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First published in 1886, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was an immediate success and one of author Robert Louis Stevenson’s bestselling novels. It is a classic example of Gothic fiction and even though it may be seen as just a horror story, with accounts of violent murders and a disturbing, scientific experiment gone wrong, the book also explains the suppression of the Victorian society. Furthermore, Stevenson brought out further ideas of human psychology during the Victorian times, as the story explores the theme of duality in human nature; the idea that every person has two sides to themselves – a nicer, kind side which can also be seen as ‘artificial’ as it is displayed in social situations, whereas the sinister, darker side of man is unsuspected and hidden.
This will be my main focus in the essay, analysing how Stevenson uses this theme of dual nature in his novel.
‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ has another unusual twist because, after all the horrendous acts that have been committed and the unpredictable behaviour of the characters, it is only in the last chapter that the plot and the true dual nature of Henry Jekyll are revealed to the reader, through a letter that Jekyll leaves.
It is in this letter that he describes in detail his theory of good and evil in one body, his scientific interests and what made him want to create such a potion that could separate his personality. Jekyll starts with an explanation of his family background and tells us how he was born to a “large fortune, endowed besides with excellent parts” showing that he had the best start in life and, even from an early age, it was clear that he had every chance of being successful in the future.
This leads to the expectations of him, coming from a wealthy family with a high status in the Victorian times – Jekyll had to do what was expected of him and become a doctor or a lawyer, which he did achieve. He has all the money, respect and status and from the outside, Jekyll seems to have the perfect Victorian gentleman’s lifestyle. He lives up to this perfect life, putting on a show of having an honest nature, and maintaining good manners and respectable behaviour in public – “…he was now no less distinguished for religion. He was busy, he was much in the open air, he did good.” However Jekyll lives a double life, there’s more to him than the side that he displays in public.
As much as he wants to be a good person and keep up his appearance, Jekyll finds it difficult to cover up his sinful side, where he feels the needs to commit bad deeds such as visiting prostitutes and going out drinking. It doesn’t clearly state what exactly it is that Jekyll wants, so it is left to the reader’s imagination. Even though it might not seem as bad to us in today’s society to drink and have sexual urges, it came across as ‘taboo’ in the Victorian times so we assume that it was in the immoral side of Jekyll’s nature to go round getting drunk and having sex. Furthermore if you had a higher status, it would be required of you to suppress these feelings so you wouldn’t be shunned upon for acting on your desires.
Unfortunately it becomes more and more challenging each day for Jekyll to go on living with the two different sides within him, he “conceals his pleasures” for the reason that the position he has earned in society and his reputation, depend on it. Jekyll learns that “man is not truly one, but truly two”. Based on this theory, Jekyll researches and develops a potion that could allow him to try and split the two parts of him, so he can have two separate identities; one with a good nature and the other where he can give in to his darker desires without facing the consequences.
After finally finding the right chemicals and substances, Jekyll puts together the potion and takes a sip, aware that he could be risking his life. As soon as he has taken the potion he begins to experience agonizing pains, the symptoms of which include “a grinding in the bones and deadly nausea”. However, all these pains disappear after a while and Jekyll starts to feel new, strange feelings he hasn’t felt before which he finds “incredibly sweet”. He sees “disordered sensual images” in his head and he instantly feels younger, stronger and happier. It seems as if, in a way, Jekyll has created a body to go with and represent his hidden personality and with just a gulp of the potion he has the power to transform himself into this other person, Mr Edward Hyde, whenever he wants. He realises that he now has an “unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul” and so he knows straight away that he can let out all the feelings he has kept repressed for so long, that he can carry out the acts he has always desired, and commit sins without feeling that he guilt that he would have, as Jekyll.
At first it seems as if the discovery of this potion was to Jekyll’s advantage; now he has another identity which allows him to do everything he has dreamed of doing, without paying the consequences. However Jekyll kept his darker side restrained for such a long period of time, and now that he can release himself through another body, the feelings that were repressed are now so strong that they become violent and lead to him causing harm to the society. Edward Hyde only appears briefly throughout the novel, and is first introduced through one of the other characters, Mr Enfield, telling the story of how he witnessed Hyde carelessly trampling all over a young for no apparent reason, late at night; this is what makes Hyde automatically come across as evil from the beginning of the story, to the readers.
