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Perils of Addiction Exposed in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Perils of Addiction Exposed in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The values, standards, and expectations of the upper-middle class in the 19th-century Victorian society were conservative and strict; the pressure to earn prestige and achieve upward mobility in social rank required men to sustain an image of propriety and respectability in public. These obligations often created a longing to divert from the personality facades they had to keep, and from the ideal behavior and polite manners that were expected of bourgeois society men. Some would fulfill their wishes by leading a secret double life that allowed them to temporarily escape from societal responsibilities and restrictions. In more private settings, men would partake in sinful pleasures, such as alcohol or drug abuse, and they were free to behave more loosely than they could under the rigid public persona they were forced to hold in order to protect their reputations.

In the introduction to the Oxford edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Emma Letley describes the desire to escape from the “Calvinistic confines of nineteenth-century bourgeois” society, and relates that Mr. Stevenson himself “would use a benign doubleness to deal with the pressures of high bourgeois existence” and assumed an alias to become one of the “heavy-drinking, convivial, blasphemous iconoclasts. . .” in order to “full-bodiedly enjoy those pleasures denied to [him] and Dr. Jekyll.” (Introduction, x). With the knowledge that Stevenson resorted to alcohol in order to escape the pressures and demands that fell upon him due to his social class, it is interesting to examine his novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as a commentary about the evils of addiction to alc…

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…hat he can finally recognize the severity of his weakness to his drug. Dr. Jekyll’s plight, therefore, could be an exploration of the destructive behavior brought on by addiction, and an underlying moral message is embedded in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – the implication that addiction will inevitably lead to evilness and the destruction of productive lives.

Works Cited

Showalter, Elaine. “The Not So Strange Addiction of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The Haunted Mind in Victorian Literature. Eds. Elton E. Smith and Robert Haas. Landham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1999.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. First Vintage Classics Edition. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Veeder, William. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after One Hundred Years. Eds. William Veeder and Gordon Hirsch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

The American Dream Conspiracy in Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman tells the story of the failure of a salesman, Willy Loman. Although not all Americans are salesmen, most of us share Willy’s dream of success. We are all partners in the American Dream and parties to the conspiracy of silence surrounding the fact that failures must outnumber successes.(Samantaray, 2014)

Miller amalgamates the archetypal tragic hero with the mundane American citizen. The result is the anti-hero, Willy Loman. He is a simple salesman who constantly aspires to become ‘great’. Nevertheless, Willy has a waning career as a salesman and is an aging man who considers himself to be a failure but is incapable of consciously admitting it. As a result, the drama of the play lies not so much in its events, but in Willy’s deluded perception and recollection of them as the audience gradually witness the tragic demise of a helpless man.

In creating Willy Loman, Miller presents the audience with a tragic figure of human proportions. Miller characterizes the ordinary man (the ‘low man’) and ennobles his achievements. Willy’s son, Biff, calls his father a ‘prince’, evoking a possible comparison with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, prince of Denmark.. Thus, the play appeals greatly to the audience because it elevates an ordinary American to heroic status. Death of a Salesman seems to conform to the ‘tragic’ tradition that there is an anti-hero whose state of hamartia causes him to suffer. The audience is compelled to genuinely sympathize with Willy’s demise largely because he is an ordinary man who is subject to the same temptations as the rest of us.

Miller uses many characters to contrast the difference between success and failure in the American system. Willy Loman is a deluded salesman whose…

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…ccess, and we measure men by occupational attainment rather than by the more difficult process of considering the whole person. We are all partners in the American Dream and parties to the conspiracy of silence surrounding the fact that failures must outnumber successes. Perhaps the great power of Death of a Salesman is due to the fact that it breaks the conspiracy of silence and reveals to us a failure that too closely resembles our worst fears.

Works Consulted

Bloom, Harold. Arthur Miller. New York: Chelsea, 2008.

Griffin, Alice. Understanding Arthur Miller. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. U.K.: Penguin, 2013.

Samantaray, Swati. “DYSTOPIA: A CRITIQUE OF ARTHUR MILLER’S DEATH OF A SALESMAN” New Academia, Jan. 2014. Web. 18 May 2015.

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