The Presence of an Archetype of Evil in British Literature

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One of the creative aspects of a literary work is an archetype. The archetype of evil is described by literarydevices.net, “In literature, an archetype is a typical character, an action, or a situation that seems to represent universal patterns of human nature.” Writers utilize archetypes to create a connection between the readers and the literary work that is introduced. Archetypes are not just meant to define someone but are also meant to construct meaning and significance to the story. Some examples of an archetype include characters such as heroes, villains, demons, and star-crossed lovers. Archetypes can also be defined by events, settings, passages, or themes. Archetypes are ultimately used in a way that allows the reader to recognize major events within the story, while also affecting the perspective of the literary work overall.

There are many characteristics associated with evil in which the authors of the three literary works try to incorporate within each plot. According to collinsdictionary.com,“ Evil is a powerful force that some people believe to exist, and that causes wicked and bad things to happen.” Some characteristics of an evil character include: malevolent behavior, devious actions, and cruelty. Evil characters are those who are selfish, sinister, and manipulative. Their motives are usually to cause trouble or harm to someone or something. When authors use the archetype of evil, they believe that their readers will interpret what these characteristics hold.

Particularly, the archetypal theme of evil can be found predominantly in many works of British literature. Such works include: Beowulf, The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In Beowulf, the character that functions as being evil is the monster Grendel, who terrorizes the Danes for twelve years before being defeated by Beowulf. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, evil can be represented by the character of Mr. Hyde, Jekyll’s violent and cruel dark side. In the works of J.K Rowling, Lord Voldemort is portrayed as the evilest character in the series. It is apparent through his devious actions and bad past, that he is the most powerful Dark Lord of all time. The characters of these three novels embody the important role of the evil archetype in British literature.

One significant literary work that illustrates the archetype of evil is the epic Beowulf. Beowulf is an Old English heroic poem that is believed to be composed between the eighth and the eleventh century by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet. The epic takes place in Denmark and tells the story of a young warrior, Beowulf, Prince of the Geats, who come to assist King Hrothgar and the Danes, while an abhorrent demon lurks in the swamplands of Hrothgar’s kingdom. This monster goes by the name of Grendel, a society reject, who turns evil as a punishment for the Danes. He goes on to terrorize them for twelve dreadful years with periodic unexpected attacks. Grendel is said to be a descendent from the first murderer, Cain, and believes that God chastises him because of this. He attempts to get his revenge on the people who have wronged him whenever he gets a chance. After the Danes’ many years of fear, danger, and suffering, Beowulf, is ready to defeat the gruesome monster. Beowulf and his men remain in Heorot, aware that Grendel will soon make an appearance. Grendel does, and rips open the iron doors of the mead-hall and kills one of Beowulf’s sleeping men. Grendel then reaches for Beowulf, but the hero uses his superhuman strength to put the monster in an armlock. The hold of Beowulf’s wrist is stronger than the demon can handle and eventually tears Grendel’s arm off, which results in his death. To display his great defeat of Grendel, Beowulf hangs the claw high under the roof of Heorot. After Beowulf’s encounter and defeat of Grendel, later in the epic, he also kills Grendel’s mother along with the dragon.

There are a variety of characteristics that correspond with evil that the author of Beowulf tries to incorporate within the literary work. Grendel is one of the main characters in the story that portrays characteristics of evil through his actions. From the very beginning of the epic, Grendel appears spiteful and angry towards the people of Denmark. These feelings are obvious as the story progresses. Throughout the literary work, the audience realizes how malevolent and cruel Grendel really is. The following lines from the author of The Norton Anthology of English Literature exemplify Grendel’s depravity:

So times were pleasant for the people there

Until finally one, a fiend out of Hell,

Began to work his evil in the world.

Grendel was the name of this grim demon

Haunting the marches, marauding round the heath

And the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time

In misery among the banished monsters,

Cain’s clan, whom the creator had outlawed

And condemned as outcasts. (99-107)

The lines in the epic illustrate that times were calm for the Danes until Grendel dwelled upon Denmark. The purpose for the monsters attack was to earn his revenge for being banished from mankind and outlawed by God among the outcasts. The following lines from the author of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, displays Grendel’s malevolent behavior:

Spurned and joyless, he journeyed on ahead

And arrived at the bawn. The iron-braced door

Turned in its hinge when his hand touched it.

