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VIOLENCE in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Throughout the novel 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Stevenson strives to depict the hidden violence within Victorian London as a natural yet conversely horrific concept. The pious nature of society at that time, and pressure to conform to a stoic paradigm, led to gentlemen repressing seemingly ‘immoral’ desires for decades, yet eventually the pressure forced them to succumb to these thoughts in a very extreme manner, leading to an uprising in more severe violence and sin. Stevensons presentation of violence through the atavistic antagonist Hyde exposes the flaws of the victorian era's rigid, perfect façade, where behind the scenes murderers (such as Jack the ripper), acts of violence (such as the railway explosions) and prostitution ran rampant. Through the portrayal of Hyde’s misdoings and the spectacle formed of his evil acts the reader easily understands the true nature of Victorian life as a whole.
Stevenson portrays violence as a natural communication for the atavistic and uncivilised through unemotive description of Hyde's evil acts. Hyde is used as a representation of the uncivilised citizens in Victorian London, and a manifestation of one's violent desires. He is presented with “ape-like fury”. The use of zoomorphic language ‘ape’ is suggesting that he lacks human traits at all, so much so that he is more similar to a wild animal. This therefore suggests the lack of control society holds over the less reputable as they are simply wild and untameable. Furthermore an ape predates humans in our evolution, therefore by comparing hyde to an ape stevenson is essentially saying he is regressive and underdeveloped. This presentation is effective in forming imagery of an aggressive and incomprehensible character, that we cannot relate to on any level. This primitive character is then presented to have ‘trampled calmly’ over a child. This forms the idea that such a brutal event is unemotive and natural to Hyde as he remains calm and unaffected. The use of an oxymoron is effective on multiple levels. The words when read or seen are opposite and unnatural therefore reflecting how society views Mr Hyde to not fit the ‘normal’ from first impression. Furthermore, on a deeper level the unnatural act is also moved past and the scene remains calm. This suggests that Victorian society is unfazed by such violent acts but judges solely on the person, thus supporting the Victorian standards and physiognomy of that era. Overall this forms the idea that violence is natural in life and the sole judgement is on the individual people, not the individual act of violence.
Violence is cast as a spectacle, utilised as victorian entertainment. This is shown through Stevenson presenting each act of violence through the narrative perspective of an outsider. In the chapter the ‘carew murder case’ the violent act is being observed by an outsider, the maid, similar to if an audience was watching a piece of theatre. The maid is looking down onto the scene, and her ‘eye wandered’ to and from each of the characters therefore showing it is under active observation. This seems to suggest that violence should be treated as simply a performance in order to induce a response, so much to the point that someone is gripped and actively observing much like a scene of a play, detached or otherwise. This is then reiterated later in the novel when the violent transformation of jekyll to hyde is presented from the perspective of Utterson, a character uninvolved in the actual act. The transformation is watched through a window, creating a barrier or ‘fourth wall’ between audience and scene, yet again inferring it's a form of entertainment to be viewed yet not acted on. This violence is then tantalisingly removed from view by the curtain being closed. This could be emulating a theatre curtain shutting and leaving the audience on a cliffhanger. By mirroring the scene to a theatre performance it is yet again reinforcing this idea of people using aggressive acts to entertain themselves and evoke emotion. In conclusion the presentation of violence is predominantly for recreation and for others to enjoy. This is reflective of Victorian society in which violence was often used for entertainment.
In addition to the aforementioned natural presentation of violence, Stevenson presents the idea that too much good can cause a person to act upon their inner evil – naturally this is ironic as it is a juxtaposition to the Christian ideology that one will evolve into a more moral being if they follow the faith (which was considered to be the ultimate good at the time). This is shown through the repression of Jekyll, which essentially shows the repressed majority of the male society. Before Jekyll knows about being able to turn into Hyde, he expresses his inner turmoil of being suppressed. This is suggested when he states, ‘a gaiety of disposition’ in his life. Explicitly denoting the fact that he is putting up a façade in his life in order to seem respectable and fit the standards he is expected to match up to. The metaphor for ‘disposition’ suggests Stevenson’s implicit attack on society, as it forces men to be two different people – essentially lie and be dishonest about who they truly are, and places them in two differing places in their lives, complicating their path to heaven. At the time, a good person was supposed to be a faithful Christian however here, the society itself is making its men lie – which ultimately is a sin. Thus, showing the hypocrisy with which the upper society treats its people. . Furthermore, society also suppresses people’s happiness and ultimately causes the acts of violence to be much more extreme as the will to be ‘sinful’ builds. The underlying aspect of society itself playing the role of God is also foreshadowed as they are the ones to decide what evil should be praised, and when evil can be overlooked. The ideology that repression is ultimately the cause of violence is further portrayed through the extended metaphor of imprisonment when portraying Jekyll’s will to become Hyde and the relief after committing sinful desires. Jekyll’s aforementioned ‘disposition’ is described as a ‘prisonhouse’ of which his ‘devil came out roaring’. A prisonhouse is a physical representation of his mind being trapped and unable to act freely. It acts as a punishment before Jekyll has even sinned, expressing the unjust societal expectations of men to conform and manifest stoicism and decorum before acting in the way of their will. Moreover the metaphorical ‘Devil’ within Jekyll is therefore stronger and more desperate to act, coming out ‘roaring’ and therefore ready to attack. This vivid imagery connotes animalistic behaviour, much like hyde’s which further implicates the victorian societies role in the uprising of sin.
Overall, stevensons depiction of violent Victorian London exposes the reality behind a civil appearance, and the effect that a strictly pious ruling has on a gentleman, no matter the original morality of their persona. Each individual is shown to enjoy violence, whether detached or active in it; this societal repression therefore ultimately leads to these excited emotions surrounding sin being enhanced and extreme, as the rebellion violence entails brings further risk. While violence is supposedly ‘wrong’, it is naturally part of Victorian london, and stevenson effectively depicts the hypocrisy of this theology.