How does Robert Louis Stevenson explore the duality of human nature in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? Essay
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Robert Louis Stevenson incorporated the ideology of the duality of human nature into his Victorian thriller novella: ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. This does not emerge fully until the last chapter. The text not only de-familiarizes the duality of human nature as its central theme but forces us to wonder the properties of this duality and to consider each of the novella’s chapters as we weigh up the various theories. Jekyll asserts that “man is not truly one, but truly two,” implying that everyone has two parts to their personality, ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ instead of just yourself and he imagines the human soul as the battleground for an “angel” and a “fiend,” both opposing forces each struggling for mastery.
The novella tackles many different theories that circulated at the time.
When the novella was published, there was uproar that it suggested we have two parts to our personalities. This theory went against many influential Victorian religious beliefs. Robert Louis Stevenson’s believed that people had a dual personality and this is echoed in the novella. The inspiration for the novella could have come from many different people and events, most notably: a dream that Stevenson had repeatedly as a child relevant event about Deacon Brody who was a cabinet maker by day and murderer by night. Also during his time in the Samoan Island a man named Dr Hyde greatly insulted his friends, from that could have and most probably did give birth to the Jekyll and Hyde characters.
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author, was born in 1850 in Edinburgh, and you can see the divisions between scientific and religious views reflected in the story from his childhood. His mother, being very religious, had him baptised whereas his father did not approve of his writing and thought he should have a more scientific past-time. This is reflected into the novella, with the more experimental Dr Jekyll, which eventually leads to his apparent death. In contrast, you have Dr Hastie Lanyon, a more stringent and ‘old-style’ scientist who at one point dismisses Jekyll’s experiments as, “scientific balderdash”, this clearly shows the straight to the point view that would have been shared with Victorian society towards experimental science. It had huge implications: namely that God was not the higher authority and Science had influence with the creation of everything which at the time many people were scared of god’s wrath and the consequences if they were found playing with science whereas today we are more scared of what we create than the consequences of religion.
This proposal was re-enforced when Darwin published his book: “Theory of Evolution”, to the general public in which a large amount of people saw it as an ‘attack on religion’, simply by stating that God did not create the world in seven days and that all animals, including human beings, were all descended from something more primitive that its current form: this would have caused fear as people were scared that we could evolve to a point we’d turn into characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein or even characters such as the ‘ape-like’ Hyde. Many also believed that science had come out of its comfort zone and was meddling in things that only God had control over. This is what Stevenson does in the novella using the Jekyll and Hyde characters.
This would have given the story, when it was published, the edge as many people saw the supernatural and science as quite an intimidating matter and it was widely feared, and suggesting that people had two sides. Subsequently, during the time of the publication in 1888, in London there were numerous murders of prostitutes by the notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Several people had thought that the story of Jekyll and Hyde had inspired Jack the Ripper to commit the killings. Nevertheless, while this was never proven it had been implanted in the minds of many Victorians, to think about Jekyll and Hyde and the duality of human nature. There was, discussion about Jack the Ripper being highly educated, that of a doctor like Jekyll, or professor or even royalty.
Victorian society at the time of the novella’s publication had a very large class divide, with the upper class honourable gentry and the poor, poverty ridden lower classes. Robert Louis Stevenson juxtaposes these extremes in his novella, emphasising the vast difference between the classes using the honourable Dr Jekyll and his repressed darker side that is Mr Hyde, which ensures the reader sees the contrast between Jekyll’s rich, good and kindness against Hyde’s evil, seemingly poor and deplorable behaviour. The novella is set in the vice-ridden city of London aptly described within the novella as being, “dingy”, “distained” and “blistered”, these adjectives paint a picture of an area in dis-repute and set a tone which is echoed through the character Hyde throughout the novella: which was a very different place to the prosperous modern, Edinburgh, where Robert Louis Stevenson was brought up. There was a very real sense of a north, south divide.
The south was riddled with crime, a true ‘dark ages’ setting portrayed through Mr Hyde’s abode in London’s infamous Soho, whereas the upper class, ‘good’ side of Dr. Jekyll lives in an influential square described as having “florid charms”, and “thoroughfare with an air of invitation”, these adjectives not only imply that the street in itself are ‘good’ but also personify the street by implying it invites customers to shop there with its decor or ‘charms’. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde delve into the Victorian’s fascinated fear of the supernatural, highlighting the vast differences between religion, science and philosophy at the time.
