“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” By Robert Louis Stevenson

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With Reference to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” By Robert Louis Stevenson, explore how Stevenson presents the notion of the duality of man. How does this reflect the era in which it was written?

When Robert Louis Stevenson first wrote “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, it was received with mixed emotions of shock and horror. The people who read it were used to his previous work which was much more tame and controversial; such as “Treasure Island” which is now a well know childhood story. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a Victorian gothic horror, which were known for being dark and for their use of formal dialogue, which often had metaphoric representation on the social conventions of the day. Stevenson’s book explores the ideas of the duality of man and the debates between religion and science for the origin of man which is then in turn affected by the differences between the classes of the time period.

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When Stevenson wrote “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, it was a time of new discoveries and the industrial revolution, and science developments such as Darwin’s theory of evolution. This then caused conflict between the men of science and of religion, the religious side being in uproar from Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the defiance of God. It was also a time of medical discovery, with grave robbers and body snatchers stealing bodies for medical advances, most famously Burke and Hare, as this was the only way for doctors to get the bodies they needed to further their knowledge.

We see Jekyll as two people, he was seen as wholesome and good, behind closed doors and entirely different to others. This is what Stevenson wanted to portray; the class divisions with the wealth, luxury, and power of an educated upper class. But when the public weren’t watching and the doors were closed, these images and masks of the upper class vanished along with Jekyll; they turned into something completely different- Hyde. Hyde, his alter ego, indulged his every whim, and did whatever he wanted without the though of responsibility or consequence.

Stevenson presented this duality of man within the same person, showing the differences that there can be between public and private life. At the time when Stevenson wrote “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, there was a great divide between the classes, even when they lived in such close quarters and we see this in the houses both men live in, Jekyll in a nice house but Hyde living in a slum around the corner. The working classes were the unfortunate, working many hours of the day, drinking gin well into the night to forget the reality of their lives.

This shows the contrasts between Jekyll and his alter ego Hyde. Hyde symbolises the brutality power, aggression and beast of man, whereas Jekyll is a kind brought up caring man. Although they are blatant and strong opposites, they are not completely different character. Even though Jekyll manages to release a evil and demonic person, he never manages to release the embodiment angelic qualities of pure good, Jekyll is a mixture of both these parts, this is because angels are to good to be given to humans in the eye of God.

“I have observed that when I wore the semblance of Edward Hyde, none could come near to me at first without a visible misgiving of the flesh. This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of goof and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.” P 73, chapter 10

Here Jekyll shows he understanding of Hyde and pure evil state and that himself, as human a mixture of both. Although this is the case there is a change in the definition of the character of Hyde, we start to see Jekyll as the villain. This leads us to believe that Jekyll is in fact more of threat than Hyde due the fact that he is fuelled by a stronger and more powerful motive and feelings.

Stevenson reflects the time of the era Science vs. Religion and the social divide using the two characters, he shows Jekyll as playing God and trying to use science to alter something of body and mind- something that is thought to be God’s job.

“It is more than ten years since Henry Jekyll became too fanciful for me. He began to go wrong, wrong in the mind; and though, of course, I continue to take an interest in him for old sake’s sake as they say, I see and I have seen devilish little of the man. Such unscientific balderdash” P 19

Stevenson using Lanyon’s viewpoint is important as it shows us the opinion of the story from someone else apart from Utterson, and helps us to believe what is happening, he uses it to show us how he believes something has gone wrong with Jekyll that has made him become unscientific and “fanciful”. The church’s reaction to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was of shock and outcry, as what Jekyll did would be seen as playing God. This moral outrage would also have been raised by the Darwinism debate of the time, with Hyde’s appearance ape-like this shows Stevenson supporting the theory of evolution.

This theme of scientific experimentation and mutation means that you could take life into your own hands and became a favourite theme for most gothic rights due the conflict it caused due to outstanding issues. It suggested science was the key to life, not religion.

