If Looks Could Kill: The Concept of Physical Appearance in Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Monster

One of the major themes in Rober Louis Stevenson’s novella Strange Case of Dr - If Looks Could Kill: The Concept of Physical Appearance in Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Monster introduction. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) is the obsession with maintaining appearances. The novella was written during the Victorian era, a period that was dominated by the affluent upper middle class who placed importance on physical appearance and reputation (http://www.gradesaver.com, n. pag.). This mindset reinforced the misconception that to be beautiful was to be good and to be ugly was to be evil. Hence, Stevenson used the characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide to expose the hypocrisy of Victorian society.

The novella described Jekyll as “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness” (http://classiclit.about.com, n. pag.). In sharp contrast, Hyde was illustrated as “pale and dwarfish…an impression of deformity without any namable malformation…” (http://classiclit.about.com, n. pag.) Hyde’s physical features caused Mr. Utterson “unknown disgust, loathing and fear” (http://classiclit.about.com, n. pag.). The erroneous association of mien with morals hindered Utterson from entertaining the possibility that Jekyll and Hyde are of the same person.

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However, as soon as Utterson found out the truth, he did whatever he can to preserve Jekyll’s impeccable reputation. After the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, he did not disclose to the police that Jekyll was a close friend of Hyde’s, for fear that Jekyll would be implicated in the case. In doing so, Utterson reflected the Victorian tradition of adherence to facades and surfaces.

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein (1818), focused on the issues of racism and physiognomy (the science of identifying criminals by their physical appearance) (http://www.echeat.com, n. pag.). Victor Frankenstein looked at his newly-alive coinage with “breathless horror and disgust,” remarking that “his yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath…” (http://www.echeat.com, n. pag.) It was very obvious that  Victor considered his creation to be horrible just because of the color of its skin (http://www.echeat.com, n. pag.).

Even the other characters in the novel experienced racism. Safie’s father, a Turkish merchant living in Paris, was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit (http://www.echeat.com, n. pag.). The novel explained that “…his religion and wealth rather than the crime alleged against him had been the cause of his condemnation” (http://www.echeat.com, n. pag.). Clearly, Safie’s father would have received fair treatment from the law had he been a white Catholic Frenchman.

 

After William, Victor’s brother, was killed, Victor accused the monster of committing the crime. Although the monster was indeed guilty of murdering William, Victor’s accusation was on the grounds of the monster’s ugliness (http://www.echeat.com, n. pag.). Later in the novel, an old man who saw it “shrieked loudly, and quitting the hut, ran across the fields with a speed of which his debilitated form hardly seemed capable” (http://www.echeat.com, n. pag.). The cottagers who also saw the monster chased it away with rocks. But the monster finally turned against humanity when a man shot it albeit it saved a little girl’s life. Due to snap judgements over looks, the previously kind and gentle creature became angry and vengeful.

Stephen Crane’s The Monster (1899) attacked discrimination against blacks and the paternalistic relationship between black and white Americans. Henry Johnson, a black coachman, became horribly disfigured after he rescued his employer’s young son from a chemical fire. Johnson’s employer, Dr. Trescott, was so grateful that he vowed to take care of him for the rest of his life. However, the people of Whilomville (the setting of the novella) shunned Johnson after his accident, regarding him as a monster (http://www.enotes.com, n. pag.).

Johnson entered. “Whee!” shrieked Mrs. Williams. She almost achieved a back     somersault. Six young members of the tribe of Williams made simultaneous plunge            for a position behind the stove, and formed a wailing heap (n. pag.).

“They say he (Johnson) is the most terrible thing in the world…”

“Well, what makes him so terrible?” asked another.

“Because he hasn`t got any face” (n. pag.).

Judge Hagenthorpe, an influential town elder, reinforced the paternalism between blacks and whites. For him, proper treatment of blacks is considered “charity” (http://crane.classicauthors.net, n. pag.). Hence, it was no longer surprising that he persuaded Trescott to let Johnson die.

He (Hagenthorpe) said, thoughtfully, “No one wants to advance such ideas, but    somehow I think that             that poor fellow (Johnson) ought to die” (n. pag.).

When Trescott refused, Hagenthorpe replied:

“He will be your creation, you understand. He is purely your creation. Nature has very evidently given him up. He is dead. You are restoring him to life. You are making him,       and he will be a monster, and with no mind.”

“He will be what you like, judge,” cried Trescott, in sudden,

polite fury (n. pag.).

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Naito, Jonathan Tadashi. “Cruel and Unusual Light: Electricity and Effacement in

Stephen Crane’s ‘The Monster’.” Arizona Quarterly Vol. 62, No. 1 (2006): 35-63.

“About Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” n.d. GradeSaver. 5 February 2008

<http://www.gradesaver.com/classicnotes/titles/jekyll/about.html>.

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Themes, Motifs& Symbols).” n.d. Sparknotes. 5 February 2008

<http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/jekyll/themes.html>.

“Frankenstein: Appearance and Accept.” 19 June 2005. Echeat. 6 February 2008

<http://www.echeat.com/essay.php?t=26941>.

“Frankenstein (Character List).” n.d. Sparknotes. 7 February 2008.

<http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/frankenstein/characters.html>.

“Stephen Crane – 1871-1900.” n.d. Enotes.com. 7 February 2008.

<http://www.enotes.com/short-story-criticism/crane-stephen>.

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894).”

n.d. About.com. 6 February 2008 <http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-     etexts/rlstevenson/bl-rlstevenson-drjek1.htm>.

“The Monster.” n.d. Classicauthors.net. 7 February 2008             <http://crane.classicauthors.net/THEMONSTER/THEMONSTER1.html>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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