Evil Unmasked A Character Analysis
Scientist Albert Einstein once said, The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it (Einstein). In the novels Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, two of literature’s most infamous scientists, Dr. Jekyll and Frankenstein labor to create and later unleash dangerous creatures who prey on the innocent with catastrophic consequences.
In each novel, both men shirk the mantle of accountability and place blame at the feet of the monsters they begot. The question is not whether or not they are each partially culpable for their creation’s destructions, but rather, which of the pair is the most guilty? After investigating the motivations, morals, intentions, relationships, willingness to take accountability, and ultimate consequences of their actions, I concluded that despite Frankenstein’s creature committing more atrocities, Dr. Jekyll is the guiltiest, and worse, the true quintessence of evil.
Dr. Jekyll and Frankenstein are both well respected affluential men whose passion for science drive them to explore unknown realms of science. However, their motivations and intentions for their scientific explorations differ. Victor Frankenstein is driven by ambition; he wanted to create a new race of humanoid creatures. His ambition and megalomania are ultimately his downfall. Frankenstein says “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption (Shelley).
The innovative and arrogant scientist not only seeks to create life, he wants to cheat death. Frankenstein wants to be admired and lauded by the scientific community and all who know him. His motivations are never primal or existential. Frankenstein wants glory. His intentions in creating the monster are selfishly motivated but he never seeks to hurt anyone or create an evil. Frankenstein’s ambition blinds him to the full spectrum of responsibility he would ideally need to shoulder in order to be a just creator. His personal failings in that area lead Frankenstein and his creature down their treacherous path. Fear, desperation, and vanity motivate Dr. Jekyll. The doctor wants to indulge his darker side without consequence to his reputation.
The creation of Mr. Hyde allows him to act out his darker impulses without fear of retribution or disgracing his character. He is quoted as saying, the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as made the happiness of many, but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my impervious desire to carry my head high (Stevenson). Dr. Jekyll is internally warring with his desire for a pristine public image and the desire to indulge in depravity. His internal struggle is not as black and white as good versus evil; his willingness to do good stems from his desire to be seen as a dignified philanthropic doctor, not from any innate goodness.
His intention is to physically transform himself into a creature that embodies his darkest instinct. Frankenstein’s motivations might be selfish, but he does not foresee the consequences of his choices while he was making them. His intentions were pure. The same cannot be said for Dr. Jekyll because he labors to separate his dual natures and surrender control to the evil side of his nature. Despite his inability to know the ultimate consequences of his choice, the only outcome Dr. Jekyll could feasibly and rationally expect would be terrible. Dr. Jekyll has no intentions of vanquishing or quieting his dark side; he initially chooses to embrace it without hesitation or remorse, until, and only until, the consequences threaten his own existence as Dr. Jekyll.
When discussing the monsters that Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll create, a key and imperative distinction is that Frankenstein’s monster is a separate entity capable of intelligent thought and autonomy of self while Mr. Hyde is an extension of Dr. Jekyll. In the letter that Dr. Jekyll leaves for his friend and lawyer, Mr. Utterson, Jekyll refers to Mr. Hyde as pure evil but yet, also states, I knew myself as the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine when referring to his transition from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde (Stevenson). Dr. Jekyll creates the persona of Mr. Hyde as if Mr. Hyde is anything other than the physical manifestation of his own evil.
In his letter to Mr. Utterson, he recounts his own thoughts as Mr. Hyde; meaning, he retains control of his person and the ability to contrast his own nature as Dr. Jekyll with who he is as Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll is not simply the vessel in which Mr. Hyde lurks within; Dr. Jekyll is Mr. Hyde and, is therefore solely and completely responsible for the crimes he commits as Mr. Hyde. Even the name Dr. Jekyll dubs his alter ego, Hyde, suggest that Mr. Hyde is the mask in which Dr. Jekyll hides behind (Saposnik). Frankenstein’s cruel treatment of his creature is deplorable and apathetic to an almost criminal degree, but he does not think for, act, or control the monster. He may have shaped the creature into a violent murderous machine, but Frankenstein did not commit those atrocities himself. Dr. Jekyll is evil and chooses not to act on his impulses out of fear of being discovered. When he devised a way to be evil without personal accountability, the prospect of vicarious depravity thrilled him until the consequences became too great to bear (Stevenson).
The attitudes in which the scientists regard their creations and in which the creatures regard their creators offers insight into the character of each scientist. From the first, Frankenstein is repulsed by his creation’s visage. After two years of toiling to create his monster, he says For this I have deprived myself of rest and health. I desire it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream had vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart (Shelley). Frankenstein abandons his vision and, his monster wanders into the world, a social pariah from the instant his heart started beating.
