Stevenson’s West and East Side Story
In a time when the golden social standard was upheld by being a devout Christian, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale serves as an insightful symbol of the battle between good and evil, and the ultimate goal of salvation.
In today’s society, religion may not be considered an influential cog in the ever-growing machine of history. However, in the Victorian era, religion was arguably the most pertinent aspect of social class. In order to fully understand Stevenson’s disturbing tale, one must look at the story through an eyeglass that is appreciative of historical measures.
The Victorian era saw England split violently into two social groups- the wealthy, who lived on the West side of London, and the poor, who scrounged to make a living on the East side. The Eastern side of London was ridden with disease, prostitution and endless crime. One can imagine the judgment passed onto these members of the lower class. In a time when Christianity had swept across Western Europe, East London was viewed as the epitome of evil altogether. This dynamic brings us to the doorstep of Mr. Hyde’s character. This animal-like figure is the image of the East London in its entirety. Where social class had deemed them possessed and doomed, the East represents a true ugliness that the Victorian era had come to breed. With such high standards of conduct and character in this time in history, the poor did not stand a chance at standing up for morality and righteousness. Mr. Hyde encompasses this dynamic fully. We see a brilliant doctor lose the battle of self-control and transform into a disturbed monster. This transformation is an exact depiction of the state England. Divided into two realities, London was constantly at the mercy of evil and the immoral way of life.
With Mr. Hyde representing the dark figure of the Victorian era, Dr. Jekyll serves as the model of good. From the elegant churches, to the evangelistic lifestyle of the Calvinist regime- Western London had seemingly raised the social bar to new heights. Inevitably looking down on the Eastern social class, the West boasted about their discipline and practice of religious acts. Dr. Jekyll ‘s character may, in fact, be the most literal depiction of the Victorian era. On the outside, society sees Jekyll as a well-established scientist- one of prestige and elite social status. However, on the inside, the battle rages on as Jekyll fights to withstand the stereotype that had come to embody this era. Famous historian, Thomas Carlyle, social critic and scholar, labeled the Victorian era as the “era of hypocrisy” in several of his writings. London, the land of the double standard, proved to be the absolute perfect setting for such a tragic tale.
A casual reader may interpret this tale as one of mental instability. However, historical context tells us that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were merely humans fitting the stereotype of a troubled era in our world’s history. Without the token of knowledge about the Victorian era, one might miss the symbols of morality and religion. The characters and motifs that Stevenson provides, give the reader an eye opening look into societies of old.
Stevens, Janet. “Exploring the Historical Context of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” : Introduction. University of Massachusetts, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
“Robert Louis Stevenson.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.