The Themes of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Monday, October 6th, 2014
In the short story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, we are introduced to many intricate characters that in turn help mold and create very captivating and universal themes. Two themes that will be examined in further detail are Good vs. Evil and Friendship.
Our first notable theme is Good vs. Evil and the struggle that accompanies this powerful fight for domination. Dr Jekyll, a decent and intelligent man, is in a constant battle with the evil inside himself. He is tempted by dark fantasies that control his mind. Jekyll believes that “man is not truly one, but truly two” (Stevenson, 83). This speaks to the duality of human nature and shows that the doctor believes he can fully separate the good and evil halves of the body. Thus Dr. Jekyll creates another version of himself, named Hyde, that helps him fulfill all his evil fantasies. By creating this persona, Jekyll is allowing the evil inside of him to become more prominent. He describes being Hyde as feeling “younger, lighter, happier in body” and becoming evil “braced and delighted [him] like wine” (Stevenson, 86). In Jekyll’s perspective, evil is freeing. In the end it was also his downfall, “God knows; I am careless; this is my true hour of death, and what is to follow concerns another than myself. 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” (Stevenson, 108). Jekyll gives up and lets evil, personified in Hyde, take complete control of his mind and body. When an individual makes the choice to give evil dominance and not allow moral values and goodness to overcome it, we allow evil to overpower us. As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are”. In this case, Jekyll chooses evil over good. Every one of us has this choice.
For others, there is no internal struggle between Good vs. Evil but there is an external one in their understanding of the world around them. Certain individuals’ first instinct is to only see the good in people, so it is very difficult for them to comprehend and accept that evil exists. In The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a situation arises where a maid servant becomes the witness to a horrible crime. The maid is looking out her bedroom window when “she became aware of an aged and beautiful gentleman with white hair, drawing near along the lane; and advancing to meet him, another and very small gentleman, to whom at first she paid less attention. It did not seem as if the subject of his address were of great importance; indeed, from his pointing, it sometimes appeared as if he were only inquiring his way; but the moon shone on his face as he spoke, and the girl was pleased to watch it, it seemed to breathe such an innocent and old‐world kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well‐founded self‐content” (Stevenson, 29). She was not suspicious of their behaviour or intent. The maid felt she was witnessing pure goodness and peace, there was no reason to suspect evil - until Hyde’s actions marred her perceptions. “[A]ll of a sudden [Hyde] broke out in a great flame of anger, stamping with his foot, brandishing the cane, and carrying on [...] like a madman. The old gentleman took a step back, with the air of one very much surprised and a trifle hurt; and at that Mr. Hyde broke out of all bounds and clubbed him to the earth. And next moment, with ape‐like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot and hailing down a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered and the body jumped upon the roadway. At the horror of these sights and sounds, the maid fainted” (Stevenson, 29). Clearly the maid could not believe what she was seeing; that someone was capable of murder - she was so overwhelmed by this realization that she fainted. As a result, her trust in human nature is horribly shattered after observing the horrendous acts of Mr Hyde against Sir Danvers Carew. Evil exists everywhere but some people choose to see only the good unless proven otherwise.