Dr. Jekyll initially clings to Mr. Hyde like a treasured possession. Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll’s wildest dream come true; Hyde allows Jekyll to relish in the duality of his personalities and nature without consequences. It is only when Dr. Jekyll loses the ability to control the transformation that he becomes frightened of the consequences that his alter ego might incur. Frankenstein’s creature’s emotions toward his creator are a heady mixture of hate, sorrow, and love. The creature hates Frankenstein for creating him, abandoning him, rejecting him, and forcing him to lead a solitary hopeless existence. In return, the monster essentially destroys Frankenstein’s life as he uses murder and destruction to force his creator into an existence as lonely and desolate as his own. You can see the monster’s affection for his creator by the monster never seeking to murder Victor himself, his emotional response to Frankenstein’s death near the end of the novel, and when Frankenstein hunts his monster across the ice, he finds food that, in all likelihood, the monster has left for him. Frankenstein shaped his creature into a desperate and volatile monster.
He lacks compassion, empathy, and the ability to take accountability for his action but, his faults, terrible and pathetic as they may be, are not strictly evil. Mr. Hyde is indifferent to Dr. Jekyll. As Mr. Hyde, he is fearless, impulsive, and dangerous. Mr. Hyde is not caged or plagued by the human emotions of fear, guilt, shame, compassion, or love. He is only ever apathetic and evil. This gets confusing as Dr. Jekyll is Mr. Hyde, so why would he not care about himself? As Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is not hindered by emotion. The only emotion he could be accused of is fear for himself when the unpredictability of the transformations leaves him vulnerable to exposure.
Part of the experience of being Mr. Hyde is the liberation from emotional and social constraints that suffocate him as Dr. Jekyll. He would never be moved to any emotion as pure as gratitude or respect because Mr. Hyde is the most inhumane and evil aspects of Jekyll. Frankenstein’s rejection of his creature is cruel and callous, but his flaws show him to be a (terrible and insufferable) human (Sherwin). He didn’t embark on his mission to create life with the aim to create evil, but Dr. Jekyll did. The character of the two scientists are revealed through their interactions with their creations.
When examining which scientist is the guiltiest, it is important to consider the consequences and destruction both creatures hazard against others. Frankenstein’s creature murders Frankenstein’s younger brother, William; Frankenstein’s new wife, Elizabeth, and Frankenstein’s best friend, Henry Clerval. Indirectly, the monster is culpable in the death of Justine Moritz, Frankenstein’s father, and Frankenstein himself. The creature frames Justine Moritz for the murder of William Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s father, Alphonse, dies from grief over the death of Elizabeth.
Victor Frankenstein dies from illness in the pursuit of the destruction of his creature. Stevenson never recounts the full extent of all of Mr. Hyde’s crime but alludes to sexual deviance and torture. Instead, Stevenson provides insight into two different accounts. The first being Mr. Hyde trampling a young girl and promptly abandoning with hurt child in the street. The second is his most heinous crime; Mr. Hyde brutally beats to death a member of parliament, Sir Danvers Carew, for no distinguishable reason. Indirectly, Mr. Hyde is responsible for the death of Dr. Jekyll’s friend and fellow scientist, Dr. Lanyon. Upon witnessing the transformation of Mr. Hyde into Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Lanyon states, I saw what I saw, I heard what I heard, and my soul sickened at it; and yet now when that sight has faded from my eyes, I ask myself if I believe it, and I cannot answer. My life is shaken to its roots (Stevenson).
Dr. Lanyon never recovered from his encounter with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and soon died of an unexplained illness. Like the crimes of Mr. Hyde, the death of Dr. Jekyll is somewhat murky. In his final letter to Utterson, Jekyll wonders whether if Mr. Hyde will choose execution or suicide when he inalterably possess Jekyll. Utterson later finds Mr. Hyde dead from cyanide poisoning. It is unclear in which form (Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde) he was in when he chooses to ingest the point. It is difficult to pinpoint which monster committed the most atrocities since the extent Mr. Hyde’s crimes are never definitively outlined. Based on the crimes solely depicted in each text, Frankenstein and his monster caused the most destruction with the deaths of no less than six people (seven people if you presume the monster ended his own life after the novel’s end). Mr. Hyde is responsible directly and indirectly of three people if you include Mr. Hyde ingestion of cyanide killing himself/Dr. Jekyll as only one death.