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Then his rage boiled over, he ripped open

The mouth of the building, maddening for blood. (720-724)

The statement reveals how Grendel becomes more vicious as the story progresses. The passage emphasizes Grendel’s monstrous strength as he rips the doors of the building off of its hinges. His fury and drive to kill are also present in the last line of the passage.

The significance of evil that is displayed throughout the epic adds to the literary work by creating both a protagonist and antagonistic view for the reader. The audience can experience the struggle between good vs. evil through the characters of Beowulf and Grendel. The eerie descriptions of Grendel is pointed out by David Sandner, the author of Tracking Grendel: the uncanny in Beowulf, who states: Grendel has a local habitation and a name but is never directly described in Beowulf The reader only knows Grendel through his bloody actions, the horrified response of others and the elliptical statements of the narrator. Grendel’s shapelessness heightens the effect of the fantastic in the text, leading the reader to shape the monster as the reader will.

Throughout the story, the theme of evil is clearly developed. The audience only knows what Grendel’s personality is like based off of his bad past, sinister actions, and horrific descriptions. However, each person who reads the epic has a different view on the monster, which adds to the entire imagination of the audience. Whether it be how Grendel looks, or why he acts the way he does, many could agree that with the bad reputation that he holds, it indicates that he is in fact pure evil. The literary work would be different if evil were not present because there would not be a story. The epic is based on a young hero who defeats evil figures such as Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. The plot would not make sense if there wasn’t the aspect of good vs. evil included into the epic. Therefore, the archetype of evil is essential to create a compelling plot for the literary work.

Literary works such as Beowulf, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire all incorporate the essential archetype of evil and use it in a unique way to satisfy the audience. Throughout the epic poem of Beowulf, Grendel is the antagonist of the story who is labeled as pure evil. Grendel is envious, spiteful, and enraged toward mankind, yet remains alone in the shadows of society. The reader’s familiarity with this archetype aids in his or her enjoyment of the work by creating the image of Grendel by his physical description and wicked actions that are described in the poem. Although Grendel is large, has monstrous strength, and kills many people, he is not brave at all. In fact, Grendel is a coward, which is a characteristic of an evil being. The reason Grendel can be considered to be a coward is that he only made his attacks at night and when he knew that he could catch his prey off guard. Therefore, the idea of a large and strong monster being compared to a coward definitely makes an impact on the audiences overall view of Grendel. The archetype of evil adds to the literary work by creating an interesting plot. If evil was not incorporated to this specific poem, there would not be a story. Beowulf is based off of a young hero who defeats pure evil, so if there was no evil, there would not be a plot that would make sense and the story would have to be changed completely.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is another work that exemplifies the archetype of evil. The novel was written by Robert Louis Stevenson and was first published on January 5, 1886. The story begins with a lawyer from London named Mr. Utterson who listens as his friend Mr. Enfield tells a horrific tale on one of their daily strolls through the city. One Sunday, as the two men are walking, they pass a certain house with a door that reminds Mr. Enfield of an uneasy memory. He goes on to tell Mr. Utterson about how he had witnessed a disturbed man trampling over an innocent girl, whose attacker was later discovered to be a man named Mr. Edward Hyde. Mr. Utterson becomes intrigued with the case and wants to find out more about Mr. Hyde. Mr. Utterson spots Mr. Hyde entering the door that Mr. Enfield was previously talking about. Mr. Utterson knocks on Dr. Jekyll’s door and enters to find that Mr. Hyde has total access to Dr. Jekyll’s home. As time passes, things are quiet until there is an incident where a maid witnesses the horrific homicide of a member of Parliament. The murderer has escaped, but the maid can identify him as Mr. Hyde. After Mr. Hyde’s disappearance, Dr. Jekyll has not been seen outside of his laboratory since the murder. When Mr. Utterson receives this news, he is automatically concerned for Dr. Jekyll and breaks into his laboratory along with Dr. Jekyll’s servant, Mr. Poole. They discover the deformed body of Mr. Hyde, a vial of a poisoned potion, and a note addressed to Mr. Utterson from Dr. Jekyll, next to Mr. Hyde’s dead body. The note that Mr. Utterson receives is from Dr. Laynon, who orders him not to open the letter until after the death of Dr. Jekyll. The letter later reveals the horrible truth of Dr. Jekyll’s double life. When Dr. Jekyll was younger, he began to experiment with chemicals and eventually created a potion that he would drink to transform his body into another being. This darker side that Dr. Jekyll transformed himself into was the hideous Mr. Hyde. After a while, the potion became ineffective and did not have the power to turn Mr. Hyde back into Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Hyde knew that one day his personality would become dominant over the other and does not want to live a monster forever. Eventually, Mr. Hyde goes on to commit suicide in his laboratory to avoid execution.