Most notably is this shown by the disagreements between Dr Jekyll and Dr Lanyon, at one Lanyon protests Jekyll’s experimenting would have “estranged Damon and Pythias”, who were mythological Greek followers of Pythagoras. This shows Dr Lanyon, like so many at the time, as scared and completely against mixing science and religion, whereas Dr Jekyll shows himself to be more experimental, like philosophers at the time such as Darwin and Sir John Herschel who believed in evolutionism: the idea that everything has descended from something, most notably humans from apes. At the time Great Britain was a world leader, a pioneer for all things scientific however still very religious and like any great nation it had secret vice’s and habit’s that were hidden away to the rest of the world, like how Hyde is hidden away in Jekyll.
Jekyll displays a dual natured personality even before he starts to meddle with Hyde, but his potion he creates, which he hoped would separate and purify each element, succeeds only in bringing the dark side into being-Hyde emerges, but he has no angelic counterpart. If man is half angel and half fiend, then it makes you wonder what happens to the “angel” at the end of the novella. Jekyll succeeds in liberating his darker side, freeing it from the bonds of conscience, yet as Jekyll he never liberates himself from this darkness. Jekyll cannot participate in ‘unrepeatable pleasures’ due to his high standing in society, therefore, concocts a potion which allows him to mentally and physically split his ‘good’ and ‘evil’ personalities on command allowing Jekyll, to remain a reputable socialite, however, also enjoying the Soho ‘pleasures’ such as visiting popular brothels which were abundant during the Victorian period however it would’ve been social suicide to visit as Jekyll due to his upper class and well educated veneer.
However, this soon spirals out of control and the cost of Jekyll’s curiosity turned out to be a deadly reversal of dominance. When Jekyll become’s Hyde, he says he feels “younger, lighter and happier in body”, which implies that despite Jekyll tapped into this more ‘evil’ side of his human nature, he is enjoying the new found freedom, this allows him to do what he wants. However, especially when Hyde has been ignored and made a recluse within the shadow of Jekyll, we can see this physically emphasized when Hyde’s described as being ‘small’ and ‘stumpy’, lashes out, and murders Sir Danvers Carew. Jekyll believes that his potion gives him complete control over the transformations between his ‘good’ and ‘evil’ side.
Throughout the novella Hyde is described as being disgusting and the minute you meet him, people unconsciously take an instant dislike to him. When Mr Enfield ‘collared’ Hyde, Enfield apparently, “turned sick and white with the desire to kill him”; showing how hypocritical Victorian’s were as they were rejecting and repressing their own evil side. This is the side of Jekyll which he himself wants to be rid of. However, he ends up being a ‘slave’ and ‘underdog’ to his ‘evil’ side, which is Hyde. Additionally, we are led to believe that Jekyll kill’s himself to be rid of Hyde forever.
Jekyll’s potion is made solely to rid Jekyll of his ‘evil’ side. However, it is increasingly noticeable that the more times that Jekyll uses the potion, his hold over Hyde weakens to a point where “I fell asleep Jekyll, but awoke Hyde”, This shows that Jekyll has lost all control, and it gives a view to what is to come. The loss of control over Hyde implies that Jekyll has never been pure, and has always had his ‘evil’ side, Hyde within him which is echoed by two well-known philosophers. The social contract theorists, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, came from fundamentally different viewpoints. Hobbes believed that “all man is born evil”, whereas Locke said “man are born flawed but good deep down”, which is portrayed throughout the novella.
This is shown clearly when the physical traits of Hyde are described as, “short and stumpy”, however as Hyde gains control over Jekyll, Hyde becomes as tall and as well built as Jekyll, implying that the powers of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are now not as thrown in one direction. Another more recent psychologist named Sigmund Freud believed that we were made up of three parts: the id, ego and the super-ego. The id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the ego is the organised, realistic part; and the super-ego plays the critical and moralising role. He also believed that it is the rules of society and laws that stop everyone from going around killing each other. It seems that Hyde consists of only the id; this emphasizes the ideology that Hyde simply represents the primitive and ‘animal-like’ qualities of Jekyll and that Jekyll remains the critical organised part of his makeup.
The bulk of the crime was committed by and amongst the lower classes, leaving the upper classes seemingly innocent, however we know from Jekyll’s feelings that he desperately wanted to be able to enjoy the pleasures of the lower classes much like Stevenson himself, and this is what leads him to create the potion, and turn into Hyde. There is also an air of cynicism about Jekyll as he wanted to, in effect, ‘use’ Hyde for his dirty deeds, “…Edward Hyde would pass away like the stain of a breathe upon a mirror”, clearly showing that Jekyll has planned for this and has the full intentions of using Hyde not as was originally thought or desired for medical and theological experiments but for more sinister. As a result of Hyde’s ‘imprisonment’ in Jekyll, at every possible chance Hyde seizes control over Jekyll in order to release some of the anger that has been kept in for years.
