Reputation And Appearance In The Victorian Era Through Frankenstein And Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
The phenomena of good and evil relating to social class, status, reputation and appearance have been explored and discussed in many literary works for hundreds of years. However, there are two monster classics that are known today specifically for commenting on reputation and appearance in relation to good and evil in the respected eras they lived in. These authors include Mary Shelley, the woman who wrote Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that was later translated into a movie. Frankenstein, the book, tells the life story of a scientist who contains good intentions and accidentally creates a monster who is too ugly to be compassionate towards. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a story about a doctor who takes a risk, to prove a very important point, and unleashes the evil of himself upon himself and the world, while continuously trying to contain this evil. Although it might not be clear through a traditional reading of the stories when one reads the stories with comparison in mind, it is evident that the authors are commenting on the society’s obsession with identity and appearance, and how the societies views should change, but both books address this in their own way. This can be observed through the motives and cause of the creations, to the nature of the creations all the way to the reputation of the dignified main characters in both stories.
The reason and cause, in other words, motives, of doing something is quite important. Many times one doesn’t realize what their main cause is at first but may realize sooner or later. This can be reflected in the creation of the monster of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both create monsters to prove the society wrong but do so in their own unique ways. Hyde tries to prove the two different parts of the soul, the good and the evil and tries to separate the two parts of his own soul. He subconsciously continues to prove that the good is what the society sees but the evil remains hidden and this must be changed. His want is to remove the evil, and thus, experiments on himself. On the contrary, Frankenstein unintentionally proves good plus good doesn’t necessarily equal good. This is kind of the opposite of what Hyde was stating. He subconsciously proves that even though society may value all the apparent goodness and reputation there is more to a person than just that. Overall, although the stories had differences, they came to prove one thing, appearance and identity is not the only thing in a person that should dictate status or likability.
Often when things are created or discovered, they are representative of their creators and lead to many other discoveries or methods to prove something wrong. This has been proven many times in history. In relation to the stories, both monsters, or creations, showed the ugly side of their creators and served the purpose of proving there is more to the creators, Dr. Jekyll and Victor, than the society may have seen previously. However, along with those similarities, there is a vast difference in the form of the creation. Mr. Hyde is a part of the soul of Dr. Jekyll while Frankenstein’s monster is a separate being from Frankenstein. Due to this tremendous difference, one may think Robert Louis Stevenson is more effective in portraying the message of his story. Since the creation is a part of Dr. Jekyll, it is quite apparent that he is not only good and how he is perceived in society reflects this. He also has an evil aspect to him that no one really knows about even after his death or “disappearance”. This can be understood from the last lines of the movie. These last lines are stated in contrast as a continuation to the beginning of the story where the general citizens curse the grave and “monster” inside of it, in the movie. One of Dr. Jekyll’s close friends says standing over his grave, which most thought of as the grave of Mr. Hyde, “I suggest we should tell none of what we know. It would serve no purpose, except tarnish the reputation of a fine man.” Another friend continues to say, “I suggest we should tell no one of what we know.” His friend replies, “Besides who would believe it anyway?” The quotes above explain how ignorant and narrow minded the people were at that time. They value nothing over appearance and identity and constantly only considered a man good if they were striving with those. However, the close friends of Dr. Jekyll understand that he was genuinely a good friend and didn’t judge him only on his appearance and identity unlike the rest of society. When the focus is shifted towards Frankenstein, the apparent connection between the monster and Victor can not be made. However, the resemblance in character is only evident if one reads the entire story. The monster is a more violent and blunt version of the evil part of Victor. Nonetheless, the differences do not take away from the message of the stories. Both stories are correctly able to outline that identity and appearance in the eyes of the society are not always the most correct and thus, one shouldn’t base a judgment of a person based solely on these aspects.
For many people, reputation, or the way someone sees them, maybe the cause of acting a certain way, or the cause of hiding something. In the stories, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein, the underlying cause of the destruction of both main characters was the feeling of needing to behave in a certain manner. In this case, it was behaving in a way that a man of high status would act. Both, Dr. Jekyll and Victor Frankenstein were men of high honour and prestige in their respective societies. Due to their rank in society, they did not want to tell anyone about what they had created or done. This can be seen through the following direct quotes. This quote is said by the nanny in the story who also served as a young housemaid for Dr. Edward Jekyll. The nanny says, “One of the finest men of all of England!” In contrast to this, Victor in his book states, “My tale was not one to announce publicly; its astounding horror would be looked upon as madness by the vulgar.” The first quote explains how society viewed Dr. Jekyll. It also helps to explain why he felt so pressured to do something about his evil side and how it was taking over him. The second quote explains how Victor didn’t want to reveal to anyone how he was the “murderer” of his brother. It goes to show that he didn’t want his reputation and appearance in society to drop. However, the difference between Dr. Jekyll and Victor can easily be perceived through who they turn for help. When Dr. Jekyll needed help to take over his Mr. Hyde, he contacted his friends. However, when Victor needed mental help to get through all his pains and stress, he didn’t tell anybody. The only person that really got to know was Robert Walton, but he couldn’t do much. The similarities and differences only aid to prove that appearance and identity were not the only things that society should obsess over. In fact, the stories suggested that society should take a more wholesome approach to understand a human and appearance or identity shouldn’t determine the status of a person.
In conclusion, Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson are commenting on society’s obsession with identity and appearance, and how society’s views should change, in the books they have written but both books address this in their own way. This can be clearly interpreted through the unique motives and cause of the creations, to the distinctive nature of the creations all the way to the varied reputation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Without a doubt, the outstanding works of these authors have changed the way that society views identity and appearance. Without the spread of these classics, it would be hard to think about what our societies’ obsessions would have looked like.
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