Tuesday, 13 March 2012

FRANKENSTEIN VS JEKYLL

As promised, after reading some passages from Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" in our latest lessons, it's now time to find links and connections with other texts we previously read. 


"Jekyll and Hyde" (1886) and Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus" (1818) share numerous features, as a matter of fact.

1. THE FIGURE OF THE OVERREACHER - The two protagonists are scientists who, led by their great ambition, fulfill their achievement but, thus doing, they overcome the limits and borders imposed to them by ethics, nature or God. Their punishment is death by exhaustion in one case, by self-destruction in the other. Both are OVERREACHERS, rebels who go beyond the limits imposed to Mankind by God or Nature, who have their prototype in Prometheus, the mythical Titan who defied Zeus stealing the fire from the Olympus.


2. FORBIDDEN SCIENCE - Both Mary Shelley, who is considered a forerunner of science - fiction, and Robert Louis Stevenson reveal deep interest in science in these works and reflect on what is now called bioethics

3. COMPLEX NARRATIVE STRUCTURE - The two stories are told by different narrators and the reader shares different points of view. Mary Shelley's work is an epistolary novel with three narrating voices, whose narration doesn't follow a chronological sequence. It is also designed as "Chinese boxes".

Stevenson's "Jekyll and Hyde", too, has a multi - narrational structure: four different narrators and a series of different points of view are proposed to the reader: 80% of the story is told by a third - person external narrator but Enfield's, Lanyon's and Jekyll's contributions are necessary, essential, to the completeness of the puzzle Mr Utterson is trying to re-compose.

4. THE DOUBLE - In Frankenstein we can recognize two examples of these fascinating theme. Captain Walton can be considered Victor Frankenstein's "alter ego", his double, since they manifest the same ambition. Walton and Frankenstein try to go beyond human limits and are punished in the end as are all overreachers: Walton's punishment is the imprisonment in the ice and the rebellion of his crew; Frankenstein's punishment is definite, it is death. The second example of double is Frankenstein and the creature/monster he created. Why can the latter be considered the alter ego of the first? What does Frankenstein recognize of himself in the wretched creature he brought to life? That monstruous being is the embodiment of his horrible guilty ambition,  of his monstruous plan for usurping the female role and defy the basic natural laws of life.
The theme of the double in Stevenson's mystery  story is based on the double identity / personality of a single human being. As Henry James said: "It deals with the relation of the baser parts of man to his nobler - of the capacity for evil that exists in the most generous nature..."

5. GOTHICISM - Gothic elements characterize both novels:
- the monster, exoticism, nocturnal gloomy scenes, bloody crimes, fear and terror in FRANKENSTEIN
- mysterious, foggy, dark setting, evil crimes, ugly devilish Mr Hyde, fear and terror in JEKYLL AND HYDE


6.  RELATION TO MYTHS OF THE PAST - If Shelley's herself defined her Frankenstein a modern Prometheus, can't  respectable Dr Jekyll be considered a modern Faust?

7. SOCIAL CRITICISM - Though not realistic stories meant to be social novels, they convey the attempts of their authors to criticize contemporary society, both books contain in fact critical messages in that direction. Frankenstein highlights the social injustice which transforms an innocent creature into a murderous monster by emarginating  him for his ugly aspect. Jekyll and Hyde, instead, attacks the hypocritical duplicity of the respectable Victorian society


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