There are many characteristics associated with the evil archetype that the author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tried to incorporate within his work. Mr. Hyde, the evil side of Dr. Jekyll’s nature, is one of the main characters in the story who portrays characteristics of evil through his hellish actions. As the novel progresses, Mr. Hyde appears predatory and cold-blooded in different parts of the book. These traits are made more obvious towards the end of the novel. Throughout the literary work, the reader realizes how hellish and cruel Mr. Hyde really is. Even Dr. Jekyll admits the evil nature of Mr. Hyde when he states, …“all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil” (45). The text illustrates that mankind is both good and evil and compares all human beings to Mr. Hyde, who is wholly evil. Evil is also portrayed in Robert Louis Stevenson’s work through Mr. Hyde’s physical danger in the following statements made by the character Mr. Enfield:

All at once, I saw two figures: one a little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of maybe eight or ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street. Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner; and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the, child’s body and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see.” (3)

The text reveals the story of a time when Mr. Enfield witnessed Mr. Hyde trampling over a little girl, which exemplifies how dangerous and evil Mr. Hyde can truly be. Dr. Jekyll does not perceive the degree of evil that his other personality is capable of. As described by the author of the article “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ in Novels for Students, characteristics of evil are also exhibited through Mr. Hyde’s personality:

Yet as Hyde unleashes all of Jekyll’s repressed desires, Jekyll cannot help but label him ‘pure evil’ and note that the evil ‘had left on that body an imprint of deformity and decay.’He explains that in the hands of Edward Hyde [his pleasures] began to turn toward the monstrous, and he became shocked by his ‘vicarious depravity.’ Hyde becomes more corrupt as Jekyll tries to contain him.

The statement proves a characteristic of evil by revealing the traits that are exhibited by Mr. Hyde, such as his ‘vicarious depravity’. Dr. Jekyll also labels his other half as “‘pure evil’.”

The significance of evil that Robert Louis Stevenson displayed throughout the novel adds to the literary work by creating a character with dual personalities. The audience can experience the differences between good and evil through the characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde conjoined. Throughout the story, the theme of evil is clearly developed. Robert Louis Stevenson incorporated certain techniques within the novel to present evil, which leaves the audience with their own interpretation of Mr. Hyde. Throughout the book, Stevenson tried to portray a message about evil. Evil is seen as being terrifying and loathsome; however, individuals have many facets to their personalities. Therefore, we should not be defined by certain aspects of our inner nature. The literary work would be different if evil were not present because there would not be a story. The book is based off of a man with dual personalities of good and evil. If the aspect of evil was not incorporated into the book at all, the story would not be as interesting and thought provoking as it is when it has been incorporated. The plot would not make sense if there was not a characteristic of good vs. evil included in the novel. Therefore, the archetype of evil greatly impacts the story.

The story of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is significant because it could be considered a good representation of people in general, as well as the evil archetype itself. The reason the dichotomy between good and evil represents society is that not every person has one facet to their personality. People generally do not have the frequent personality changes to that much of an extent as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde do, but people also hold multiple personas that they exhibit in different situations. The reader’s familiarity with this archetype aids in his or her understanding of the work by giving the reader a sense of relatability. Readers enjoy this novel because of its sense of intrigue. Even as far back as the Bible, readers are presented with scenarios and stories relating to the topic good vs. evil, which continues to intrigue readers today.

