I had heard much about the book Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Lewis Steveson, so when I purchased it, I thought I was fairly certain on what I was getting into. It was published in 1886, so I was expecting older language, which is what I got, but I was also expecting a fairly straightforward story. I did not expect such a dark plot line to emerge, but that fact made the story even more fascinating.
The story is told from the perspective of Gabriel Utterson, a lawyer and dear friend to Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Utterson also openly despises the character Mr. Hyde whom Dr. Jekyll seems to have close relations with. Mr. Utterson makes it very clear that he does not approve of Dr. Jekyll associating so closely with Mr. Hyde, but as the story unfolds with a series of dark twists it is made clearer to Mr. Utterson why their relationship is so close.
The reader takes the perspective of Mr. Utterson, so as he discovers the truth behind the relationship of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the reader is also discovering with him. This allows the reader to make their own guesses as to what the uncovered clues mean. I’ve described it as a sort of mystery story, which it is in a way, but the story also focuses on human nature. Dr. Hyde states in a l letter that “when I reached the years of reflection, and began to look round me, and take stock of my progress and position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life. (p. 40)” It causes the reader to think about their own position in life and how they either foster or restrain the sort of monster within them.
While being a short story, it makes a number of large profound statements. While the language makes it hard to follow sometimes, the author makes it fairly clear what he is inferring about the nature of man.
I am currently reading the book War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Having been published in 1898 in Britain, it’s very interesting to look into the historical context of the book and see why Wells might have written this story.
From the 1870s to 1900, there was a major push for the colonization of African countries by Europe. European countries were attempting to push their own way of life onto the indigenous people of Africa without any regard for the indigenous way of life. The African societies attempted resistance, but they were overpowered by the superior weapons and man power. This is very similar to the events that are set up in Wells’ book. In his book, Martians came from Mars to Earth. At first, the people of Earth were very excited to see these spaceships that were landing on Earth, but once the Martians left the spaceships they immediately started on a path of utter destruction with the goal of taking over earth. The Earthlings tried to fight back, but the Martians had powerful weapons, the most dangerous being the heat ray that “was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat” (p.39). I emphasize inevitable because there was literally no possible way for the people to stop this weapon, much like the problem that the African people faced when they were trying to resist the military force of the European countries. The Martians were hardly concerned with the wellbeing of the humans as long as they were able to execute their own agenda. Similarly, the European countries held little regard for the indigenous Africans and worked to expand their world power and diplomatic rule.
This book places the (probably Western) reader into the shoes of the African people during the European colonization of Africa. This would have been an especially clear parallel during the period it was published. Wells was trying to make people understand how the African people were probably feeling. I imagine that later in the book that either the situation gets worse to parallel life or the situation is solved in a way that Wells saw as an effective way to deal with colonization in Africa. Or there could just be super cool alien battles. We’ll see.
When learning about other people and cultures, it is easy to generalize and make assumptions about who these different people are, what they do, and what they believe. Many of these stereotypes are founded in Colonization and Imperialism, begun in America in the 1600s. In the book Mean Spirit the author, Linda Hogan, addresses this issue, using the Osage Indians in Oklahoma during the 1920s to illustrate the opinion the white man held of the Indians and how this opinion led to disaster. Indian traditions slowly fall apart as what they value becomes corrupted while the white man continues to assert their power and laws over the Osage people. This combination only spelt disaster for the Oklahoma Indians.
Manifest destiny is a major root of many of the disputes and deception in Mean Spirit. The Dawes act of 1887 allowed for Indians to have individual ownership of land, but only after white people had the chance to claim the land best for farming and cultivation. Once oil was discovered in Oklahoma though, the dried up pieces of land given to the Indians suddenly became the most valuable allotments. To the Indians, it “seemed generous at first glance so only a very few people realized how much they were being tricked” (p. 8). Though maybe the past would have hinted toward this tendency of the white man, the Indians did not quickly expect the white man to become so deceptive to repossess land that was given to them. They shouldn’t have to have this mentality, but the white man has grown so accustomed to taking what they deem valuable that it seemed obvious for them to claim what they felt they deserved far more than the Indians. They didn’t only feel that it was their right to own the land though. They also felt that they should assert authority over the Indians that lived on that land.
The feeling of white superiority was born out of Imperialism. The white government felt this superiority when “nearly all the full-blood Indians were deemed incompetent by the court’s competency commission.” (p. 241). With the threat of incompetence, the white man effectively made it clear to the Indians that they held dominance over them. The only thing that deemed these Indians incompetent though was that they appeared less sophisticated and educated than the white man. The white man attempted to take advantage of this perceived gap, and they were doing quite well with cheating the Indians out of their money and land. When they felt they couldn’t display their dominance over the Indians though, they took on a mind of fear. The white men “had ideas about Indians, that they were unschooled, ignorant people who knew nothing about life or money. But whenever an Indian didn’t fit their vision” they became afraid of what they were actually capable of (p. 60). Because of their conditioned idea that they are better than the Indians, they actually become afraid when it seems the Indians might actually be the same or (God forbid) even better than the white man. To deal with this fear, the white man used their own laws to keep themselves from this unknown person and forced assimilation onto Indians so they would no longer have to try to understand them or treat the Indians as they were as equals.
