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Trace a brief summary of the two stories
State your opinion about:
-the aspects of Victorian society that determined/caused the transgressive behaviour of the two protagonists
-their purpose in performing the final act that led to their death
-the possible presence of a moral in each novel and if so, what it is?
Say which novel do you prefer and why.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde takes place in the London of nineteenth ninetieth century. Dr. Jekyll, a brilliant and respected scientist, discovers a potion able to isolate one’s own evil part. In fact when he takes this potion, he becomes Mr. Hyde, the evil and damnable personality of Dr. Jekyll, with something displeasing in appearance. At the beginning Dr. Jekyll enjoys the advantages of his double life but lately he is no longer able to control himself, since he becomes Mr. Hyde without taking the potion. After some adventures, Mr. Utterson, a dear friend of Dr. Jekyll, find Mr. Hyde with Dr. Jekyll’s clothes in his room and thanks to a message written by Jekyll understands that the doctor and Mr. Hyde are the same person and that he has committed suicide.
The Picture of Dorian Grey takes place in London, where a young and handsome beautiful nobleman named Dorian becomes enthralled in Lord Henry's aesthetic view of life. He persuades Dorian not to waste his beauty, but to make use of it, and so he wishes that a portrait, painted by his friend Basil would age instead of him. His wish comes true, so he leads a life full of sins and immoral actions. At the end he decides to change life becoming reality by stabbing the portrait, but this causes his death.
I think that the most important aspect which determined the transgressive behaviour of the two protagonists is the double nature of Victorian society, that is, its antithetical values and sexual repression. In fact both of the writers want to highlight the hypocrisy of the middle-classes. The Dr. Jekyll has the reputation of a diligent and esteemed scientist but in his privacy he is attracted to the pleasure and sinful actions. So with his experiment he represents the Victorian middle-classes and takes their behaviour to the extremes because his aim is to keep his reputation pure but to enjoy pleasure and wicked actions. He doesn’t want to be good, but he searches for the respectability to hide his sinful personality. In the same way the portrait of Dorian Grey represents the decay of the middle-classes. Instead, Dorian, with his wonderful physical aspect but with his bad nature, represents the hypocrisy of the middle classes, which used to hide their corrupt behaviour under their appearances.
Dr. Jekyll isolated himself and became very lonely in order to procure the potion he needed, because he changed into Mr. Hyde without taking it. However, at the end he committed suicide because he could no longer change in Dr. Jekyll, so in this way he wanted to avoid his arrest and his death sentence for the murder of Sir Carew. On the contrary the purpose of Dorian Grey in performing his final act, that is, in stabbing the portrait, was to change his kind of life and become really good, forgetting his sinful past and destroying the evidences of his guilt.
I think that in The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the moral intention is to reject the model of the middle-classes life. A very curious interpretation explains that the novel is a critique against the alcoholism (in fact the potion of Dr. Jekyll could be simply changed with wines and spirit), very common in those times in the UK.
The moral intention in The picture of Dorian Grey is that our behaviour shouldn’t be conditioned too much by people’s opinions. Indeed, Dorian Grey follows and agrees with every suggestion and theory of Lord Henry, without thinking of the consequences of his actions.
I prefer The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because I’m interested in human psychology and in the dichotomy between the good and bad sides of our mind.
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Book titles must be italicised.
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