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‘Man Is Not Truly One, but Truly Two’. Discuss This Observation on Human Nature

By adeking2 May 03, 2011 3674 Words
‘Man is not truly one, but truly two’. Discuss this observation on human nature in relation to the literature you have studied this term.

For many centuries now many people as well as philosophers have wondered what factors make up human nature and the human mind along with its thinking. Man is truly a complex ‘individual’, as every man has their own reasons for living, and the many reasons they have for doing what it is that they do. Has human beings we posses certain characteristics, and it is important to identify these characteristics in the discussion of human nature. As we are made up of thoughts and ideas, as it is our thoughts and ideas that causes us to act out on what it is we truly want to do. This essay will compare contrast two different forms of writing within the same era. “The Curious Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” it is interesting to see these two different forms of writing manage to capture different cycles of human nature, and still manage to somewhat correlate.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, portray a robust sense of loss or confusion of ‘identity’ in the very popular novel, written by Robert-Louise Stevenson. For its time, the topic of human nature was something that various authors offered their opinions on. The likes of Charles Dickens through his novel “Great Expectations” deals with a numerous amount of characters and their journey through life, and their constant battle with their own identity and nature. The novel deals with a great sense of ‘Darwinism’ there is no mistake in saying that Stevenson was influenced my Darwin’s controversial theory on evolution, and how man came into being.

“Nor is there any substantial change when, in Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, the evil follows from the good. The two are the same. Jekyll is, to begin with, a good man. “It was…the exacting nature of my aspirations rather than any particular degradation in my faults, that made me what I was.” Yet “when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscience of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome. This, too, was myself. 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.”

From Massey’s critical analysis it is clear to see what argument he brings forth. The first thing that springs out most are how he describes evil and good being one in the “same”, the fact that one comes before the other, the ‘other’ deriving from the first. The notion of a man at first being good and then turning evil, must then mean that within good, bad is laying dormant. This argument can easily fit into the discussion of human nature. A classic example can be found in the bible story of Kane and Able in Genesis chapter 4 through to 16. Both characters are depicted as the classic ‘good vs. evil’ although both people where trying to please God, one decides to take his brothers life out of jealousy. The important thing to note here is that, they both had the same intention, pleasing God. Furthermore, the quotation included in Massey’s interpretation is also interesting and important for the discussion of human nature. Dr Jekyll himself talks about his own pleasures in the body of Mr Hyde. He describes him as an ‘idol’ something or someone that he looks up to. He also says in his statement that, “it seemed natural and human” and that he felt welcomed by the presence of Hyde. I believe that through these statements Stevenson was exploring the different ‘consciousness of man’ and how man longs for power and the longing to do something different and utterly outrageous. The social class of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is also something that one must take into consideration when reading this novel. The simple fact that both these characters are not in the lower class of their Victorian society is very important. Mr Hyde commits various different crimes, that wouldn’t normally be associated with a man of his social standards. This aspect allows the novel to be considered as something out of the norm for the society in which he wrote in. An article on the Internet by Joel Joyce, talks about the contestant battle between good and evil. These are two aspects about human nature that are always at loggerheads in, literature, films, and theatre. There is a sense of both characteristics in human beings. When we look at criminals and law-abiding citizens, we often wonder what separates the two.

“Most people would agree that at least some people are bad: chronic criminals residing in Jackson State Prison, ruthless Colombian drug lords, and inner city gang leaders. But what about the productive members of society, law abiding citizens, family people who respect the rights of others and the authority of the law? Where do they fall on the spectrum between good and bad? If we asked this question in a random poll, people would give a range of answers. Some would say that man is basically good, except for a few deranged people like those mentioned; others would say that man is mostly good, but there is also a little bit of evil in all of us; still others would assert that man is neutral—family and social influences determine his inclination toward goodness or evil. A few people might even believe that man’s natural propensity is toward evil.”

In this article I couldn’t help but notice some certain similarities between some of the points and some of the issues raised in Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the fact that everyman is capable of doing evil, and that being good and evil are in fact choices that one can make in his/her lifetime. Mr Hyde did not come from just anywhere; he was more than an alter ego. He was the ‘evil’ that ‘apparently’ lives in everyman. The notion that everyman is pointing towards evil is quiet visible in Mr Hyde’s statement of the case in the tenth chapter.

“There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and, from its very novelty, incredibly sweet. I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a millrace in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul. I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine.”

From this statement made by Dr Jekyll himself, not Hyde, it illustrates to us that, ‘man is definitely not one and is two’ the fact that Jekyll embraces this new body and relishes at its prospects must then mean that there is an element of evil lurking within everyman, even someone as responsible and respectable as Mr Hyde felt for this honey trap, if you call it. He also describes this ordeal as “freedom of the soul”. What this can reveal to us about man is that, we long to be free of the restrictions of the society that we live in. he states that he felt “younger, lighter” and “happier” in this body. Notably Dr Jekyll boldly says “to my original evil” which instantly portrays to us that this is his roots and his original state as a human being, so then the question comes to mind that is in fact Dr Jekyll an alter ego of Mr Hyde or the other way round? So within this statement there is an element of ‘escapism’, which is normally found amongst people who suffer from (MPD) multiple personality disorder. According to an article on wisegeek.com these are some qualities of someone who suffers from multiple personality disorder.

