During the 19th century Victorian society, social class played a very important role in the lives of the civilians. Although it still plays a significant role in society today, the separation of classes and how it was determined was quite different. In a conservative era with strict rules and regulations, the pressure to go up the social ladder required many to strive to behave properly in order to maintain a respected reputation. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the appearance of classes is seen in many settings throughout the story.
As Michael Parenti states in his essay called, “Class and Virtue”, it is true that “virtue is more likely to be ascribed to those characters whose speech and appearance are soundly middle- or upper-class”. There is more recognition given to those that have a title, for example, a lawyer like Mr. Utterson or a doctor like Dr. Jekyll. These people were part of the middle class and were highly regarded, while someone of the lower class like the maids or the little girl that gets trampled in the beginning get no recognition at all. In this book, it is clear that people who are at a higher level on the social ladder are able to get away with more things compared to those that are on a lower level. Not only are the concepts of “good” and “evil” connected with social class, but the clear distinction on how these classes were divided are very prominent.
In the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, three social classes are portrayed: the lower class, the middle class, and the upper class. In this late Victorian England society, the lower class, also known as the working class, were made up of maids, industrial workers, and the homeless. These people lacked money, had very minimal amount of food to eat, poor living conditions, and even had their children work in order to bring in extra income. The next social class presented was the middle class. These people were very wealthy, and consisted of businessmen, lawyers, doctors, and so on.
In today’s society, we would consider the middle class of the Victorian age as our upper class. The middle class had more than enough to eat, a nice house to live in, and relatively comfortable lifestyle. The reason why the middle class are not considered the upper class is because the upper class are meant for royalty. The upper class, also called the royal class, includes the king, queen, duke, dutchess, aristocrats, etc. This class held an enormous amount of power and wealth, and they lived a very luxurious lifestyle that extended for many generations.
In modern day society, media depicts many lower class people as people who have less morals, with unruly behaviors and displeasing appearances. Readers can see this clearly with Edward Hyde, Dr. Jekyll’s evil alter ego. Virtue is a lot more notable in those that seem to have a better quality lifestyle. For example, as we see in the novel, a majority of the narration is done by Mr. Utterson. It is stated in the very beginning of the story that he is a lawyer, so right away it is assumed that he is part of the middle class.
In an article called, Hyding the Subject?: The Antinomies of Masculinity in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Ed Cohen, the author states that, “[Mr. Utterson] offers a privileged position within the narrative from which the articulation of a ‘true’ story appears possible” (Cohen). Because of Mr. Utterson’s title as a lawyer, we already trust his words and believe that he will tell the story as close to the truth. However, if Mr. Hyde were to tell the story, we would most likely not believe his words and think that he is trying to cover up his mistakes. In the case of the novel, it is automatically presumed that those of the lower class are ethically incorrect.
The working or lower class in the novel consist of the maids and servants like Mr. Poole, and the little girl and her family in the beginning of the novel. The maids and servants of Dr. Jekyll are considered to be a part of the lower class because they are working under someone else and do the tedious dirty work like cleaning the house, making food, etc. Another character considered to be a part of this class would be the little girl and her parents. In the beginning, there is a collision between the girl and Mr. Hyde where Mr. Hyde tramples over her. After this happens, the parents of the girl do not worry about the injuries of their daughter and instead ask for ransom. In order for this occurrence to be kept on the low, Mr. Hyde offers to give them one hundred pounds which they graciously accept. We can clearly see that the family of the little girl are considered to be of lower class because although the girl got trampled by Mr. Hyde, the parents easily accepted the money instead of getting justice for their daughter.
There are quite a few characters in this story that are to be marked as part of the middle class. Dr. Henry Jekyll, a doctor and one of the main characters of the story, Mr. Utterson the lawyer, Dr. Lanyon, another doctor as well as Dr. Jekyll’s close friend, and last but not least, Mr. Edward Hyde, Dr. Jekyll’s dark side. All of these men, except for Mr. Hyde, are well known throughout their community and uphold a respected reputation. They have well paying careers and live a very comfortable life. Mr. Hyde who was “pale and dwarfish, [who] gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation” (Stevenson, 19), would most likely be seen as someone from the lower class.
Not only does he wear oversized clothing but he also participates in evil acts. However, although his actions and appearances belong to someone of a lower class, he is still considered as part of the middle class because he is only the alter ego of Dr. Jekyll. In this case, Mr. Hyde still has a place to live and sleep in, a considerable amount of wealth, and even servants that wait on him. As previously stated, to be a part of the upper class, one has to be a part of royalty. In the middle of the novel, there was a nobleman that was bludgeoned and killed by Mr. Hyde- this nobleman was Sir Danvers Carew, a member of Parliament. From what we see throughout the novel, there is only one person that appears to be a part of the upper class and that person is Sir Danvers Carew.
We can see that the concepts of “good” and “evil” are connected to class standing due to the murder of Sir Danvers Carew’s death. It is unclear as to what really happens during this event, but the incident is told through the words of a maid that happened to be looking outside her window at night. The maid notices “an aged and beautiful gentleman” (Stevenson, 26) that comes into contact with Mr. Hyde, “whom she had conceived a dislike” (Stevenson, 27). Already we can see that she is in favor of this other man that is clearly in a better state and condition than Mr. Hyde. She then states that Sir Danvers Carew “bowed and accosted the other with a very pretty manner of politeness” (Stevenson, 26) and that his face “seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well-founded self-content” (Stevenson, 27).
Because of the way this man upholds himself, he is seen in a better light and it seems like he did no wrong and was in a vulnerable states. Compared to Mr. Hyde, who many believe is part of the lower class because of the way he behaves and presents himself to the public eye. The maid then states that during this altercation, Mr. Hyde randomly lost temper and beat Sir Danvers Carew to death. Although we do not know what really happened between Sir Danvers Carew and Mr. Hyde because their conversation is unheard of. Just from the maid’s statements, it is obvious that all the blame will go to Mr. Hyde, especially because of how she worded things and created a bias from the start.
Another example of this connection is the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll, a well-respected doctor, takes a potion that changes him into Mr. Hyde, who participates in evil acts that most middle and upper class people would not think of doing. In an article called, A study in dualism: The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Shubh M. Singh and Subho Chakrabarti states that, “Dr. Jekyll covertly provides utterance to the evil in his soul by various unspeakable acts, but is afraid of doing so openly because of the fear of social criticism” (Singh, Chakrabarti). T
his shows that because of the title that he is branded with and because of the social class that he is in, Dr. Jekyll is expected to not partake in low class acts. Another article titled, ‘The Beast Within’: Degeneration in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Three Australian Short Stories, by Anne Maxwell comments that, “the criminal tendencies and and depraved behaviour normally attributed to the lower classes could also infect the middle and upper classes” (Maxwell). We can see this clearly with Dr. Jekyll and how he purposely drinks his potion to turn into his dark side who is considered “lower class”, that is not scared to commit wrongdoings.
Social class is one of the major themes that are apparent in the novel of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Not only do we see a clear distinction on these classes but we are also able to determine which characters represent each class. Although some characters may be hard to tell, like Mr. Hyde. The societal standards and expectations that the middle and upper class have to maintain, is what lead to the stress and doom of some. In this case, Dr. Jekyll who believes he has to separate his good and evil side by undergoing experiments and drinking potions. That is why social classes affect the differences between what we believe are “good” and “evil”.