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Cultural Changes in the 19th Century

There were a lot of breakthroughs and civilization was spreading fast across Europe around the 19th century. This period was marked by the modernization of the transport sector via rail, widespread use of electricity, advancement of medicine; and then more than ever, the field of science had a huge influence on the direction the continent was headed. The novel “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson was written around the close of this century and embodies most of these societal changes that were occurring at that time. This era is commonly referred to as the Victorian society.On the basis of the novel, this research paper investigates the intellectual, scientific, and cultural changes that were faced during the last decades of the 19th century in the European society.

Throughout the novel, there is significant portrayal of occupational civilization. Jekyll is a doctor and is a client of Utterson, who is a lawyer. Lanyon is a friend of Jekyll and is also a doctor. There is also mention of Sir Danvers Carew, who was a member of parliament before his murder. During this Victorian era, an ideal man was supposed to have a job, a house, and a family. Most of the male characters in this novel seem to have these attributes and represent the qualities of an ideal gentleman as society expected of them during that era, a key of which was to attain employment status.

Undoubtedly, the dual character of Dr. Jekyll represents a struggle between contrasting ideals. Mr. Hayde, who in truth was Dr. Jekyll’s alter-ego, signifies rebellion and defiance against the Victorian standards of life. On this basis, we can analyze the modern societal challenges during that age.

The Victorian society lauded reasonable accounts for occurrences. There was no room for the supernatural earlier on. Science and fact were the order of the day. But towards the close of the 19th century, we see more of mysticism and supernaturalism surfacing. This is well depicted in dual nature of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll was a respectable member of society as he was a physician and an established man. That he was a doctor quickly convinces us that he belonged to a fact-based kind of reasoning. Jekyll, however, embraces supernaturalism as he uses a portion to separate his good side from his evil sides. This leads to the conception of Hyde. This new way of belief was unacceptable and suffered great aversion. This explains why Hyde was an outcast. We, therefore, see a shift from a factual society to a mystic society towards the close of the 19th century.

A struggle between reputation and reality is evident throughout this novel. In the first chapter, as the book begins, two friends, Utterson and Enfield are having a stroll whilst conversing. They are discussing the recent criminal act involving a villain, Hyde, but choose to refrain from continuing with conversation as a name familiar to both of them is involved in the whole incident - Dr. Jekyll. He is Utterson’s client. The Victorian society at that time had emphasized on the importance of having a good reputation, and this explains why Utterson and Enfield renounced gossip, which they reckon would ruin their reputation.

The emancipation of Dr. Jekyll, a reserved, respectable and astute man, into Hyde, a monstrous, pleasure-driven character, symbolizes the liberation from the ideals imposed by the Victorian society on its people. Hyde reveled in the freedom he now possessed to do whatever he pleased without any regrets or conscience for society’s reaction. He was evil and did several crimes for the fun of it. Hyde was also grotesque and incomprehensible as he was not articulate in his speech. This was change. The typical Victorian set-up of the 19th century was organized, reserved, and dignified. However, Hyde brings out some kind of rebellion and chaos to this tightly knit society. He was described as being ugly, hairy, and repugnant - a primitive creature defying all the civilization going on in Victorian England at the time.

Surprisingly, as the novel progresses, questions about the morality of the men portrayed in the novel begin to come up. They seem very Victorian - dignified and reputable. However, none of them is married or involved in any romantic relationships. An ideal man in this society was supposed to be married, have a family or date. This is deviant. There is mention of desires, perhaps sexual, overwhelming Dr. Jekyll, but there is no mention of him being involved with any woman. Jekyll is also portrayed as being out in the night several times. Enfield is similarly said to have been walking at night and coming from the east end of the world at three o’clock. These habits raise a few eyebrows about the activities that they could be engaging in at those odd hours.

In conclusion, it is quite interesting that even though Victorian Britain was at that time the most civilized society in the entire world, crime still existed. This proved to be a challenge facing them; good and evil still existed. This was portrayed vividly in the book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, since the dark side of Jekyll, which was for a long time yearning to come out, finally overwhelmed him, and he permanently turned into Hyde. This could be the writer’s way of stating that the duality of human nature- good and evil - is much more powerful and poses a great risk to any form of human progression.



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