Dr. Henry Jekyll was born in to a society of morality, respectability and religion. It was believed that ‘progress’ could only be made if everyone was self-disciplined and moralistic. Authors such as Samuel Smiles wrote “Self-Help” guides. All this was aimed to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In an age of stern, industrious hypocrites, respect was everything to the upper and middle classes. People denied themselves alcohol, gambling and prostitution to gain the respect of others. Jekyll refers to these denied as “pleasures”. People lived without these “pleasures” but soon began to wonder what they were missing. This brought about the “slum adventurers”. These were middle and upper class men who wanted to keep the respect of their society but, through anonymity, still indulge in the “pleasures” the poor slums had to offer. They would work by day in their offices and at night would journey down to the alleys of the slums.
A person such as Mr Utterson, a London lawyer who does not wish to indulge in pleasures is of a vicarious nature. It is noticed that “…though he enjoyed the theatre, [he] had not crossed the doors of one in twenty years”. It is this vicariousness that helps him solve the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Utterson is the opposite of Jekyll in the way that Utterson keeps the respectability of the Victorian society, whereas Jekyll ‘rebels’.
The rebellious nature of Jekyll leads him to discover how to transform his appearance. Dr. Lanyon, a respectable conventional doctor of Victorian society frowns on Jekyll mostly secret work, which he refers to as “unscientific balderdash”.
In the beginning it is difficult for us to feel sympathy for Dr. Jekyll: he is acting by his own conscience. At this current stage, he is in no way addicted to Mr. Hyde. Even the sight of Mr. Hyde “… pale and dwarfish… who gave the impression of deformity but with no nameable malformation”, according to Mr. Utterson, who “…had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight”, should have forced Jekyll to recognise that Hyde was evil.
It is very difficult to feel sympathy for Jekyll after we are told about when Hyde “…trampled calmly over…” a young girl’s body. Normally after this event anyone else would have ceased his transformation into Hyde. But Jekyll starts to become addicted to taking the drugs (as with modern addictions) and continues to turn into Hyde even after trampling the girl. As if trampling the girl was not a big enough deterrent Hyde brutally murders Sir Danvers Carew. Jekyll, knowing what had happened, easily accepts it and shifts the blame to Hyde. He shows this in Dr Jekyll’s full statement of the case, “it was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone that is guilty”.
The ease at which he accepts this and shifts the blame could almost be inhuman. But after he discovers that he begins to change into Hyde spontaneously, without the drug we see he is very self centred and selfish, “I must have stared upon it half a minute…I rushed to the mirror… my blood was something exquisitely thin and icy”. Even though Jekyll is selfish about this, not mentioning what a terrible thing that he made now controls. We can feel some sympathy for knowing that he is trapped and at anytime Hyde might emerge over which Jekyll has no control. Alternatively we can have sympathy for a man that failed to have foreseen what would happen and stopped the process as soon as possible. But he continued to satisfy his need for the “pleasures” which otherwise eluded him.
It is also very difficult to feel sorry for someone who knows and remembers what happens, but does not take action to prevent it. “My two natures had memory in common”. Surely the memories of the girl and Carew should be painful enough to force any sane and humane person to put a stop to Hyde’s actions. Hyde goes into hiding after Carew’s murder in fear of being hung, should he be caught. This removes a lot of the sympathy we may otherwise feel towards Jekyll at this point, as yet again he shows signs of being selfish and putting himself before everyone else. Some of this sympathy is regained when he is in hiding, he begins to show genuine remorse for Carew’s death.
In the statement of the case, Jekyll finally admits to Hyde’s evil by saying “…It was no longer the fear of the gallows, it was the horror of being Hyde that racked me.” This shows that Jekyll has become altruistic. Jekyll has now begun to put himself after everyone. He now excepts the he must not let Hyde free again for fear of him committing more evil. It is now we finally begin to feel sympathy and start to respect Jekyll for trying to put a stop to Hyde. Finally Jekyll commits suicide to save the world from the terror and evil Hyde could unleash. This gains him the greatest respect and sympathy. He took his life to save others from the extreme evil he had inadvertently created. He finally takes ultimate responsibility and puts a stop to Hyde.
In conclusion I think that Jekyll was a victim of Victorian society where respect was everything. In some parts it is hard to offer our sympathy but his final act was one that one must respect and offer sympathy for the pain Jekyll went through. As we have seen restricting things from people can only bring out the bad side of them, as Jekyll explains, “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring”. Personal freedom is one of our greatest assets and one we take very much for granted.