Write about how Stevenson presents ideas about sin.

 

Throughout ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Robert Louis Stevenson portrays Victorian men, in the form of Utterson and Lanyon, as consistently trying to repress their sin in order to uphold a good reputation. However, Stevenson also shows that all men have sinned and are capable of sin, no matter their standing in society - as he proves through Dr Jekyll’s alter ego Mr Hyde.

 

For example, Utterson is one of the Victorian gentlemen who Stevenson presents as having to refrain from sinful behaviours in order to fit in with society. At the beginning of the novella, Stevenson presents the “somewhat loveable” lawyer as “the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men”, which is very unusual as the majority of men would cut ties with men accused of disreputable activities in order to save their reputation. This could suggest that Utterson is one of the few members of society who is able to look past the Victorian hatred of sin, or Stevenson could be perhaps suggesting that the lawyer himself could be involved in some of these sinful acts - both of which could be possible and mean that Utterson gives an interesting perspective for the novella. Also, the fact that so many of Utterson’s acquaintances have been ruined, and that his friend Enfield openly talks about returning from some place “at the end of the world” at “three in the morning” shows that everyone in society has sinned in some way - no matter how much they try to hide it. Utterson himself, although he still engages with those shunned from society, maintains his reputable appearance by indulging in his own pleasures in solitude, drinking his “dry volumes” only when in his house in order to avoid public judgement. In the extract given, it is shown that Utterson realises the immense hold that sin can have over a man’s life in Victorian England, thinking that Jekyll’s familiarity with Hyde must be due to “the ghost of some old sin”. Furthermore, in the extract Stevenson shows that many men spend their entire lives trying to escape from being “wild when [they were] young”, showing that there is no excuse for sin, not even blissful youth, and that people cannot be forgiven for what they have done even if it was a “long while ago” - in society’s eyes even the slightest sin could result in exile. The focus on God, with Stevenson reminding the reader that there is no “statute of limitations” in His eyes also shows the extent to which Victorian laws were based on religion, and the figure of God could also represent the fact that people were felt they were always being watched and judged by their peers in Victorian England. Through Utterson, Stevenson shows how difficult it is to conceal sin but also how easy it is to judge people for their misgivings - the author is perhaps suggesting that the reader be more like Utterson and be able to look past people’s mistakes.

 

Through the character of Hyde, Stevenson also presents how dangerous it is to keep an essential part of the psyche concealed and to no ever act on one’s inner desires, and how damaging it is to have a society which forces its participants to do this. In Chapter 10, Jekyll explains that because his “devil” had been concealed for so long, “he came out roaring”, almost creating a sense of sympathy for Hyde as it seems as though he has been kept captive and so it is only natural for his outbursts to be so violent, whereas if he had always been accepted then he would have been able to behave in a more restrained manner. Stevenson presents Hyde as almost a newborn child, with Jekyll feeling “younger” and “lighter” as Hyde because he is delightfully ignorant of the constraints of society and is able to do whatever he pleases, just as a child does. Hyde’s violent outbursts could even be likened to the visceral outbursts of a young child, the only difference being that Hyde has enough strength to make someone’s bones “audibly shatter”. However delighted Hyde may be with his actions, there is no question that they are incredibly damaging to society, but these events would not have been so explosive if the Victorian psyche had allowed Jekyll to exercise his ‘darker side’ in more controlled ways more often. This is shown through the fact that the more Jekyll tries to repress Hyde, the more violent his outbursts become, through which Stevenson could be suggesting that it is more healthy to accept that everyone has a sinful side than to try and repress it. Stevenson perhaps is suggesting too that people should not be ashamed to act on their internal desires every so often (so long as they do not harm others) as Jekyll has been forced to live the majority of his life as an upholding member of society, frequently giving to “charity” which is why his sinful side is so shocking - but if he had entertained his desires occasionally then Hyde would know the limits of what he should do and not be forced into such horrific actions in desperation.

 

Another way that Stevenson presents how prolific sin is in Victorian society is through his use of setting and pathetic fallacy throughout the novella. At the beginning, it would be shocking to a Victorian reader to see Hyde’s “blistered and disdained” house in such close proximity to a street with a “gaiety of note” as evil would never have been shown so plainly in Victorian society. However, Stevenson could be perhaps suggesting that the doors with “polished brasses” could just as easily house evil and sin as those which show “the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence”, frightening a Victorian audience and dispelling the pseudoscience of physiognomy as no one ever knows what someone is truly capable of. In Chapter 4, even God seems used to the sin within the world, lowering a “chocolate-coloured pall … over the heavens” in order to restrict his view from the nefarious activities that are happening in the streets below - showing that he knows exactly what is happening but that there is too much sin to control. In Chapter 8, the climactic point of the novella, sin is presented even more clearly, with the “pale moon lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her” having clear connotations of rape and showing that even the most ethereal objects can be corrupted with sin. Furthemore, Stevenson’s portrayal of the wind, a key part of nature, as a rapist, shows how natural it is to have sin (though not as severe) within all of us, and that it should not be hidden.

 

Overall, Stevenson criticises throughout the novella Victorian society’s obsession with the denunciation and repression of sin, showing that it is natural and also warning the reader that hiding an essential part of one’s psyche for their whole life can have immensely damaging and far reaching consequences. As Jekyll realises in Chapter 10, Stevenson could be suggesting that all human beings are “commingled out of good and evil” and it is completely feasible for people to commit sins, just as it is for people to do good things - and that it is ridiculous to assume that anyone could be entirely one or the other.

 

 

 

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