The most disturbing and insightful revelation into the minds of Dr. Jekyll and Victor Frankenstein comes to light in their reaction to the crimes in which they are culpable. In his letter to Mr. Utterson, Jekyll takes accountability for the murder of Sir Danvers Carew and his altercation with the young girl. He details that the crimes were committed as Mr. Jekyll but the only blame he places is at his own feet as a consequence of his own duality of nature (Spasonik). As far as remorse, In his letter to Mr. Utterson, Dr. Jekylls details his thoughts after the death of Sir Danvers Carew, stating,
I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past; and I can say with honesty that my resolve was fruitful of some good. You know yourself how earnestly in the last months of last year, I laboured to relieve suffering; you know that much was done for others, and that the days passed quietly, almost happily for myself. Nor can I truly say that I wearied of this beneficent and innocent life; I think instead that I daily enjoyed it more completely; but I was still cursed with my duality of purpose (Stevenson).
His statement suggests a man who feels some remorse for his action but, justifies them with musing of his own internal struggles. The remorse he feels for his crimes is superficial and, most importantly, it does not outweigh the joy he feels in being Mr. Hyde. Jekyll’s issue lays in the fact that since Mr. Jekyll is known to be the murderer of Sir Danvers Carew, it is no longer safe for Jekyll to assume the physical appearance of a man marked for death. Dr. Jekyll declares, Jekyll was now my city of refuge; let but Hyde peep out an instant, and the hands of all men would be raised to take and slay him (Stevenson). Throughout the novel, Dr. Jekyll is only truly concerned about his own fate and what the consequences of his actions are in regard to himself only.
Victor Frankenstein is plagued by remorse and regret to the degree that it is hard for him to accept his role in the demise of his loved ones. He is quoted as saying, I beheld those I loved spend vain sorrow upon the graves of William and Justine, the first hapless victims to my unhallowed acts (Shelley). Frankenstein regrets and mourns the loss of his loved ones and even acknowledges his role in their demise, but ultimately, he places blame for their deaths at the feet of the monster and refuses to acknowledge his role in the horrors occurring when they begin to spiral out of control. For example, he knows the monster killed William, but he allows Justin to be executed for the crime because he does not want to be thought of as deranged.
Throughout the novel, when Frankenstein recounts the grief and tragedy those around him endure, he always feels the need to note this his suffering is somehow more poignant. Victor Frankenstein labors under the delusion that no one suffers more than himself. This self-serving coping device provides an insight into the mind of the scientist who never fully takes accountability for his role in the destruction of his life.
Dr. Jekyll and Victor Frankenstein both bemoan the catastrophes that plague them throughout the novel, but both men fail to realize their own selfish enterprises are what bring about their destruction. In his letter to Mr. Utterson, Jekyll paints the picture of his death in his surrender to Mr. Hyde, but earlier in the letter he recounts his autonomy and own feelings while in the form of Mr. Hyde. Frankenstein ceaselessly blames the monster for the murders of those he holds most dear, but only blames himself in the physical creation of the monster and not in the emotional trauma the monster endures at his hands.
As a man, Frankenstein is flawed; he lacks compassion, empathy, and selflessness. He is not good, but he is never intentionally evil. Dr. Jekyll knows what he is doing in his quest to create Mr. Hyde. Jekyll knows Hyde will be and is evil. He chooses to proceed regardless. Jekyll is not a victim of his transformation into Mr. Hyde, he relishes in it until his inability to control the transformation leaves him vulnerable. Frankenstein and his monster may be responsible for the loss of more human life, but Dr. Jekyll is aware of his evils and brings it forward for his own selfish purposes.
- Kestner, Joseph. “Narcissism As Symptom and Structure: The Case of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, edited by Jessica Bomarito and Russel Whitaker, vol. 170, Gale, 2006.
- Literature Criticism Online, https://login.proxy006.nclive.org/login?qurl=https://link.galegroup.com%2fapps%2fdoc%2fOTHKXV208477542%2fLCO%3fu%3dboon41269%26sid%3dLCO%26xid%3d43270053. Accessed 5 Dec. 2018. Originally published in Frankenstein, edited by Fred Botting, Macmillan, 1995, pp. 68-80.
- Toumey, Christopher P. The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science. Science, Technology, & Human Values, vol. 17, no. 4, 1992, pp. 411“437.
- JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/689735.
- Saposnik, Irving S. “The Anatomy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Short Story Criticism, edited by Jelena O. Krstovic, vol. 126, Gale, 2010.
- Literature Criticism Online, https://login.proxy006.nclive.org/login?qurl=https://link.galegroup.com%2fapps%2fdoc%2fOHHZIT627722378%2fLCO%3fu%3dboon41269%26sid%3dLCO%26xid%3da7716c2a. Accessed 5 Dec. 2018. Originally published in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 11, no. 4, Autumn 1971, pp. 715-731.
- Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus : the 1818 Text. Oxford ; New York :Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
- Sherwin, Paul. Frankenstein: Creation as Catastrophe. PMLA, vol. 96, no. 5, 1981, pp. 883“903. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/462130.
- Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. London :New English Library, 1974. Print.
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