A Discussion of the Final Chapter of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Essay
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In the final stages of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, there are many ways in which the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, both explores human nature, and also creates a sense of sympathy on the part of the reader for Dr Henry Jekyll, which could be said to extend to Mr Edward Hyde as well.
In reference to the author’s exploration of the nature of humanity, the settings of the story itself are very important. Previous to the writing of this story, there had been a firm tradition of horror stories being set exclusively in rural areas, perhaps due to the fact that only a minority of people lived in these areas, and so to those elsewhere it would have seemed far more remote and exotic.
Stevenson’s thriller was ground-breaking in that it focussed its plot in an urban setting, by name London, but also with extraordinary resemblance to Stevenson’s home city of Edinburgh.
This setting reflects the idea of urban expansion into the countryside, but more importantly the more modern appearance of this particular horror story. Because a large majority of the readers of this book would have been living in the city, it brings the story closer to them, and allows them to become more involved in the events of the plot. Stevenson’s use of the city as the setting for his story also is also representative of early manifestations of writers of this era moving towards using the city as a representation of fear and darkness, rather than its previous role as a deeply romanticized place.
In terms of Stevenson’s investigation of human nature, the proximity of Jekyll’s laboratory and his fine house is very significant. The laboratory represents, in my opinion, the hidden, secretive side of his life, involving his work, as well his life as Mr Edward Hyde. The fact that this laboratory is so close to Jekyll’s expensive and upper-class house, representing his professional and social life as a doctor and a well-respected member of society, signifies the proximity of the two parts of his character, in fact their intricate relationship, intertwined and connected in so many different aspects. This idea is also mentioned by Jekyll himself in the final chapter, in his account of events, emphatically saying;
“It was the curse of mankind that these two incongruous faggots were thus bound together-that in the agonized womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling.”
I have decided to quote this sentence because I believe it is very revealing about the “thorough and primitive duality of man” explored in the text. Jekyll talks of “incongruous faggots” being bound together, meaning that the two elements do not combine, but that they are still as one. The phrase “polar twins,” is almost a contradiction in terms, and shows that the two elements of Dr Jekyll’s psyche are both united in their existence, but also that they are totally opposite. The phrase “duality of man,” used earlier in this chapter, also expresses the idea of two parts to every mind or conscience, an ego and a superego. Mr Edward Hyde is the ego, an utterly self-absorbed being, merely concerned with and conscious of themselves. Dr Jekyll, however, is the superego, the element of the character which socialises the entirety, enabling it to interact with others.
No man is complete without both of these parts, and neither can truly exist without the other. However, Jekyll’s apparent desire to appear arid and utterly professional externally, and his recognition of his chief fault as “a certain impatient gaiety of disposition” seems to have forced him into a desire to separate the two parts of his character, the superego and the ego. This, in his mind, would allow him to live as two men, but his failure to predict the nature of these two individual characters leads to his suffering and isolation. In the final chapter, his retrospective account, he concedes, “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.”
Stevenson himself shares some parallels with the character of Jekyll. Born into a strictly religious, part of the Calvinist movement, Stevenson grew up with the belief, although possibly inescapable, that there was an underlying and constant presence of sin in everything; every action and every person. This is shown in the character of Henry Jekyll, and the underlying evil that is personified by Edward Hyde. In Jekyll’s earlier life, he was forced to conceal his pleasures from his family, becoming rebellious against his father, just as Jekyll himself feels urged to do in the story, and from which the beginnings of his familiarity with a double-life or, as he says “a profound duplicity of life”, can be traced.
The context of the story is also important in terms of the sympathy created by the author for Hyde. The period in which the book is set was one of enormous scientific progress and discovery, and in my opinion, this adds a further element to the reasons for a feeling of sympathy for Henry Jekyll. Jekyll himself cites a burning ambition inside himself as being a key reason for his unquenchable thirst to discover the true nature of humanity, and thus his desire to become Hyde. The intensity of the scientific world of the period, and the temptation which face Jekyll after his first experience of the transformation both appear to contribute towards his inability to stop himself becoming Hyde. Jekyll himself seems to realise the responsibility of these factors towards the end of the book, in his account of events. One particular example of this is;
“Strange as my circumstances were, the terms of this debate are as old and commonplace as man: much the same inducements and alarms cast the die for any tempted and trembling sinner; and it fell out with me, as it falls with so vast a majority of my fellows, that I chose the better part and was found wanting the strength to keep it”
This clearly shows Jekyll’s impotence to stop himself from leaning towards the temptation of his new life, and also that this was not a vice exclusive to him as an individual, but that it was something unavoidably and unquestionably natural for mankind. This creates a sense of sympathy on behalf of the reader, because it emphasises Jekyll’s lack of power and control over his actions, as well as explaining to the reader that the evil which is brought out of Henry Jekyll is not something that he is to blame for, instead that he is a victim of his own ambition and daring, as well as the ambition and aspirations of the society in which he lived. Another remark which shows this idea is, “It was thus the exacting nature of my aspirations, than any particular degradation in my faults, that made me what I was”, expressing the feeling of blamelessness in Jekyll, and thus the sympathy in the reader for him.
Another way in which the reader is led to sympathise with Jekyll is the way in which Jekyll is tempted to become Hyde by his feelings of restriction and his desire to find pleasure, whilst keeping his life as Dr Henry Jekyll separate from this. In his account, Jekyll explains that, in becoming Hyde, he is free “from the bonds of obligation” and is able to, “like a schoolboy, strip off these lendings and spring headlong into the sea of liberty.” These quotations clearly show the immense need for freedom that Dr Jekyll faces, and the extent to which he is prepared to act in order to obtain this freedom. There seems, to me, to be a certain resemblance to the idea of sin and temptation in this element of the story. Jekyll clearly feels restricted by, and in, the world in which he lives, and the fact that he is aware of a way out of this world causes his inability to resist the temptation of taking the path to freedom. When he has experienced the freedom for the first time, he is unable to stop himself from using the potion in order to free himself from the burdens of society.
The sympathy induced by Stevenson is not, however, limited to the character of Dr Jekyll. To a certain extent, Mr Hyde is worthy of some pity himself. The main way in which this applies is in relation to Hyde’s death and disappearance. Hyde commits suicide because he is afraid of being caught, and subsequently punished for his violent actions. If we are to believe that Hyde is evil incarnate, and that he possesses no element of good in his character, then the fact that he is unable to forgive himself his wrongdoings, and that he makes excuses for his actions, would seem to suggest that he cannot be seen as utterly ruthless, and thus in a sense he is weak.
This inability to ignore his conscience, means, in my opinion, that he is not in fact entirely evil, and that the relationship between good and evil, and between Dr Henry Jekyll and Mr Edward Hyde, is not as defined as one might think, that there are “shades of grey” to be considered. I believe that this creates sympathy for Hyde, making him appear wretched and pitiful.
Indeed, Dr Jekyll himself creates and expresses a certain degree of pity for Hyde, admitting that he cannot wholly condemn his actions, because he himself envies the way in which Hyde embraces his freedom. He says, “But his love of life is wonderful…I find it in my heart to pity him” The fact that even Jekyll feels pity for his wretched inner self merely serves to encourage similar feelings in the reader.
In conclusion, I believe that Dr Henry Jekyll bravely sacrifices his own life in order to prevent the evil Edward Hyde from being free. In this sense, I feel that he shows another side of human nature which is almost entirely exclusive to Jekyll’s superego, the conscience. Jekyll shows an ability to consider the situation of others above himself, and importantly, an ability to recognise between good and evil.