Struggling between Good vs. Evil can be encountered in everyday situations. As a teenager, I am confronted with choices regularly that can sway me from good to evil such as drugs, alcohol and skipping school. I see people all around me making these bad decisions. However, there are less obvious struggles that are also evil influences: not asking for help when I know I need the assistance; refusing household responsibilities; avoiding life decisions and focusing on the negative. These are all lesser forms of evil that I let into my life. They may appear as harmless but they are evil nonetheless as they can have negative consequences. For the most part, despite the choices I see being made by my peers, I choose to do the right thing because I know it will benefit me in the future while the evil path will lead nowhere good.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was first published in 1886, otherwise know as the Victorian Era. A time of highly moralistic, straitlaced language and behaviour. The Victorian morality also possessed a low tolerance of crime and a strict social code of conduct. However, the Victorian era also became notorious for prostitution, child labour and high crime levels. Back then, life was very hard so many people turned to a life of drunkenness which in turn often escalated into violence. Therefore, the theme of Good vs. Evil was very prevalent in the life of the author because there was the constant struggle between the very high and rigid moral expectations of the time and the reality of poverty, intolerance and limited choices that led to evil dominating in many circumstances. Evil thrives where there is neglect and indifference so it is no surprise that it is possible to encounter evil throughout the world. Philip Zambardo, a psychologist and professor at Stanford University, stated, “The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces”. This explains that good people are led astray every day and driven to do evil things. In 2012, many grocery stores in Rotherham, England were frequently been robbed and the police eventually discovered that the guilty parties were mainly mothers from poor areas that didn’t have any money to feed their children. These mothers struggled between the good and the evil because of their lack of money. They wanted to feed their children which is good but they had to obtain the food in an illegal/evil manner. Life can present us with many challenges and it is inevitable that good people will be tempted into doing evil things. This struggle will never change. The second notable theme in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is friendship and how it affects the characters. Mr Utterson, a respectable lawyer, represents the perfect Victorian gentleman. He always seeks to maintain peace, does not gossip, and is very considerate of his friends’ reputations. At first, rather than misjudge his good friend Jekyll and believe that he and Hyde are actually friends, Utterson chooses to believe that Jekyll is in fact being blackmailed by Hyde, “Or else he would see a room in a rich house, where his friend lay asleep, dreaming and smiling at his dreams; and then the door of that room would be opened, the curtains of the bed plucked apart, the sleeper recalled, and lo! there would stand by his side a figure to whom power was given, and even at that dead hour, he must rise and do its bidding” (Stevenson, 15). The scenario of blackmail seems more probable in Utterson’s mind. He wants to believe the best of his friend. Also, this shows that Utterson cares for his friend because he does not want Jekyll’s reputation to be tarnished by a poisonous man. Stevenson underscores the idea that friends are loyal, protective and dependable. Friendship in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also serves to drive the plot forward. Aside from curiosity, Mr. Utterson is driven to uncover the mystery of the evil man because of his friendship and loyalty to Dr. Jekyll. After Utterson finds out that Hyde is in Jekyll’s will, he stated that he “never approved of it” (Stevenson, 25) and then he tries to convince Hyde to change it, "Jekyll, you know me: I am a man to be trusted. Make a clean breast of this in confidence; and I make no doubt I can get you out of it” (Stevenson, 26). He recognizes the strange occurrences between Jekyll and Hyde, and resolves to further investigate the relationship which ultimately helps forward the plot. Utterson is willing to do anything for Jekyll because of their friendship. Ultimately, this friendship is the driving force behind Utterson solving the mystery of Jekyll and Hyde which is integral to the plot. The philosopher Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.” Friendships are vital for a persons’ well being and close friends are willing to do anything for each other. For me, school would be a completely different experience if I had no friends. Going to class and eating lunch by myself would be horrible and lonely. Friendship is instructive in my life because it means I have people to talk to, sort through different challenges and of course, friends help you to enjoy life. Friendships are part of what defines you as a person. In the Victorian Era, friendship was very significant and loyalty was valued above all else. If someone broke off a friendship then that would be viewed as a very serious and abnormal action. Clearly, given that friendship is a theme in the book most certainly showed that the author valued it quite highly. Robert Louis Stevenson more than likely valued his friends as much as Utterson did. To quote Stevenson himself, “We are all travellers in the wilderness of this world and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend”. There are many important friendships that blossomed throughout history. From West Asia, we have the story of Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. When Enkidu died, Gilgamesh tried to go to the land of the dead to get him back. From Greece, we have the story of Achilles and Patroclos in the Iliad; after Patroclos dies, Achilles sacrifices his life to avenge him. In present day, friendship is mainly developed through technology and social media. Although the nature of friendship has changed over time, regardless of age or culture, friendship is still very valued and we still seek out the traits of loyalty, protectiveness and dependability in a true friend.
The theme is the central concept of a literary work. Although the The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores multiple themes, friendship and good vs. evil are two significant topics of this short story brought to life by the exceptional author, Robert Louis Stevenson.
Cenicola, Laura. "British History 2:From the French Revolution to World War II Topic: "Majesties and Royal Highnesses"" 1) Introduction into Victorian Morality. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <http://www.laura-cenicola.de/brithist2/brithist/8-1-introduction-into-victorian-morality-what-exactly-was-the-victorian-era.html>.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: And Other Strange Tales. London: Arcturus Pub., 2010. Print.