Discuss How Robert Louis Stevenson Explores the Topic of Duality in His Gothic Fiction Novel 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'

Topics: Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edinburgh Pages: 7 (2570 words) Published: October 9, 2008
English Coursework

The Gothic fiction novel “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886, is a novel about a man torn by the desire to separate the good and evil inside people. The plot beholds a scientist who finds a way to literally separate his good from his evil by drinking a potion. The plot picks up on the Victorian hypocrisy that crippled people into being society’s idea of ‘good’ and the shallow nature of the Victorians and how they judged character by appearance. At this particular era classes still reigned, so this meant that reputation was still more important than anything, and if being ‘respectable’ meant suppressing inner desires or altering the person you were and having to live with that, then so be it. This meant most of the Victorian culture was built up a known but unspoken hypocrisy. Stevenson is suggesting that good and evil are inseparable in human nature. By discussing such themes as the hypocrisy of society, and the suppression of passion he proves that Stevenson proposes that we must feed our evil souls as well as the good. In the Victorian society you would be judged for the things you did or wanted to do, so you would just keep them private; but you would have had no problem condemning another person for these same social ‘crimes’. This novel also explores the idea of atavism which was big at the time; this is the idea of a person being an evolutionary throwback. In my essay I will be writing about how Robert Louis Stevenson explores the duality in human nature.

The plot actually starts depicting a man, Utterson, who has been completely twisted by the very nature of the way the Victorian’s were in a very understated way, because even in his home he wasn’t comfortable to be who he was…He had to carry on being the person people expected him to be. ‘He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages.’ This is saying that he was very strict with himself even in the comfort of his own home, and that he would have to drink gin just to kill off the taste for the drink he actually preferred; why he thought this necessary? I don’t think it really matters, Stevenson just wrote this to show this side of people’s characters to give us the first real insight into how people were acting back then.

Jekyll states in the novel ‘man is not truly one, but two.’ This tells us that he is wise to the fact that men as a whole were just showing half of who they were. When Jekyll states this he means it physically, but Stevenson wrote it as a symbolic statement to the fact that man was fake and not just this one side he would portray to the world.

Jekyll was intent on separating the two sides he talks about, so that he does not have to feel shame in being a bad person. He uses specific words and phrases like ‘concealing my pleasures’ ‘guilty’ and ‘degradation.’ These feelings of remorse only exist due to the social confines of the Victorian society that exists at the time. Had Jekyll been placed into a society of which morals did not exist or were not hugely important to the ethics of life, much like today’s modern culture, then he would not have felt the need to get away from the person he felt he had to be. But because of the pressure to conform to respectable normality; Jekyll cracked under the pressure. He thought that freeing himself from his inner demon would bring him happiness. ‘I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as beloved daydream, on the thought of the separation of those elements.’ This quotation shows us Jekyll’s passion bordering on obsession to be free from the moral obligations society posed. Stevenson wrote this to show the grave longing everyone possessed to create someone they could be.

When Jekyll takes the potion he physically and emotionally transforms to embody that of Hyde. ‘A cry followed; [him taking the potion] he reeled, staggered, clutched at the table and held on, staring with infected eyes, gasping with open...
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