Below is a video of a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk by Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, an experiment to which Paul referred in his comment on Jess’s recent post.
In this talk Zimbardo raises a number of questions about the nature of humans and their capacity for evil which intersect, in many ways, with a good number of the texts we read (and especially Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).
The talk also raises interesting questions about the capacity of humans for evil (and good) which might prove pertinent as you think about the readings about Sade for Monday.
TED Talk: The Psychology of Evil
Ever since the time we are little we are told that first impressions are everything and it’s crucial to make a good impression on the people we are meeting. Likewise, we often times judge people – even if it’s inadvertently – on our first impression of them and in the process form conclusions and opinions about them regardless of whether they are factual or not. However often times there is more to a person than meets the eye. In the case of Dr. Jekyll what we see on the surface reveals very little about what’s inside.
When Mr. Utterson first describes his impression of Dr. Jekyll he states “He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why.” (Pg. 53). So often we judge people on their appearance, or are quick to get a bad feeling about someone. But many times there are people that we dislike, or form opinions about subconsciously yet we never really know why. For Dr. Jekyll while the Mr. Hyde that he becomes draws immediate images of a monstrous murderer, there is more to Mr. Hyde then meets the eye. Mr. Hyde for Dr. Jekyll represents freedom. He represents freedom from the constraints of Victorian society, freedom from anything holding him back from the lifestyle he wants to live, and most importantly it represents freedom from the parts of himself we wants to forget about.
Ultimately looks can be deceiving, what we think of others and the impression we have others only often tells half the story. Many times people hide their real selves from others because they fear the reactions and judgment that will be passed upon them. In the end whether we choose to look past our first impressions and find out the full story or we choose to let our own uniformed opinions define what we think of others, we can never ignore the question who are we? Are we the people others think we are or we the person that we see ourselves as?
In the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the duality of human nature is one of the major themes. The question if people are born good or evil isn’t answered in the text but we are able to see how it could go both ways, and the views of the author on this subject. Stevenson is able to show his readers that humans aren’t born inherently bad or good, but somewhere in the middle. By separating the good, Dr. Jekyll, and the bad, Mr. Hyde, we are able to see that humans have both and one without the other can sometimes be overpowering.
Throughout the novel it is hard to imagine Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde being the same person because of their differences. It is apparent that Mr. Hyde is full evil, but what isn’t as noticeable is that, Dr. Jekyll, who is suppose to be completely good, has these desires which can’t be fulfilled on his own. He knows that everything he feels isn’t right but inherently there is a desire to learn more, and to be curious about these things he’s been told not to do his whole life. This led to the creation of Mr. Hyde and the release of all things evil inside Dr. Jekyll.
This novel is able to explain why good people do bad things. Even the best people want to know how far they can push their boundaries and what they can get away with. The creation of Mr. Hyde was Jekyll’s way of doing this and releasing his inner demons. There is no such thing as an all-good human; Jekyll says at one point “man is not truly one, but truly two.” Meaning that he is fully aware that there are two personalities inside of people, and he learns very quickly after successfully completing his experiment that you need the one to balance out the other.
In Dr. Jekyll’s case there is too much good, he feels responsible for all his actions and he knows exactly what is right and what is wrong. He always does the socially acceptable thing and never strays away from that. With Mr. Hyde it is the opposite, he is filled with bad and does everything wrong. He feels great joy when doing the wrong thing. Eventually the bad starts to take over and this is when Jekyll realizes how wrong his experiment was. He becomes aware that good and bad balance each other out. Being too good isn’t always the best option, without a little bad life gets boring, which is why he wanted to create an alter ego. The same goes for being all bad, there has to be good to balance it out.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a Romantic novel about a young scientist with radical ideas and ambitions. He is intrigued with life, specifically the creation of life. He spends years of his life researching and studying, he even spent extended periods of time in tombs observing bodies decay. This novel contains many important themes. Two of which I would like to highlight in this blog post.
The first is that man should not play God. Victor Frankenstein embarks on a quest to create life, which ends in tragedy. Frankenstein’s creature, in visioned to be a beautiful being with larger features then humans turned out to be a grotesque monster. Once it came to life, Victor Frankenstein himself could not even bear the sight of it, his own creation.
His monster fled the the house and never returned. Frankenstein’s monster tries to fit into society with desire of acceptance but receives only hate and fear from the humans, because of this it swears revenge on humans and his creator, Victor Frankenstein. This is where this first theme, that man shouldn’t play God becomes apparent. Wandering through the wood in Geneva the creature stumbles across a young boy. The boy reveals that he is from the Frankenstein family and the creature strangles him to death. The creature doesn’t stop here though, his next victim is Victor’s dear friend Henry Clerval, whose death is a result of Victor not complying to the creature’s request for a companion. The final straw is when the monster kills Elizabeth on Victor’s and her wedding night. After all of these killings Victor devotes his life to destroying his creation, which eventually leads to his own demise. Shelley wants to use Victor as an example of how men can’t play the role of God. The creation of life is beyond man’s control and through the savage killings the monster does, Shelley portrays what happens when man tampers with Gods role of creation.
The second theme that I would like to point out in this story is the healing role of nature. When Victor spent years creating the monster he fell very ill. It wasn’t until he left his house and received fresh air with his friend Henry that he began to feel renewed and healthy once again. Throughout the story Victor seeks sanctuary from illness in nature.
We talked about how Prometheus’s name means, “foresight,” which is proved true when he tells Io of her future and explains why he was so willing to take Zeus’s punishment. Clearly he has an accurate knowledge of things yet to be, so why does the supposedly all-knowing Zeus insist on, “following protocol” so to speak and going along doing exactly what Prometheus expects him to do? Zeus “commands” Prometheus to tell him what he’s seen in the future to unseat him from power, which quite frankly seems the wrong way to go about it. If I was an all-powerful god who was just told that I’d be booted off the throne in some vague way I would be a lot more hospitable to Prometheus than keeping him in chains. I find it hard to fathom that Zeus would be so blind to the power Prometheus has if he knows the future, and am surprised he didn’t make more of an effort to keep relations a little warmer.
On another note: I find it superbly ironic that Zeus chooses to punish Prometheus by having his liver pecked out every day by birds. This punishment is inspired by nature, yet Prometheus is a Titan, a.k.a. a nature force. Perhaps it was just by chance that Zeus picked that specific punishment, or perhaps he meant it specifically to be humiliating. The same thing happened with Atlas’s and Io’s punishments, using Nature to punish the Nature gods, so I think Zeus and Hera may have chosen those types of punishments specifically for them.
So is there method to Zeus’s madness? We know that Prometheus has a strategy (of sorts), and knows all the moves Zeus is supposed to make, so why is Zeus is barging ahead and using brawn rather than brains? If we look at the Olympian gods as forces of Civilization and the Titans as forces of Nature like we did in class, it could be seen as an allegory for the way civilization has conquered the natural world over the years by pure force; Zeus, Civilization, has used chains, tools of civilization, to bind Prometheus, but that might be a stretch.