The Victorian Era was a clash between traditional values and progressive thoughts. The purpose of conservatism was to preserve the traditional values. Conservatism influences social behaviors, attitudes, and actions, which means people not only have to consider the hasty changes, but also the expectations of conservative ideals. As a result, there was an increase in internal conflicts and self identification. Some people have to hide behind their conservative facades and others want to separate themselves from either conservatism or society itself. As a result, many individuals begin searching for a solid definition and position of self in the whirl wind of the Victorian era,
“Nothing characterizes Victorian society so much as its quest for self-definition.” (1049 )
Stevenson, from “The strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” portrays the struggle for self identification in the period of inconsistency and capriciousness:
If each, I told myself, could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that unbearable; that unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.(1809)
Stevenson reveals that human beings possess dual natures. By this he means one to be the animalistic side and the other a man’s rational side. Stevenson presents the scenario by having Dr. Jekyll consume a special potion to turn him into Mr. Hyde. The potion rouses a dormant character that is emphasized by a physical mutation. In some ways it parallels the urban and city area after and during industrialization. The city area consists of slums and shanty towns that have to support a large population. Congestion, pollution, sanitation and hygiene are some of the few problems the city life entails. However, Mr. Hyde also represents the morally corrupt aspect of industrialization. For instance, the increase of inequality, child labor, injustice among the poor is in itself an illness that permeates throughout England. The true ugliness lies within these flaws. There is a stark contrast between the urbane, illustrious gentleman and the impulsive animal.Dr. Jekyll is similar to the conservatives. He is a socially acceptable and repressed individual who has a dark side, though he can hide it. Conservatives similarly have to hide behind their sophisticated and fancy attire. However, Hyde is the complete liberated side. He is the boundless individual that gives into all desires. One can say that the fundamental basis of the duality in Dr. Jekyll is his desire to be closer to his “dark” side. He can not behave the way he wants to because he does not want to risk losing his high social status. In the disguise of Mr. Hyde, he can lurk around “dark”, prohibited area where he can fulfill his sinister desires without putting his important reputation at risk. The constant struggle on what to do and what not to do is part of Victorian society and continues to add to society’s fear of insecurity and uncertainty that no one really knows a person based on exterior personas.
This idea of dualism is seen throughout this semester’s reading selections. For example, Charlotte Bronte manages to show female duality through various female characters. Jane just like Dr. Jekyll has been molded and shaped to fit what society deems acceptable or conservative. Most of the novel revolves around an older Jane who wants people to see her as the plain, meek, and wallflower of a girl. Then we have Bertha who is a lot more like Mr. Hyde. She represents insanity, a result of women who have been repressed and limited by the conservative patriarchal society. But are Jane and Bertha really different? Are they two separate individuals? Or Jane like Dr. Jekyll has a repressed Hyde in her? We see the “insane” or “animalistic” side of Jane when she is a child. As a child, Jane shares many similarities with the character of Bertha in relation to dealing with a male dominated society. At first Jane holds in her passion, despite her oppressive environment with the Reeds. However, Jane eventually asserts herself against John in a physical and violent way. Not only did she physically hurt John Reed, but she verbally abuses Mrs. Reeds. I as a reader felt her rage, and saw Mrs. Reed’s fear. This is comparable to Bertha’s violent outbursts and temper toward Mr. Rochester and those in his home. Nevertheless, the differences lie in the fact that Bertha remains violent, while Jane comes of age and begins to conform in order to thrive in a male dominated society. She suppresses her “dark side”, but we as a reader see it in Bertha. Not only is Bertha a symbol of the repressed and “dark” side of Victorian women, but also a reflection of Jane herself.
The reading selections not only demonstrate the internal struggles of a Victorian, but the catalyst to those struggles; because the characters in these reading are a manifestation of the events surrounding the Victorian Period. The Victorian Era represents both spectrum of extremes: one side a sense of hope and optimism and the other a sense of fear and doom. It is said the
“Victoria’s reign were marked by momentous and intimidating social changes, startling inventions, prodigious energies; the rapid succession of events produced wild prosperity and unthinkable poverty, humane reforms and flagrant exploitation, immense ambitions and devastating doubts.” (1049)
In the midst of productivity and urbanization the people also have to witness the unstoppable backlash of the movement. For instance, the drastic increase in crime and the degeneration of the sprawling cities because the infrastructures can not handle the influx of new workers. Furthermore, depredation becomes the fact of life for majority of the working class, and inequality and injustice becomes prevalent and obvious than ever. The idea that progress may also mean the destruction and corruption of many is an uneasy feeling, that anyone at anytime including the wealthy can get lost in the upheaval and have no choice, but to continue living. Those who are in fear then welcome the concept of conservatism. Thus, the notion of dualism and the exterior of an individual not truly representing the interior begins to develop.