Jekyll and Hyde Sample Essay

Starting with this extract (start of chapter 4), how does Stevenson present moments of horror in Jekyll and Hyde?

At the beginning of the extract, taken from the ‘Last Night’ Hyde is lurking in the cabinet in a hope he will not be found by Poole and Utterson. Stevenson describes how “a dismal screech as of mere animal terror” rang through the cabinet as Hyde can hear the two men breaking in. The verb “screech” conveys the fear of Hyde as he is about to be discovered in the cabinet and the comparison of the “screech” to an “animal” may horrify the reader as it reinforces that Hyde is animalistic and inhuman, which builds tension as the reader ponders what Hyde may have unleashed inside the cabinet. Moreover the “animal terror” reinforces the vulnerability of Hyde and may create a sense of horror in the reader as they feel sympathy for the masked Hyde who is being compared to a vulnerable animal. A Victorian reader may also feel revolted that the respectable Jekyll is hiding Hyde, who is being hunted for the murder of Sir Danvers Carew as Jekyll is supposed to be a respectable doctor and Stevenson is suggesting that gentlemen in this era have two sides: a public and a private side hidden from society. This may link to Freud’s theory of personality that our ‘id,’ is animalistic and is caged by society yet still lurks within.

In the extract Stevenson also presents the discovery of Hyde’s body as a horrific moment as he describes Hyde’s body as “sorely contorted and still twitching.” The adjective “contorted” suggests that the suicide has been painful and that Hyde’s body has been distorted out of its usual shape. It may also suggest a struggle between Jekyll and Hyde as Hyde over powers Jekyll and commits suicide, killing them both. The verb “twitching” suggests that Jekyll is still partially alive and creates a grotesque image of Hyde’s body still having “some semblance of life.”   This may provoke disgust and revulsion in the reader as Hyde’s body is presented as slowly perishing in a painful fashion. Stevenson successfully conveys the horror of the discovery of Hyde’s body and conveys Hyde’s death as painful and revolting. We are also told that Hyde’s body is the body of a “self-destroyer” which would further shock the Victorian reader as suicide is considered a sin by Christians and they would therefore believe Hyde would be condemned to hell for all of his sinful actions.

Furthermore, Hyde is described as “wearing clothes far too large for him” and he suggests the clothes were “of the doctor’s bigness.” The juxtaposition between “the face of Edward Hyde” and his wearing Jekyll’s clothes foreshadows the discovery in Chapter 9 that they are the same person. Some readers in this chapter may therefore realise that they are the same person which would create a feeling of horror in the reader as we have previously witnessed Hyde killing Carew with “ape-like fury” in chapter 4 and now realise that Jekyll knew and therefore is partially responsible. The Victorian reader would feel a sense of shock that the once respectable Dr Jekyll is in fact Hyde, and would feel revulsion he is capable of murder. This would be particularly unsettling to a Victorian reader who would most likely believe that humans were created by God so this presentation of Jekyll’s dual nature would leave them concerned and confused. Stevenson uses moments of horror to provoke a sense of fear and outrage in the reader, but also to perhaps highlight how civilisation cages the beast within us all.

Stevenson establishes scenes to create horror throughout the novella as a whole. This can be seen in ‘The Story of the Door’ when Hyde ‘trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming.’ The juxtaposition between the verb ‘trampled’ and the adverb ‘calmly’ aids in conveying a sense of horror. Not only is Hyde able to commit this revolting and violent act, but he is able to do it in a ‘calm’ manner. This lack of remorse and repentance would have been especially disturbing to a Victorian readership – adhering to strict moral guidelines, they would have been repulsed and horrified by Hyde’s lack of morality. Furthermore, the girl was left ‘screaming’. This verb only adds to the horror of the incident as it allows the readers to understand the brutality of the act. The readers would therefore be horrified by the cruelty of the actions of Hyde and appalled by his lack of penitence.

Moreover, later in the novella Hyde kills Sir Danvers Carew with ‘ape-like fury’. Carew is described as a ‘beautiful’ man with ‘white’ hair who ‘bowed’ to Hyde. This gives the readers the idea that Carew is an innocent and reputable member of Victorian society. Hyde treats this man with callousness and disdain breaking out into ‘a great flame of anger’. The use of this metaphor implies that Hyde is a mercurial character whose actions are unexpected and frightening. Additionally, Hyde is compared to an ‘ape’. A Victorian readership would have been shocked by this comparison as Darwin had just published his Theory of Evolution stating that men evolved from primitive life forms. Within this, Darwin also acknowledged that people could revert to a more animalistic state. Therefore the comparison of Hyde to a more ‘troglodytic’ life form seems to imply that devolution was a sincere possibility, further instilling a sense of horror into the readers. The contrast between Hyde’s treatment of Carew and Carew’s personal characteristics seem to heighten the horror of the passage and leave the readers feeling shaken by this unprompted outburst.

Finally, Hyde’s transformation into Dr Jekyll in Dr Lanyon’s Narrative, is described in a horrifying manner. Hyde’s features become ‘suddenly black’ and his features ‘melt and alter’. The adjective ‘black’ evokes ideas of evil and darkness and creates a sense of foreboding. The verb ‘melt’ conjures a disturbing image in the readers’ minds – the physical deformity that Hyde is always described with worsens and further distorts, creating a petrifying image. The transformation causes Lanyon’s ‘mind’ to be ‘submerged in terror’. This metaphor could imply that Lanyon is drowning in fear from the horror of what he has just seen. This transformation causes Lanyon’s death from ‘shock’ and the readers are also horrified by what they have witnessed.