Robert Louis Stevenson also leaves what it is that Hyde gets up to, to the readers imagination too, but Hyde’s major appearance in the novel is when he brutally kills an old man known as Sir Danvers Carew (the local MP) using a stick and like the trampling of the young girl incident, without a motive. As Sir Danvers Carew is described as “an aged and beautiful gentleman” who is said to have “bowed and accosted Hyde with a very pretty manner of politeness”, it is oblivious to us what exactly it was that provoked Hyde to engage in such a horrifying murder. The fact that Hyde breaks out in a “great flame of anger” and trampled on Sir Danvers until his bones were “audibly shattered” and also that the heavy wooden cane he used to beat Sir Danvers with was broken in half, indicates the intensity of Hyde’s anger and how malicious the murder really was.
The murder case brings out the cruelty in Hyde, and furthermore, represents the savagery within him and how animal like his nature is – how could a person kill another man so viciously, without even feeling the slightest bit of remorse? Hyde’s fury is described as “apelike” and the fact that his behaviour is linked to him being a beast or a savage animal all comes down once again, to the repression of Jekyll’s feelings – the monster in him comes out roaring.
Once Jekyll transforms back into himself he realises just how awful the murder he committed as Hyde is and this leaves him feeling shocked and also worried about the amount of trouble he will be in, so therefore vows to never take the potion again. On the other hand, Hyde makes it impossible for Jekyll to stick to this vow. This is for the reason that Hyde loathes Jekyll; he wants to be this free, untamed personality all the time and so the power that he has over Jekyll grows more and more until Jekyll finds himself unwillingly transforming into Hyde at random times, without even needing to drink the potion. Jekyll becomes helpless and acknowledges that the only way he will ever be able to get rid of Hyde is by ending his own life.
Throughout the novel, R.L. Stevenson uses language which portrays both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as two very different characters, both of their contrasting descriptions suggest that they are nothing alike and that they have nothing in common – they are both opposites. If it wasn’t for Jekyll’s will which shows us both characters are well acquainted, we would think that they have nothing to do with each other. As soon as Hyde is just vaguely mentioned in the novel, the other characters and the narrative descriptions use negative language directly towards him. They act as if they’ve been horrifically shocked by his facial features which makes the reader picture him as a repulsive looking creature, especially as he is said to be “pale and dwarfish” and that he “gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation”.
The text even indicates that there is something so wrong with Hyde’s physical appearance that he can scare away the other characters in the book by simply looking at them – “but gave me one look, so ugly that it brought out the sweat on me like running.” Also Hyde is often related to having animal-like characteristics and behaviour, linking to Darwin’s theory of evolution which was newly introduced in the Victorian times around the same period the story was set. The idea that humans had evolved from animals extremely shocked the Victorians. On one hand it was difficult for them to get their heads around the fact that humans descended from apes and that the human mind could be composed of animal element, since they strongly believed that God was the creator of the world and all the species, contradicting Darwin’s theory which challenged creation stories and religious beliefs.
On the other hand it was highly disturbing for the Victorians to acknowledge that they too had descended from apes, when they thought that every individual had been uniquely made by God. It must have been especially frightening, for a Victorian to read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and discover the beastlike aspects of Hyde which suggest that he is stuck in the phase of evolving from an ape into a human. This also reflects back to Jekyll creating the potion – by attempting to split his personality, he was tampering with God’s creation and going beyond the limits as a human. Jekyll goes too far with his experiments, resulting in disasters. The two different areas in London that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are associated with also differentiate from each other and reflect their contrasting personalities. Jekyll lives in Cavendish Square, a very wealthy area in the west end of London, symbolising the high status of the career that Jekyll has – he’s a doctor who is wealthy and respectable.
Alternatively Hyde comes from Soho; one of the poorest areas in London with a bad reputation, at the time the story was set. It is described as a “dismal quarter” with “muddy ways” and “slatternly passengers” and was home to the disreputable and indecent places in the Victorian times, such as brothels and music halls – there was a “dingy street, a gin palace, a low French eating house, a shop for the retail of penny numbers” which indicates the low wealth of Soho. The “dingy streets” and cheapness of Soho makes the reader imagine dirty and grubby roads in comparison to those of Cavendish Square which are “as clean as a ball-room floor”.
