Comparison between Bertolt Brechts "Der gute Mensch von Sezuan" and Robert Louis Stevensons "The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
Essay 2005 7 Pages
Apart from the fact that Bertolt Brecht and Robert Louis Stevenson were not the best in school and did not exactly know what they want to do in their later lives, they also had literary common grounds. Both authors wrote works in which disguising the protagonists played an important role. It is therefore worthwhile to compare Stevenson´s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Bertolt Brecht´s Der gute Mensch von Sezuan. Especially the main characters, their disguises and their motives for using them are points of similarities between those two novels.
To start the comparison I would like to compare the basis on which the novels are written. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a book based on Robert Louis Stevenson´s own experiences. The story has been written in 1885. The idea of the story came from Stevenson´s wife Fanny, when she had a nightmare. Fanny told his husband about this “horror-sory” (Anonymous. “About Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” <http://www.online-literature.com/stevenson/jekyllhyde/-36k>. Online. September 16th, 2005) and Stevenson was surprised about this “bogy-tale” (Anonymous. <http://www.online-literature.com/stevenson/jekyllhyde/-36k>.Online. September 16th, 2005) and he was determined to write a narrative story. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the story, but Fanny was not quite contented. Stevenson rewrote the story in three days and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came into being. After the publication in January 1887 The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was recognized as a “grand work” (Maxiner 15). In addition to those differences the reader will immediately find striking differences in the outer appearances of both works.
Bertolt Brecht´s Der gute Mensch von Sezuan is based as well on real experiences. One day, in the year 1926, Brecht went to Dresden with two friends to a reading by a poet. Although Brecht was invited he got bad opera tickets. He was insulted about this situation, so he wrote a poem about three Gods who threaten to flood the city, because of less respect against other people. In his American and Scandinavian exile Brecht developed this idea further and combined it with the concept prostitution. After processing the motives and technologies of the chinese theatre and philosophy, Der gute Mensch von Sezuan came into being in 1953. This shows on the one hand Brecht´s stage play is based predominantly on his own real life experiences and that Brecht needed a long time to develop it. On the other hand Stevenson used nothing but a dream to create his work, and he did so in a very short period of time.
Brecht´s Der gute Mensch von Sezuan totally has 10 chapters, in addition you can find a prologue, five interludes and an epilogue. The prologue tells the reader about the three Gods on the way to Sezuan and what they expect of the people. In the interludes the happenings of the former chapter become summerized and the next chapter becomes introduced. The epilogue deals with the expression of an actor, he apologizes that there is no really an end in Der gute Mensch von Sezuan. The audience or the reader have to find their own end, in The strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde an end is given.
In comparison to Stevensons narrative story, Brechts Der gute Mensch von Sezuan is a stage play. Although the books are written in two different litterary forms, both introductions strike the point of social setting. The book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde begins with the first chapter “Story of the door” where Mr. Utterson is introduced by the narrator: “Mr Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance […] he drank gin when he was alone” (Stevenson 3). In Der gute Mensch von Sezuan the beginning is similar. In the prologue Wang introduces himself, he tells the reader that he is a water salesclerk and that the buisness is very hard: “Ich bin Wasserverkäufer hier in der Hauptstadt von Sezuan. Mein Geschäft ist mühselig. Wenn es wenig Wasser gibt, muß ich weit danach laufen. [...] Aber in unserer Provinz herrscht überhaupt große Armut“ (Brecht 7). In both books the introduction does not start with the protagonists, furthermore the introductions already show the reader at the begining whether the protagonists are poor or rich, in what kind of societies the protagonists live and what kind of characters Mr. Utterson and Wang are. The quotations point out at the beginning of both books that Wang is a worker, he has to work hard if he wants to earn money. In contrast Mr. Utterson is a more educated man and he does not need to work as hard as Wang does. The reader sees that in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the protagonists, as well as the other characters are more prosperous than in Der gute Mensch von Sezuan. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, poor or lower educated people become not mentioned or have only a very subordinated role e.g. as Dr. Jekyll alias Mr. Hyde is blackmailed and should pay 100 pounds, “Well, we screwed him up to a hundred pounds for the child´s family; […]”(Stevenson 8); for the first time he is confronted with poverty, the fact is, the family is poor. A different situation we find in Der gute Mensch von Sezuan, all persons are not the highest educated and richest people. Some women are prostitute, one man is a carpenter and another man is unemployed, to mention three examples. The reader sees that not only Wang is a poor water salesclerk, other people of Sezuan have also less money and must survive.