Robert Louis Stevenson develops his characters in such a way that it holds the tension, especially towards the end when it is brought to a climax. When we look at the character of Jekyll we see him as a man of the upper class, who was well liked and generous.

“Every mark of capacity and kindness-you could see by his look that he cherished for Mr. Utterson a sincere and warm affection” P 26

But as the story progresses, we can see through his actions that he is somewhat different to this in private, and is viewed in a different way by Lanyon after and argument.

“I wish to see or hear no more of Dr. Jekyll…whom I regard as dead” P 41

Throughout the story we view Jekyll as a good and generous man, which me only judge and hesitate due to Lanyon’s opinion of him. This opinion stays with us until later in the book when we start to see a “Hyde” type character immerge, this is due to power and greed until it reaches a point where we see, Hyde as the villain. It is because he tries to play God that both Lanyon and Danvers Carew die. We see him as the villain because he makes a choices to release Hyde as if he where a part of himself that he kept in check most of the time. Whereas Hyde does not make a choice whatsoever he is summoned to a man’s bidding and due to his lack of morals he does not question what is needed to be done.

I believe that that Jekyll and Hyde becomes more three-dimensional towards the end of the book as we start to sympathise with him due to his lack of control both when he’s summoned and the lack of control over his actions. We also feel this sympathy for Jekyll towards the end, as he has broken down and given in to the nature of Hyde, and in one of the last few times in which he is in

his normal form, he takes his own life in hope of finding some peace.

“Here, then, as I lay down the pen, and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.” P 88

Stevenson uses many different lingual devices and writing styles in his novel to portray the notion of the duality of man, he uses pathetic fallacy, in this case he uses the weather to describe and emphasise the mood of the piece. Pathetic fallacy is a common used factor in gothic horror novels, and it is commonly used with Hyde, for example, when the weather is dark and gloomy, Hyde will be particularly evil and darkened.

“A fog rolled over the city in the small hours, the early part of the night cloudless” P 29

Hyde is also only ever seen at night this shows him as a dark, mysterious that plays out the corner of the eye, lurking in the shadows of the unknown.

Stevenson uses linguistic tricks to portray the characters curiosity; this leads us, as the reader to become more curious as well. Stevenson uses Utterson’s dreams to help build up a sense of tension and pace. Utterson continues to be this worried and curious character throughout the book, and we follow him through it, we see and understand what he sees and understands until finally he unravels the mystery of the duality of Jekyll.

is Stevenson’s use of powerful descriptive pieces effectively, he uses these to help draw you into the text and into the feet of the characters. These long descriptive pieces help to portray the differences between contrasting characters, mood and tones of the settings as well as the characters, for example with Jekyll.

Stevenson’s novel is non-linear and fragmented, which means it doesn’t stick to a constant time line, jumping forwards and backwards in time, this itself is unlike many other novels of the time.

This creates a sense of suspense, causing the reader to need to know what is happening next. Stevenson uses many different styles of writing throughout the story ranging from letters to wills. Stevenson finishes the story with a letter, which ends the story clearly yet in a climatic way causing suspense throughout. These different conventions help to show the different ways the characters react to different situations and events.

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” caused many raging issues for all classes and affected all boundaries, not just because it was unlike anything Stevenson had written before, but because of its questioning nature. The most important question it asks is what is the duality of man and what are we? The story creates the idea that humans are in fact two separate entities. We see Jekyll attempting to do this, to separate man into good and evil, but he in fact plays with fire and failed.

In this Stevenson is suggesting that humans can’t play god, that certain things are beyond our control, and that trying and partially succeeding will have consequences that Jekyll wasn’t prepared to take. This is because we are we are a construction of God himself. This, could be seen as Stevenson taking the side of religion and suggesting that science could never replace the work of God because God is to powerful and that certain things beyond are knowledge can not be tampered with without trouble and that there is a duality of man then the conditions have not yet been found, and that until then God is still the control of Science.

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“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” By Robert Louis Stevenson. (2017, Nov 04). Retrieved from


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