The quote “many ragged children huddled in the doorways” describes the poverty-stricken and deprived state of this area. Naturally this poorer area would have a higher crime rate than other areas in London, which is why it was where one might go to make dodgy deals, or where a person would be most likely to bump into criminals and beggars. Soho particularly reflects Hyde’s personality and the reader can see exactly why he would fit in so well in such a place, as he can be defined as a criminal in many occasions of the story.
The theme of duality throughout the story is also reflected in other characters of the story and the setting too, as well as just Jekyll and Hyde. There are many cases where some of the characters are shown to be hypocrites and even lead double lives. For example, the policeman investigating the Carew murder case “lit up with professional ambition” when he comes to realise that it is the local MP whose death he is in looking into, and the advantages of this case for his career regardless of how brutally Sir Danvers Carew was killed. This hypocritical behaviour of the policeman clearly shows the reader his selfishness and that he cares more about what good it would do him to deal with something that would “make a deal of noise” than exposing a murderer. He knows that it would lead to his personal recognition within the community, as Sir Danvers was a gentleman who was highly looked up to so he seizes the chance.
In addition to this Sir Danvers was said to be walking the street alone, late at night around the time of his murder so despite the fact that he appears to be so polite and innocent, is there no chance that he could have had another unsuspected side to him, too? Another example of a hypocrite would be the old woman at Hyde’s house, who is even said to have an “evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy”. On the hearing of Hyde being in trouble with the police, “a flash of odious joy appeared upon the woman’s face” meaning that it is to her satisfaction to hear about her master’s sins and involvement in crime when it’s her job to still be loyal and trustworthy towards him, regardless of any crime he has committed. Although there’s nothing more than a couple of sentences to these two little revelations in the novel, they reveal to the reader the true and double natures of people who we would expect better from.
Even Jekyll’s house symbolises duality – firstly there are two entrances, a front door used by Jekyll and the back door used by Hyde, supporting that there are two sides to everything, and also that it seems less obvious to the reader that they are both the same person. The front section of the house consists of Jekyll’s general living space, and he commonly uses this area to throw dinner parties and gatherings. The hall is “warmed by a bright, open fire and furnished with costly cabinets of oak” which gives the impression of being very welcoming and comforting. Jekyll’s elegant home echoes a “great air of wealth and comfort” representing the character he acts as in public.
The rear door which Hyde enters and leaves from is “blistered and distained” and leads to Jekyll’s laboratory and private room where Hyde is usually seen. The back rooms of the house don’t share the elegant interior and hospitable atmosphere of the front rooms making them seem as if they are not connected to each other. The laboratory is a “sinister block of building” with no windows which makes it significantly dark and depressing as there is no natural light coming in to the room. The negative language used links Hyde to the back section of the building and reflects his personality. We have already acknowledged that the theme of duality is related to the suppression of the Victorian society, as we know Jekyll’s double nature exists due to hiding his feelings. It was common for Victorians, gentlemen in particular, to suppress their feelings as status depended on reputation, making it difficult for them to give into pleasures that they desire.
An example of this is shown in Mr Utterson the lawyer, who solves the truth behind the story of Jekyll & Hyde. As his profession has a high status, he obviously has to live up to the good reputation he has – the quote “and though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years” shows that he refrains from doing the things he would like to, simply concealing his emotions. Likewise, Mr Enfield subtly implies that he is also hiding something when he quotes “I was coming home from some place at the end of the world, about three o’clock of a black winter morning” – as he doesn’t give any details about where he was and he was out so late, perhaps he was committing some type of sin, and giving into his suppression.
The structure of the book continues to reflect the predominant theme of duality as it has a non linear narrative with a number of characters narrating the different chapters of the story. This suggests that there are more than two ways of looking at something, as the reader gets to see the same event through the eyes of different people and learn about their varying viewpoints, which backs up the author’s theory that “man is not truly one, but truly two”. Although it is effective for us to be told the story from multiple perspectives, since it creates more of a mysterious tone throughout the novel and sets the suspense, it is quite biased as the accounts we are told from the different characters are based on their individual emotions and opinions regarding the events.
I believe that Stevenson succeeds in getting his belief of dual nature in humans, across to the readers throughout the novel as the overall message of the book is that the human personality can be split into several parts. There is no one person who is all pure, or all evil, each and every one of us has different personalities and people living within ourselves. At one point in life, all humans will have put on a façade, pretending to be a different person in public whilst their true emotions remain hidden inside. Stevenson explores this concept in depth, and the conclusion is that there will never be just one way of looking at something; there is never just one side to a story.
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