Write about how setting is used to create atmosphere at different points in the novella.

 

Throughout ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Robert Louis Stevenson uses setting to reflect and contrast against various characters. As a part of the Gothic literary movement, Stevenson ensured that his settings were eerie and ominous which help to set a mysterious tone, with the frightening description of the setting coming to a climax in the eighth chapter ‘The Last Night’, which is also the climactic point in the novella.

 

From the beginning of the novella, Stevenson uses a description of London and its streets to show the dual nature of man and the conflict this creates, establishing a tempestuous mood. Just along from a pretty and respectable street in which the houses display a “gaiety of note” is a door which plainly shows the “marks of prolonged and sordid negligence”. As the novella progresses, however the reader learns that the repugnant door is merely an alternative entrance to Jekyll’s lavish house in which he regularly holds “pleasant dinners”. This encourages the reader to look past the pseudoscience of physiognomy, in which people assume what lies within something is identical to its facade, and instead to question whether the activities that occur behind those doors with “polished brasses” are really reputable or just as menacing as those behind the neglected door. This uncertainty creates an uneasy tone which scares and confuses the reader. Furthermore, the blatant display of evil by the door which “thrust[s] forward its gable on the street” would be very surprising to Victorian gentlemen readers at the time, who live in a world of repressed darker desires, foreshadowing the manifestation of pure evil that is to come in the form of Hyde and adding to the uncanny tone of the novella.

 

Later in the novella, in Chapter 4 just after the description of Carew’s murder, pathetic fallacy is used by Stevenson to portray a menacing mood. For example, the fog is described as “a great chocolate-coloured pall” which lowered over the heavens, almost as if it is blocking God’s view from the atrocities that have happened. This would immensely frighten a Victorian audience who have been relentlessly told that God will protect them - even an all-powerful being cannot stop Hyde as he transcends all levels of Victorian hierarchy; he could kill any member of society so they are all equal. This creates a deeply worrying and even harrowing tone. Even the description of the weather seems quite vague, the “strange conflagration” of light adding to the mysterious and uncertain mood, with its connotations of the uncanny, a key component of Gothic literature. The only place in which the “fog lifted a little” is over a “dingy street”, showing God’s disregard for the nefarious activities that occur in certain parts of London - Stevenson could be suggesting that those who give into their ‘Hyde’ side are too far gone to ever be redeemed.

 

At the climactic point of the novella, ‘The Last Night’, Stevenson’s use of setting and pathetic fallacy places a violent and aggressive tone over the chapter, even before Utterson and Poole find Hyde dead and Jekyll completely vanished. The description of the moon “lying on her back as though the wind had tilted her” has oddly sexual connotations which could be evidence for Utterson’s idea that Jekyll’s past misgivings were explorations of homosexuality. However, by using imagery mirroring that of a rape, Stevenson could also be suggesting that Hyde has taken something from Jekyll which can never be returned or forgiven, leaving his life forever altered. This violent tone is continued into the description of the wind which “flecked blood into the face”, seeming strangely reminiscent of Carew’s earlier murder, and could perhaps show that by creating an entirely evil manifestation of himself, Jekyll has irreparably changed the natural world. It seems as though Stevenson is suggesting that the devil himself has taken London away from God and that the city is aggressively trying to rid himself of the evil that lives within. The street is “unusually bare of passengers” meaning that there are no witnesses for what is about to occur, which God has perhaps done in order to protect as many people as possible from being corrupted by the pure evil that is Hyde. The violent weather continues even into Jekyll’s house where “the wind … tossed the light of the candle to and fro”, Stevenson perhaps using the dwindling light as a metaphor for how the hope of goodness and morality for all has almost been extinguished. The personification of the setting ends in the chapter as “London hummed solemnly all around” just before Utterson and Poole break down the laboratory door, further creating a suspenseful mood - the entire city is in anticipation for what is about to occur.

 

Overall, not only does Stevenson use setting to create a tense mood throughout the novella but he also uses it as a symbol for some of the key themes and motifs. The door described in the first chapter, and the house it belongs to, represents the duality of man whilst the lack of God’s protection over the more undesirable parts of town emphasises the societal and spiritual dangers of embracing this duality and allowing yourself to indulge your innermost desires. Furthermore the aggressive nature of Stevenson’s description of the weather in the eighth chapter highlights the widespread effect of indulging your desires that can occur, warning the reader against a complete submission into this, as they will never be able to distinguish themselves from that evil again.

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