What view of human nature does Stevenson present in the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
The title chosen by the author, Robert Louis Stevenson is, ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. From the title the reader can also predict that the novel is a form of horror fantasy, which explores society’s anxieties of the unknown. The word ‘Case’ in the title suggests either a possible police investigation, some type of medical study or law. Also the name, ‘Dr. Jekyll’, inflicts upon the reader that Jekyll is of importance and authority. In the novel both perceptions from the title are true.
However, the title shows no indication that ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ are two characters within one person. The book is based on human nature and concentrates on the mixture of good and evil in people. In the Cambridge dictionary the definition for the word, ‘human nature’ is, ‘The natural ways of behaving that most people share’. It also states that ‘You can’t change human nature’. ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ was one of Stevenson’s most successful novels and was written in 1885, nine years before his death.
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For that reason, Stevenson is mainly remembered for using the duality of human nature in his novels because this is the leading theme in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. The novel is a classic mystery and involves the dual nature of man and of society. It was written in the 19th Century, when Gothic Literature was at its peak. This novel includes some of the main themes of a Gothic novel such as the supernatural; horror; terror and mystery. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ explores the consequences of following your desires such as challenging rules.
For example, Dr. Jekyll was using his skills as a Doctor and his knowledge to create the potion that changed him from being the respectable Dr. Jekyll into the murderer, Mr. Hyde. For this reason, the novel was considered a horror fantasy and it concerned many readers because in the 19th century society feared the quest for knowledge and thought mysterious events were true to life. Stevenson used the theme of secrecy, which is also a theme of a Gothic novel, as a main issue in, ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. Repeatedly in the novel, characters fail or refuse to articulate themselves.
They seem unable to describe a horrifying perception, such as the physical characteristics of Hyde. They also abort or avoid certain conversations, for example when Enfield and Utterson cut off their discussion of Hyde in the first chapter out of distaste for gossip and Utterson refuses to share his suspicions about Jekyll throughout his investigation of his client’s predicament. His reason for this may have been because all around England, he saw that although on the outside most gentlemen seemed to be fine and upstanding citizens, inside they hid dark secrets.
Critics have even suggested that ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ was a confession by Stevenson of his own dark nature. He may be making a social comment on society at that time because wealthy people in the Victorian era of Britain did little to help the poor and many preached Bible values, but did not practice them. These are all interpretations of the two faces of Jekyll and Hyde. The Victorian society prizes good behaviour and reputation above all this is evident in the novel when Utterson and Enfield avoid gossip at all costs and they understand it as a great destroyer of reputation.
It has been suggested by critics that the dismal streets and dark alleys in the novel are more reminiscent of Old Town Edinburgh, near where Stevenson was brought up, than they are of London, where the story is set in the year 1885 and 1886. Stevenson wrote the novel in the Victorian period. He probably chose to set his novel in London because at the time this was the most important city where all classes of society lived. By using this one setting, London, which had two distinct areas, Soho and the wealthy, respectable district, Stevenson emphasises the theme of duality.
Therefore this enabled Stevenson to create Hyde and Jekyll living in two dissimilar societies. The two areas appear to reflect Jekyll and Hyde’s different personalities. Jekyll is the main character who reflects good in people because he has a respectable occupation, he is wealthy and reserved, he had a privileged upbringing, a high reputation and has high ambitions. He lives in an upper class area, where doctors and lawyers amongst other reputable people live. The part of London in which Hyde lives, Soho, is described as a ‘dark’, ‘dingy’ and ‘dismal’ district.
Mr Hyde is poor and people in his community are conveyed as ‘Slatternly passengers’. Stevenson may have chosen Soho for Hyde to live because it’s a secretive place, which is ideal for someone who doesn’t want to be noticed. The novel is structured relating it to the Victorian Home. The back door used by Hyde to enter the house could represent the entrance of evil. Crime and evilness in general is committed in the poor district, which is where Mr. Hyde killed Sir Danvers Carew.
The novel is set as a contrast between interior and exterior. In the exterior, crimes and social meetings occur and in the interior, hidden away are secret laboratories and elegant rooms, this duality represents the social theme. The interior and exterior can relate to humans, as the interior represents the part people choose not to show and the exterior is what people do decide to show of their personalities. In ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, Stevenson uses three major characters to portray his view of human nature.
One of these being Mr. Utterson, who is the narrator of the book. He is a middle-aged lawyer and an old friend of Jekyll’s. Stevenson probably chose this character to narrate as many of the characters confide in him throughout the novel. He is also a respectable and law-abiding citizen, who is puzzled by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s relationship. In the book he says to himself, ‘If he be Mr. Hyde, I shall be Mr. Seek. ‘ This quote tells the reader that Utterson is very dedicated to his job as a lawyer and he is determined to find Mr. Hyde and discover the connection between him and Dr. Jekyll.
Mr Utterson’s cousin, Mr. Enfield, judges Hyde on his appearance. ‘There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked… ‘ From the quote, Mr Enfield sounds very critical of Mr Hyde as he had met him only once. However, Hyde’s appearance is conveyed by others to be unusual, such as the witness of the Sir Danvers Carew murder, who also commented on his strange appearance.
He is said to be, ‘small’ and ‘deformed in some way’ and is often compared to animals, implying that he is not a fully evolved human being. The reason for people’s disapproving descriptions of Hyde may be because when they meet him they recognise evil. No-one else in their community shows their evil inner-self, therefore when they encounter Hyde, they may be confronted with what they are hiding within themselves. Stevenson created the character, Dr. Jekyll, to represent the idea of the duality of human nature.
Dr. Jekyll was obviously discontent and wanted to improve his flawed life. Therefore he decided to invent the drug that created Hyde. ‘It seemed natural and human. In my eyes it bore a livelier image of the spirit , it seemed more express and single, than the imperfect and divided countenance I had been hitherto accustomed to call mine’ Jekyll’s opinions on mankind were that everyone is combined from good and evil, this persuaded him to invent Mr. Hyde. ‘All human beings… are commingled out of good and evil’
Jekyll seemed positive that he had control over Mr. Hyde and was more powerful than him. This was because he created him and therefore assumed he could destroy him anytime he wished to. He tried to reassure Utterson that this was true. ‘The moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde. ‘ However, Mr. Hyde became increasingly more powerful and Jekyll then realised his lack of control over him. ‘I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse’.
In my opinion every person has good and evil inside them. People who show their evil side are portrayed as ‘bad people’, when actually the evil they are showing is inside others, who hide it and therefore are respected in the community as a ‘good people. ‘ It appears Stevenson also felt while writing the novel that everyone has a split personality and that we all have evil and good inside us. The reader is lead to believe this when Jekyll says that everyone is ‘commingled out of good and evil’ and ‘it seemed natural and human’ for Jekyll to create Hyde.
He also thought that different people choose to show different sides of their personality and that is why everyone is different. He shows his view on human nature through the characters, Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson suggests in the novel that evil is potentially more powerful than good. He suggests this by writing at the end of the novel that Hyde overpowers Jekyll, who then commits suicide. Stevenson is trying to say that if you give evil an inch, it will take a mile. Meaning that if you decide to show your evil inner side like Jekyll did through Hyde, then evil will take advantage and overpower you.