“Multiple personality disorder is almost always caused by persistent trauma, or past trauma such as early childhood sexual or physical abuse. When trauma occurs over a long period of time, the affected person may begin to cope by completely disassociating from the events that cause the trauma. This can lead to “alters,” separate personalities within the same person who either are aware of, or are unaware of the abuse. Alters can be childlike, strong, male, or female, and often emerge as a coping device.”

There are a couple of important factors to take notes on in this article. Firstly, the article states that, “the same person who either are aware of, or are unaware” this is something that can be linked back to Mr Hyde and Jekyll, they are both ‘aware’ of each other’s personality co-existing within the same body. The most interesting thing about Dr Jekyll is that he is still conscience within the conscienceless of Hyde. He has the will power to take over if he really wanted. But he played it out in such a way that he was the weaker of the two. This is the second point, “. This can lead to “alters,” separate personalities within the same person… aware of, or are unaware of the abuse…” Massey goes into more detail about this very same point, and which is also pointing towards the direction of the multiple personality disorder, although his argument does somewhat go against this interpretation of (MPD).

“Inevitably, this argument will seem to have some relation to the insistence of the existentialists that man is finally alone, and that all his apparent duality, which provides him with an imaginary interlocutor from the beginning, is only a protective delusion to help him cope with his basic loneliness. The difference is, first, that in my conception man is not lonely, but unitary; he is afraid, not of having no one to communicate with him and thus to support his existence, but of having no choice of selves.”

What this offers and suggests about human nature is that there seems to be a strong sense of ‘duality’ involved in all man. The fact that he states that man does not want to be alone; there is a need of companionship within ones-self, which may explain the reason why Jekyll did not have the strength to over power Hyde. The final statement is a very strong one. “…But of having no choice of selves” this is Massey’s final argument, which in a sense points to the direction of ‘Darwinism’. The fact that ‘Man’ is the final state of human being, who supposedly evolved from apes. There seems to be a longing for something more. Furthermore, the sheer fact that Hyde is described as being “ape like…” and “like a monkey jumped” does illustrate that Stevenson had reversed the line of evolution.

In contrast to this, The Importance Of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde deals with some quiet different human characteristics. There is no coincidence between the protagonists name and the books title. One must first identify the meaning behind the actual name. ‘Earnest’ According to Dictionary.com, here are the different meanings and interpretations of what Earnest means. Adjective

1.Serious in intention, purpose, or effort; sincerely zealous: an earnest worker. 2.Showing depth and sincerity of feeling: earnest words; an earnest entreaty. 3.Seriously important; demanding or receiving serious attention. –Noun

4.Full seriousness, as of intention or purpose: to speak in earnest. The characters name works as a pun, which automatically gives us a hint that there are two different characters at work here. When we are first introduced to the character the audience is expecting a character that is sincere and true to ‘our own belief of what earnestness truly is.

According to a chapter on Earnestness, by Walter E. Houghton,

“Now, patently, Old Leisure was not in earnest. He was not, as one would say, taking life seriously. And that means, we see, that intellectually he has no concern whatever with ideas. He goes to church either to fall asleep or to repeat the great doctrines of the creed without a moment’s attention or an ounce of sincere conviction…he is quiet oblivious to any larger scheme of human destiny, whether natural or supernatural, and to what duties or responsibilities it might entail. His conscience, therefore, is quiet easy; and his daily life is devoted to the enjoyment of sensual pleasure.”

Through this statement we gain more of an insight into the character of Ernest, Jack. He is the complete opposite of what the audience thinks he should be. In Act 1 scene eight, Jack (Ernest) is accused of having something, which does not belong to him. Through the dialogue it is revealed to us that, Ernest has been living a double life. “Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country, and the cigarette case was given to me in the country.” This is clearly included for a reason; firstly it shapes the play into what it truly is. But also there is also an element of ‘duality’ involved in this, just like Stevenson’s “The curious Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” the element of living a double life and ultimately becoming different people. Unlike Dr Jekyll he has had and made a ‘choice’ to live this double life, by creating an alter ego for himself named Jack. It is important to identify what an alter ego is, and what the writer is trying to achieve by giving Ernest an alter ego.

Having an alter ego at times can be beneficial, provided it does not go overboard. It gives the person a sense of completeness. However, if the alter ego is more perfect than your real self, then it can result in low self-esteem. It is also at times seen that if the alter ego is dominating, then it can prevent a person from leading a normal life. If you have an alter ego then it is important that you don’t let it dominate over your personal life. This can affect your friends and family in a negative manner.

As we can see from this detailed analysis on what an alter ego is, we can understand in more detail why Ernest’s character would want to create an alter ego for himself in the two different towns. It could be argued that Jack feels a certain connection and belonging to the village as it allows him to do exactly what he wants. This can also be seen a s a criticism of the Victorian society suggesting that people are not allowed to be themselves in certain environment and places.

