Implications of the Changes Occurred During the Late 19th Century in Europe in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
In the late 19th century a clear shift occurs in Europe from a content society who though it had everything figured out to an anxious one, where everything could be questioned and argued. It is important to understand these changes of the modern times because they played a big part to cause World War I. European society faced many intellectual, scientific, and cultural challenges that came with the 2nd industrial revolution which empowered science and made some people question the bible which was their main source of information until this point.
A book that describes in a very subtle but powerful way these modern times is “The Strange Case of: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” written by Robert Louis Stevenson. In his book Stevenson addresses different changes, however, his most prominent one is the duality men felt during this period. People felt as if two personalities were inside themselves one that represented more romantic full of feelings and impulses and one totally different more modern and scientifically driven.
Stevenson makes the reader feel and perceive this duality in the modern times with the help of two well developed characters Dr. Jekyll a scientist that even though was modern and eloquent had a romantic in himself that was more metaphysical full of feelings and drives that classified him as a troglodyte. This second part of him at first is dormant but comes to life as Mr. Hyde and never goes back to be Dr. Jekyll again until he finally commits suicide. This symbolizes the anxiety society felt when choosing between these two ways of thinking: a scientific or a more conventional and religious one. Stevenson’s novel accomplishes to describe a changing society that is unsure about life. A society that has to take a side between religion and science and a society fearing to pick the wrong choice.
In many aspects European society was affected by the second industrial revolution. The new discovery of electricity played a big role in powering machines and allowed industries to prosper and become more complex. Even though many workers were under extremely bad conditions it was getting better for them. All this new advancement scared people, as Richard J. Walker states in an article titled “He, I say – I cannot say, I: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case.” Published by Liverpool University Press “What seems to be apparent is that Hyde speaks more about the fears and the anxieties of the fin de siècle bourgeoisie than monstrosity in general.” Even though with this new technologies the agricultural and other fields boomed between 1850 and 1870 in the late 19th century the economy stagnated adding to the anxiety and fear society felt just like Mr. Hyde. I was clear that society was facing a big identity crisis not knowing what to become or be after so many changes in such a quick time.
The state of the proletariat had changed a lot from 1860 to 1914. In 1860, the richest classes were exploiting the proletariat for its cheap labor. Marx and other socialist philosophers saw this and decided that the proletariat class should unite to be stronger. Trade unionism flourished during the second half of the century when governments began to recognize the right of workers to organize. All major industrial countries in Europe allowed trade unionism at the end of the 19th century. There were debates about opportunism and revisionism because people could not agree with socialist ideas. Bernstein saw failures in Marxist thinking and rejected significant parts of Marxist theory. Revisionism was important because it was between Marxist ideas and more conservative ideas. The German Socialists condemned Bernstein’s opinions, but the SPD followed Bernstein’s opinions. The unions prospered and did not want a revolution.
In this same article by Walker it is also mentioned “…we can also see the nature of Jekyll’s study itself starting to trouble located boundaries; it is ‘scientific’, suggesting a material empiricism rather than abstract reasoning…” Meaning that it is clear how religion had a major problem during this period of scientific discovery and how scientists such as Charles Darwin helped create this major anxiety by coming up with the theory of evolution published in Descent of Man.
This theory questioned the bible explanation of life by providing evidence of how through “Natural Selection” everyone came from apes. Natural selection is the idea that the most fit traits are the ones that are persistent throughout species. This was a major dilemma because society was set in their own interpretation of the bible’s creation of men and this challenged that idea imposing a new one and the feeling that maybe God does not exist.
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