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To What Extent Does Jekyll and Hyde Reflect the Fears and Preoccupations of Contemporary Society?

  • Date Submitted: 05/11/2012 01:33 PM
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To what extent does Jekyll and Hyde reflect the fears and preoccupations of contemporary society?
In his novella, Robert Louis Stevenson attempts to shock and horrify the reader by imposing that within us all is a sub-conscious part of thought that is the combination of all our darkest thoughts and fears that would be morally inacceptable in any society. However, there are also other aspects of the story that create fear in today’s society as well as that of the Victorian era. Be this the gruesome murders or the secret lives of respectable and high-up men, Stevenson’s gothic piece most certainly showcases that fears of a society 125 years ago were not that different from our own.
There are a number of recurring themes and motifs in the story, but undoubtedly the main focus of the story is the duality of human nature and the desire to break rules, defy conventions and cross boundaries. Jekyll attempts to condense all of his evil self into a completely separate self, in which he can live out all of his darkest desires without the feeling of guilt afterwards. This separation of a self can be seen to represent Stevenson’s Calvinistic upbringing, where he was taught that there is a clear division between good and evil. Jekyll says that “man is not truly one, but truly two,” and he describes the human soul as the battleground for an “angel” and a “fiend,” fighting to dominate the body as well as the mind. However, his potion, which he hoped would purify his good and embody his evil, succeeds only in the latter as Hyde is created. However, it is also evident that Jekyll himself is still partially evil despite insisting that it is a different person committing the hideous crimes. In fact, Hyde begins to overpower Jekyll, and by the end the reader is left wondering whether Jekyll has totally succumbed to the strange appeal of living as Hyde. In the final chapter, when talking about his new body, Henry Jekyll remarks: “… in the course of my life, which had been nine...

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