Furthermore, there is still an element of ‘duality’ within Jacks real name Ernest. Through Algernon’s statement. “ You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest person I ever saw in my life.” Through the use of wit Wilde delivers a ‘funny’ juxtaposition, Algernon is accusing Jack of being a liar and a fraud, but yet calls him an earnest person, which is the direct opposite of what he should be saying. Instead a moral paradox is created. Earnestness, which refers to the quality of being serious and the quality of being sincere, is thrown around in the play, and characters like Jack, who the word is normally associated with is seen as a hypocrite as he is just the opposite of what the word is. This is part of Wilde’s plan of comment on the Victorian society and the nature of the ‘men’ who lived in that society. “More than half of modern culture depends on what shouldn’t read” This statement made by the character Algernon subtly mocks the Victorian society as their rules where strict on what should and shouldn’t be done. Which then calls into question the whole idea of ‘earnestness’ in men. These characters presented to us are men and woman who are of a certain class, higher class, and they are supposed to be men and woman of high regards, but the majority of the time they are seen as hypocrites and untrue. This could be an attempt to destabilize men and call into question human nature as whole.

In addition, the class system is also called into question, through Algernon’s statement. “Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.” There are two things here about human nature that is worth discussing. The first half of the quote is on leadership. Oscar Wilde, here talks of how humans have a sense of ‘neediness’ and a certain longing to be lead, but something interesting happens here, rather than the higher class leading the lower class it is the other way round, a sense of hierarchy has been switched round to the opposite side of the spectrum. The second half of this quote is also equally important. This is a ‘typical’ statement for someone of a higher class to make about the lower classed. “…They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.” Wilde is clever here; I believe that he knew that his statement prior to this about the lower class being an example for the higher classed individuals. This statement was quiet common for a higher classed member of society to make towards a lower classed member. A vivid example of Victorian human nature at work in its society.

Homosexuality is a great factor in Oscar Wilde’s work. The fact that he tried to cover up the homosexual tendencies that Jack and Algernon both possessed, and instead turned them into brothers at the end. Their constant bickering was more than what it seemed it became flirting. It is no mistaking that Wilde himself was an homosexual, and according to some other writers he too struggled with acceptance within his society, which led him to lead a double life. “Wilde's need for social acceptance may have been a factor in his 1884 marriage to a young, somewhat conventional and naive socialite, Constance Lloyd, a union that quickly produced two sons.” It is then no secret that Wilde in creating these characters was a microcosm of his own life, Jack lived a double life, Which illustrates to me that he too struggled with acceptance in the village and city where he bears two different names.

Finally, Stevenson’s and Wilde’s work both offer different issues that man goes through. In “The Importance of Being Earnest” the themes of homosexuality and truthfulness dealt with, is something that was relevant to his society and is still relevant today. Homosexuals still struggle with acceptance be it through family, friends or society. Furthermore, not only homosexuals feel this, and I believe that this is something that Wilde wanted to portray through his work. Acceptance is a part of ‘Human Nature’ that all men go through, just as a child wants to be accepted by friends he/she wants to also be accepted by his/her family, it is a feeling that human beings go through. This is the same feeling that Kane felt in Genesis towards God that led him to kill his brother, as he struggled with acceptance, he felt like an outcast, which is a feeling that no man wants to feel. Thus releasing his dormant ‘evil’ nature, separating himself from the good. This is the same notion that William Golding went through in “The Lord of Flies” this is the idea that when man is separated from good, he has no alternative but to turn its ‘original’ state of evilness.

One such writer is William Golding, and one such book is The Lord of The Flies. As the appended essay in the popular Capricorn edition reveals, “the theme (according to the author) is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” Here Golding and Ardrey speak with a single voice: mans nature is the central determiner of what man does. Ardrey watches animals in the wild because “only in a state of nature can we be sure that we are observing true animal behaviour.” Golding places his innocent schoolboys on an uninhabited, inescapable island. Ardrey re-constructs prehistory, when a subhuman creature made its way toward becoming man. Golding, who has also written a book about prehistory (The Inheritors, Harcourt, 1962), traces reversion of his British youth to a kind of subhuman existence.

Likewise Stevenson goes through another cycle and almost similar stage of Human nature. His work “The curios Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” has been something that also survives time as it still has relevance today. The idea has found its way onto cinema screens in films such as the “Incredible Hulk” the transformation of Jekyll is presented to us as a ‘one way journey’ as my Hyde’s character is much stronger than Jekyll’s and he is constantly seeing himself through Hyde’s eyes. Eventually the power of Hyde becomes too much for him and there is no other possibility but to destroy his body, inevitably killing off both consciousnesses. Both stories (“The importance of Being Earnest” and “The Curios Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”) do however have one major factor in common, they both understand the ‘power of class’ and social hierarchy. All their main characters are middle classed or higher because they wanted to appeal to the greater half of their society. The reason being, the lower classed where the outcasts of their society, so if these themes had been about the lower classed people in the higher class will not pay much attention to the lower classed.

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