Assimilation was forced upon the Indians through laws and social order. The Curtis Act of 1898 was designed to dissolve all forms of Indian government so that the Indians were forced to follow the laws that the Indian Commission set for them. Many of the Indians fought this and “some of them had even gone to Washington, D.C., to talk with the president who refused a hearing with them” (p. 61). Despite all of their efforts, the Indians were never given a say in what laws were placed over them, but they were punished for breaking these laws all the same. To keep the white man appeased they listened to their laws, but all they really wanted was “to be left alone and in peace. They wanted it so much that they turned their minds away from the truth and looked in the other direction” (p. 40). They were a very peaceful people that were yanked into a world full of corruption and violence and weren’t allowed to leave. The white man corrupted what they held sacred like the animals and land with hunting and oil drilling. In order to survive in this world, they either had to allow this corruption or risk their own life trying to protect it.
The combination of Colonization and Imperialism plowed a path for the white man to assert their dominance and gain power and in it’s wake left the way of life for the Indian people destroyed. Mean Spirit exposed the corruption and violence that fed this destruction through the lives of the Osage Indians in Oklahoma. Fear and the feeling of superiority led the white man to believe that this destruction was justified and would eventually help the Indians by forcing assimilation to what they believed was the superior way to live, but in reality it did nothing but oppress Indians.
Modern day America parallels often to the world constructed in Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451. Some may even argue that he predicted the future with this book. The characters in the story often times turned away from conflict and choices. They have instead turned to consumerism and factual knowledge. But not only does that compare to modern America, but it was also reflected in the society that Bradbury lived in.
Avoiding conflict is a habit that the people in Fahrenheit 451 and America both share. While it may not be good to constantly fight, there is also a need for diversity, which will always cause problems. The only way to make it so that people get along is to make them all the same and hold the same ideals, which is very strongly seen in this book, but it is also seen in America. Right now the people of America seem to endorse the idea of allowing everyone to do as they please as long as it doesn’t bother anyone else. In both cases the people slowly stop caring about anything other people do except when they can benefit from the other person. Other than that though, apathy serves almost the same purpose as fire does in Fahrenheit 451 in that it “destroys responsibility and consequences. A problem gets too burdensome, then into the furnace with it” (p. 115). Apathy and fire are both temporary fixes to problems that cannot really be cured. This has to do with self-censorship and how people in America will refuse to voice their opinions, or even develop an opinion because society doesn’t allow people to direct their passions toward something controversial. In the book, they stopped the developing of opinions all together, which is a plausible reality for America at the rate they are currently running.
Not only do people avoid conflict, but they also avoid choices altogether. In the book they show an extreme example of this, with people having hardly any choice at all. Beatty on page 61 pointed out that to make a man happy one shouldn’t “give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none”. With this, people end up being told who to vote for or what they should feel so that eventually they don’t care at all. Applying specifically to politics, in America there seems to be a growing disinterest in politics, especially by the younger generations. They may vote, but often times it’s because someone told them to vote, not because they really wanted to. They were also probably told what their opinion should be and don’t develop much of their own. It is much easier to listen and follow what others tell you to follow. At this point, people would be just as happy to not have a choice at all. This could provide a reason as to why currently Donald Trump is having so much success in presidential poles, because his voice is the loudest. People enjoy him telling them that he is the best for the job, even if he isn’t. The lines between choice and manipulation are blurred, leading a person to believe manipulation, is choice.
Once a person avoids conflict and choices it leaves them very susceptible to dangers, such as being convinced as to what really constitutes as knowledge. People have to believe that they are still smart when they don’t have opinions so it’s best to “cram them full of noncombustible data” (p. 61). When people know facts they can sound very smart and knowledgeable. In Bradbury’s novel, this knowledge came with knowing everything that was happening with their “family”. In America, knowledge comes with good grades in school. In both cases it is defined by the memorization of facts and coming up with false connections to make them sound more intelligent, but in reality their knowledge is only made up of facts. People often forget the true definition of knowledge, and it isn’t memorizing information. It often comes with conflict and choices, but because those are dangerous for people, it’s easier to just say they are smart when they can know names of the capitals to all the countries in the world. What’s even better is if everyone knows the name of the capitals to all the countries.
While the points Bradbury’s book parallel with modern America, he wasn’t necessarily predicting the future. Many of the issues in this book were also prevalent in the 1950’s; specifically, consumerism. People during the 1950’s were in the middle of the Cold War yet they were trying to pretend that it wasn’t by increasing spending and partaking in more leisurely past times. This obviously correlates to the mentality of the people in Fahrenheit 451 where they let other people “do all the worrying” (p. 94). They don’t need to worry because they are not directly involved. Instead they buy a new wall screen or, in the case of people in the 1950’s, they will go to a baseball game. They are distracting themselves from reality and that is something that Bradbury would have been influenced by when writing his book. It also, however, continues to apply to modern America. There may not be a threat of nuclear war, but there are other wars happening and other major issues in other countries (such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis and the threat of ISIS) that American people have unconcerned themselves with. They ignore immediate dangers because people think that it couldn’t ever directly affect them. America has not changed in this; the issues have only been changed and the distractions adjusted.
Fahrenheit 451 plays on the idea that the values of people are skewed, showing that people would rather value “noncombustible facts” and consumer products than allow for conflict and choice. He writes a world that reflects how both his society worked and, unknowingly, how modern America works today. It shows the mindset of the modern populace. In the show Mad Men, there is a great quote that summarizes this mind set by Donald Draper where he says, “People want to be told what to do so badly that they will listen to anyone.”
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey Book, 1953. Print.