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Jekyll and Hyde Revision

Themes and quotes

J&H revision session

Pearson’s guide to Jekyll and Hyde

J&H themes

Themes to Mention

The Victorian Crisis of Faith

The Crisis of Faith refers to an event in the Victorian era in which much of Europe’s middle class begins to doubt what is written in the book of Genesis as a reliable source in accordance of how the universe was created. The crisis was precipitated largely by Charles Darwin’s ‘Origins of the Species’ in 1859 and the emergence of geology as a new branch of Science, which suggested that the Earth may actually be billions of years old, not two thousand, as the Bible said. Questioning the Bible as a source of our origins should not be underestimated, considering just how religious society was at the time and that people had been put to death before for daring to question the established beliefs.

Victorian Hypocrisy

The idea of Victorian Hypocrisy is based around the class divide that was so prevalent at the time. The wealthy lived lives of extraordinary decadence, while the poor lived in almost unimaginable squalor. Several ‘charities’ were set up to help the poor but very little money made its way to them, and the rich were largely dismissive of those beneath them. The other side of the Victorian hypocrisy issue was that society’s ‘rules’ were very strictly followed in public, but prostitution, drinking, gambling, homosexuality and drug use were all rife in London’s hidden corners. Many public figures of considerable status in society were involved in more ‘sordid’ escapades behind closed doors. Reputation was critical, and so anything that was considered ‘improper’ took place in dark rooms, on darkened streets, in Victorian London.

Utterson as a thematic microcosm of the novel

The key themes in the book are all shown through Utterson’s character. Although Utterson witnesses a string of shocking events, Utterson himself is a largely unexciting character and is clearly not a man of strong passions or sensibilities. Indeed, the text notes that Utterson has a face that is “never lighted by a smile,” that he speaks very little, and that he seems “lean, long, dusty, [and] dreary.” Yet, somehow, he is also “lovable,” and dull and proper though he may be, he has many friends. His lovability may stem from the only interesting quality that Stevenson gives him—namely, his willingness to remain friends with someone whose reputation has suffered.

Utterson represents the perfect Victorian gentleman. He consistently seeks to preserve order and decorum, does not gossip, and guards his friends’ reputations as though they were his own. Even when he suspects his friend Jekyll of criminal activities such as blackmail or the sheltering of a murderer, he prefers to sweep what he has learned—or what he thinks he has learned—under the rug rather than bring ruin upon his good friend.

Gothic Horror

The novel has all the elements of Gothic Horror. It takes place in London, a city renowned for its danger and double-sided nature. By day, a refined city of culture, commerce, business and art. By night, a foggy, murky city where murder and robbery were, although not ‘common’, certainly not out of the question. There are also the following key Gothic ideas present in the text: Darkness, Women in distress, Supernatural Elements, A sceptical character, Powerful or Tyrannical Male characters, High and overwrought emotion, Omens, Mystery and Suspense. A key theme of Gothic writing and horror is always description at the expense of plot, and (of course) a lack of gratuity. The horror is implied, and the aim is not to scare the reader through jumps and surprises, but by gradually unsettling them.

Mystery

A key theme of Gothic Novels is a sense of mystery. Even though modern audiences know the ‘twist’ in the novel, remember that when Stevenson wrote it, his audience DIDN’T know the twist, so you have to see the book as carefully structured to tease the readers without telling them too much.

Framed Narrative

A lot of the speech in the novel is reported, a lot of the events are anecdotal, especially at the start. This technique is called ‘framed narrative’ where a story is told by a character from a story. The first story of Mr Hyde particularly employs this technique.

Allegory

An allegory is a story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. So ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ is about a doctor who has a split personality, but it’s also about society’s morals, humanity’s nature and deep desires being repressed by those who hold them. It is a type of Metaphor and one that particularly applies to whole characters or texts representing something else, rather than just their actions, or speech.

Setting

Notice the servants? The discrepancy between rich and poor? The bachelor living? The religious allusions? The repression? That’s Victorian England. This setting allows Dr. Jekyll to become a more sympathetic character. It also explains why he needed to unleash his inner Hyde. Repression is no joke. In fact, you could go so far as to say that this book, because of its setting, provides social commentary on the place and times.

It’s also important to remember that London is a key city in which to set the book, because of its dual nature, and its large population. Remember, Stevenson’s audience would have largely lived in London, and so setting the story so close to home would have deeply unsettled them!

Scientific Progress

The march of science was a key concern in Victorian society. It brought with it incredible advances in medicine, but also brought with it the inevitable eccentrics who went, in some people’s eyes, too far. These included Galvani, who re-animated (though not permanently) a dead frog by using electricity, James Clark Maxwell, who discovered that sound could be broadcast via radio waves, and John Snow (not that one) who discovered that disease is caused by little organisms he called ‘germs’. A brave new world was on the horizon, people were experimenting more and more with their eyes on a prize, not necessarily on the process – something exemplified by the two palaeontologists who nearly killed one another racing across the globe to discover dinosaur bones.

Duality

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde centers upon a conception of humanity as dual in nature, although the theme does not emerge fully until the last chapter, when the complete story of the Jekyll-Hyde relationship is revealed. Therefore, we confront the theory of a dual human nature explicitly only after having witnessed all of the events of the novel, including Hyde’s crimes and his ultimate eclipsing of Jekyll. The text not only posits the duality of human nature as its central theme but forces us to ponder the properties of this duality and to consider each of the novel’s episodes as we weigh various theories. There are examples of duality throughout the novel, notably London itself and Mr Utterson’s personality.

Incongruity

An incongruity is very different from everything around it, to the point of being inappropriate to the situation. A cat at a dog’s birthday party would be an incongruity, as would a pacifist at a meeting of the War Lovers’ Society. Incongruity is the idea that something is incongruous, or inappropriate. A purple towel is an incongruity in an all black-and-white bathroom. Mr Hyde’s door is an incongruity in its surroundings, as indeed is Mr Hyde himself.

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