The third literary work that incorporates the archetype of evil is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This novel was written by J.K Rowling and was published on July 8, 2000. The novel begins with Harry Potter, the main protagonist of the series, having a vision of Frank Bryce, the elderly caretaker of the Riddle house, being killed by the evil Voldemort. The following morning, the Weasleys take Harry and Hermione to the Quidditch World Cup, which results with a win by Ireland. After the games, Voldemort’s followers, known as the Death Eaters, ambush the scene. The Dark Mark, which is the symbol of Lord Voldemort, gets shot into the skies. This causes chaos among the crowd since this is the first time the symbol has been seen in many years. Luckily, Harry, Ron, and Hermione all escape, but Harry soon discovers that his wand is missing and later finds out that someone has most likely fired the Dark Mark using it. When the three friends return to Hogwarts, Dumbledore announces that the Triwizard Tournament, a contest held between the three largest wizard schools, will take place at Hogwarts. In the month of October, the competitors from the competing schools arrive at Hogwarts and the students over the age of seventeen, who hope to participate, place their names in the Goblet of Fire. On Halloween night, the Goblet chooses three names of the players who will be representing their schools. However, the Goblet of Fire inevitably gives a fourth name, which is Harry Potter. Rubeus Hagrid informs Harry that he has to complete a series of tasks to make it to the end of the tournament. Harry completes all of the difficult tasks that he is given and soon prepares for the final task, which is to go through a hedge maze. Inside the maze, Harry and Harry’s opponent Cedric, both agree to win the tournament together by picking up the cup at the same time. However, when they do this, they find out that the cup is actually a portkey and they are transported into a graveyard to find the resurrected body of Lord Voldemort, who challenges Harry to a duel. During the duel, Voldemort casts a spell, resulting in the ghostly appearances of Harry’s parents. Harry soon gets a hold of the portkey and escapes back to Hogwarts. However, Cedric was killed by one of the Death Eaters with the Killing Curse, ordered by Lord Voldemort and does not make it back to Hogwarts with Harry. When Harry returns, nobody believes that he has confronted the evil Voldemort; however, Dumbledore declares his champion of the Triwizard Tournament and pays his respects to Cedric by giving a speech about his murder.

Many characteristics of evil are woven into the literary work of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K Rowling. Voldemort is one of the main antagonists in the story who portrays characteristics of evil through his hellish actions. Evil is portrayed through Voldemort’s wicked magic in which J.K Rowling describes as follows: “Voldemort raised his wand again and whirled it through the air. A streak of what looked like molten silver hung shining in the wand’s wake. Momentarily shapeless, it writhed and then formed itself into a gleaming replica of a human hand, bright as moonlight, which soared downward and fixed itself upon Wormtail’s bleeding wrist ” (649). The passage describes Voldemort’s punishment for one of the Death Eaters that have been disloyal to him. Voldemort casts a spell to make one of his followers feel pain because he believes that all of the death eaters have not been loyal to him in the recent years. The following lines of J.K Rowling’s novel exemplify Voldemort’s physical danger: “He opened his mouth and let out a scream. He was screaming so loudly that he never heard the words the thing in the chair spoke, as it raised a wand. There was a flash of green light, a rushing sound, and Frank Bryce crumpled. He was dead before he hit the floor.” (15) The statement illustrates one of Voldemort’s evil actions in an early part of the novel. Voldemort kills Frank Bryce, the elderly caretaker of the Riddle house. As described by the author of “Fiennes is ‘Potter’s’ Voldemort’ Hollywood Reporter, the magazine, characteristics of evil are also revealed through Voldemort’s bad reputation: “Voldemort is so bad that the magical characters in author J.K. Rowling’s stories do their best not to speak his name aloud.” The statement proves a characteristic of evil by revealing how Voldemort is such a malevolent antagonist, that his name cannot even be spoken out loud.

The significance of evil that is displayed throughout the novel adds to the literary work by creating a contradicting plot of good vs. evil for the readers. As the audience reads Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is apparent that J.K Rowling refers to Harry as the hero and Voldemort as the villain of the story. Harry’s character represents courtesy and innocence, while Voldemort’s character represents pure evil. J.K Rowling incorporates certain techniques within the novel to present evil, which leaves the audience with their own opinion on Voldemort. Voldemort has been terrorizing Harry ever since he was a young child; therefore, the story would not be interesting if he was not a part of Harry’s life. The literary work would be different if evil were not present because there would not be a interesting plot. The book is based off of wizards who face and battle evil. If the aspect of evil was not incorporated into the novel at all, the story would not be as gripping as if it were incorporated. Consequently, the archetype of evil provides a strong influence to the plot of the novel.

The story of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire offers the reader a sense of significance and symbolism. The ultimate message that the author attempts to send to the audience involves facing evil and making conscious decisions, knowing that it could result in suffering. The dramatic writing that J.K Rowling uses within her novels keeps the audience curious and captivated. The reader is able to empathize with the decisions that the main character has to make, not knowing that the final decision might not turn out with the desired effect, but is ultimately being made for the overall good. Each literary work incorporates the archetype of evil to make each story more intriguing and thrilling for the audience. The essential use of evil in the following works of Beowulf, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire define the main antagonist as well as their internal struggles.

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