GCSE English Revision: Exploring Science vs Religion in Jekyll and Hyde

1st June 2021

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exploring science vs religion in jekyll and hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson, is a novel that often shows up in one of the GCSE English Literature exams.

And as there are many Jekyll and Hyde themes that could come up in your GCSE paper, it’s really important that you’re well prepared for all of them.

Science and religion is a major theme throughout the novel. We’ve broken down the key points of this theme below to support your Jekyll and Hyde revision.

And if you’re looking for more Jekyll and Hyde GCSE revision tips, we have some great resources for you:

  • A downloadable Jekyll and Hyde Worksheet to help you practice

  • A YouTube video to explain the concept of Science and Religion in Jekyll and Hyde in more detail

  • A Jekyll and Hyde podcast if you prefer to revise by listening

  • A complete Jekyll and Hyde online course that comes with video lessons, worksheets, quizzes and more. You can access it with a free trial now. 

Key points of Jekyll & Hyde’s Science vs Religion theme

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1. Victorian Society

The norm for people during the Victorian era was to follow Christianity as a religious belief. There were many branches of Christianity, but one was particularly relevant to Stevenson’s novel. The Evangelicals believed that mankind were naturally sinful, and needed to move from the darkness to light through God’s forgiveness. This meant strictly obeying society’s view of morality.

It can therefore be argued that religion was the cause of many societal taboos. From indulgence to flamboyancy, many behaviours were denounced by society for being pious or godly.

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2. Charles Darwin

In 1859, Charles Darwin published his revolutionary book The Origin of Species. It introduced the idea of evolution. In a heavily religious Victorian society, you can imagine that this book sparked huge controversy and upset, as it opposed the idea that God was the creator of all things. 

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This scared people, as they believed that science was dangerous to society. After all, Darwin’s theory completely dismantled everything they knew to be true.

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3. Gabriel Utterson

Utterson is a highly moral, reputable man, who is a devout follower of religion. From the very beginning, we learn he is “austere with himself” and is “never lighted by a smile”. This tells us he is an archetypal Victorian Gentleman.z

So why did Stevenson write the novel from Utterson’s point of view? 

You could argue that Stevenson created a reliable narrator who was relatable to a reader at the time. Utterson seeks logic and rationale during events which are simply too far-fetched to put down to anything other than science and the supernatural.

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4. The Devolution of Jekyll into Hyde

Darwin’s theory of evolution also sparked so much panic because of the idea of de-evolution. In other words, the concept of civilised and reputable ladies and gentlemen, created to be “perfect” in God’s image, regressing into savage animals terrified the society. 

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This is explored by Stevenson through the degeneration of Henry Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. Jekyll decides to ‘play God’ by meddling with science, resulting in a means to arouse his primitive nature whilst maintaining his reputation. Though Jekyll has stopped suppressing the innate evil within him, we see him de-evolve into nothing at the end of the novel as a result of over-relying on science. 

So, what do you think Stevenson’s message is here? Is he critiquing the dangers of science, or suggesting that repressing natural instinct will eventually cause more damage than creating a civilised facade?

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5. Dr Jekyll & The Supernaturals

The theme of the supernatural is prevalent throughout the novel, and integral to Dr Jekyll’s experiments. The spiritual side of his philosophy depicts his mind to be unlike lawyers and other doctors, who restrict themselves to logical reasoning. He confesses that he uses both chemical and mystical methods to explore the duality of man at the end of the novel.

Jekyll uses science, not religion, as an avenue to access the supernatural. We can back this up as his work leads “wholly towards the mystic and transcendental”. But once again, is Stevenson commenting on the horrific dangers of doing so?

Have a listen to this podcast, where we discuss the character of Dr Jekyll in more detail. 

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6. Mr Hyde’s Deformity 

Mr Hyde is commonly described throughout the novel as being beyond rational description, notably with an unexplainable air of evil. His deformity and evil presence again fuels the idea of the supernatural, but also reveals how science can cause death and destruction.

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Alternatively, we could argue that Mr Hyde’s deformity is a repercussion of repression, caused by the Victorian society’s values and expectations.

Hyde is so deformed that he is barely human, yet he is merely just a de-evolved double of Jekyll. He is a representation of what we would all be like if we chose to ignore all desires and impulses entirely, much like the typical Victorian gentleman.

Learn more about the character of Mr Hyde in this handy podcast.

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7. Victorian vs Modern Audience

As we have touched upon, the Victorian audience was very much divided by Stevenson’s novel. The views and values at the time meant there was turmoil and panic, which can only be expected of a controversial novel that challenges everything people knew.

However, even as a modern audience living in a world where science and technology dominate, we can still receive Stevenson’s cautionary ideas. Do you think Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is still relevant in today’s society?

Assessment objective: context (AO3)

Why are these themes important? One of the key assessment objectives for your Jekyll and Hyde science vs religion essay is AO3. AO3 requires you to demonstrate an understanding of the significance and influence of the contexts in which the novella was written and received.

There is an abundance of context in Jekyll and Hyde, and without a good understanding of it, you may find it more challenging to explore deeper meanings in the novella. It is integral to your essay to include AO3, so take as much advantage of our resources as possible so you don’t miss out on any marks!

Revise GCSE Jekyll and Hyde with Your Favourite Teacher

Has this blog helped you to understand the key themes present in Jekyll and Hyde? We cover even more topics that you need to revise for your exam in our Jekyll and Hyde course.

Created by real teachers, the course includes 9 lessons that cover:

  • Jekyll and Hyde Plot Overview and Context

  • The Character of Dr Jekyll

  • The Character of Mr Hyde

  • The Character of Mr Utterson

  • Jekyll and Hyde Minor Characters

  • Dualism and The Nature of Man

  • Science Vs Religion

  • Reputation

  • Minor Themes and Motifs

You can access all of the above and more with a free trial of Your Favourite Teacher today.