house, which is described as ‘a district of some city in a nightmare,’ in a ‘dingy street.’ Stevenson grew up in Edinburgh which itself had two faces; the prosperous, middle class new town, and the ‘old black town,’ with it’s poverty, disease and overcrowding.
This provided the stem to which he thought up the setting of where evil lurks in his own novel. ‘Utterson thought he had never seen that part of London so deserted,’ building up a feel that ‘something is seriously amiss,’ the setting adding tension to the novel. Stevenson describes the weather as ‘a great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven.’ The reader would associate a ‘pall’ with funerals and coffins, creating a very sombre mood, and enhances the effect and mood evil creates as the reader begins to understand the depressed and grave status of evil.
In conclusion, Stevenson has used a number of techniques to convey to his readers the concept of evil. Not only the character of Mr Hyde accomplishes this and the characters forceful reactions to him, but the ‘deserted’ setting described and the ‘square full of wind and dust,’ which describes the eerie weather. All these factors help to add a sombre mood when reading the novel and helps the reader to set a mood which is realistic idea of the corrupt, giving a strong feeling of evil.
Stevenson, I feel by showing such consequences of murder by tampering with evil, wants to show his reader the power and seriousness of meddling with the unknown, clearly showing he disagrees with tampering with nature. Evil in this novel is shown to be malicious, dangerous, yet exciting initially. By using characters of such varying character traits and different morals, I feel Stevenson is trying to make the point that there is evil in everyone, as everyone has two sides, however some are not content with this and feel the need to explore the unknown and meddle with the mystery of evil.