At one point, “the powers of Hyde seemed to have grown in the sickliness of Jekyll”, which shows that the consistent changing between Jekyll and Hyde made Jekyll, succumb to illness. This made Jekyll weak, allowing Hyde a clearer passage when he ‘took over Jekyll’ this uses dramatic or even tragic irony to convey it’s message. This leads us to believe that people reach the point where you either chose your ‘good’ or ‘bad’ side. Throughout the novella there are many crimes that Hyde commits, most notably the murder of Sir Danvers Carew and the ‘assault’, of the young girl walking on the side path in the evening, which when coupled with the idea that they were committed by Jekyll’s ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ side, they simply bolster Hobbes’ theory that all men are born ‘evil’.
However, it also ironically agrees with Locke’s theory that all men are born good but with flaws, as for Jekyll to allow Hyde control, he must drink a potion to separate the good and the bad which shows that Jekyll clearly isn’t ‘bad’ but has “flaws”, as Locke says. Both crimes involve violence directed against innocents in particular. The fact that Hyde ruthlessly murders these harmless beings, who have seemingly done nothing to provoke him and even less to deserve death, emphasizes the extreme immorality of Jekyll’s dark side unleashed. Hyde’s brand of evil constitutes not just a lapse from good but an outright attack on it.
Throughout the novella the language used to describe the main characters, especially Jekyll and Hyde are consistent with what they’re meant to symbolise. For example, Hyde, is referred as being, “ape-like”, a simile and “hideous”, an adjective both echo the idea that Hyde is Jekyll’s ‘animal like’, and ‘primitive’ side, by comparing Hyde to an ape this also emphasizes the Victorian idea of duality of human nature where the ‘evil’ part has the more disgusting and unattractive traits, whereas the ‘good’ part of you has the more respectable and ‘like-able’ features. According to the remarks made by observers, Hyde appears ‘repulsively ugly’ and ‘deformed’, ‘small’, ‘shrunken’, and ‘hairy’: these adjectives symbolize his moral hideousness and warped ethics. The connection between such ugliness and Hyde’s wickedness might have been seen as more than symbolic. Many people believed in the science of physiognomy, which was, that someone could identify a criminal by physical appearance.
His hairiness may indicate that he is not so much an evil side of Jekyll as the embodiment of Jekyll’s instincts, the animalistic core beneath Jekyll’s polished exterior, another point is where Stevenson gives the door Hyde enters, human qualities such as calling it, “sinister”, which is an example of personification. The door is also mentioned later on in the novella where it’s referred to, “two door’s from one corner”, seemingly an oxymoron where the door can be interpreted as two physical entrances to the Jekyll residence which Hyde uses, but also the mental entrance to Jekyll’s ‘good’ side and Hyde’s ‘bad’ side placed next to each other to symbolize the two halves of Jekyll’s human nature.
The simple name “Hyde” which consists of a single syllable is a good way to name the character, and they’re many ways where this is evident, one of those is: “Jekyll”, consists of two syllables so “Hyde”, implying that Hyde, is hidden or ‘hides’ within Jekyll however it could also symbolize half of what Jekyll is, Jekyll’s ‘bad’ side. You can also link the idea of Hyde being half of Jekyll by the first sighting of Hyde in the novella, where he’s described as being small, even half of Jekyll’s size, symbolizing the ‘evil’ side which has been out-weighed by the ‘goodness’ of Jekyll. Stevenson meant for Jekyll’s name to be pronounced as if it were French-Je KILL. “Je” in French means “I”: I kill subtly emphasizing Jekyll’s ‘evil’ side. Unlike how Hyde is described within the novella, Jekyll is given more providence and a much more of a pleasant character consistently described as being an ‘honourable’ man and ‘good doctor’ by his friends. During the Victorian times if you were a doctor, like Jekyll then you would need to conduct yourself in an honourable way and be a ‘role model’ to the lower classes and fellow peers.
From the beginning of the novella Jekyll is mentioned as having a “signature very well known and often printed”, indicating that Jekyll had a large community presence. During Victorian times, doctors were highly respected and considered to be among the most intelligent people of their time, with a great deal of responsibility, you could also link this to why Jekyll wanted to move medicine forward by means of a personality splitting potion. At certain points in the novella, pathetic fallacy is used- most notably when Sir Danvers Carew is murdered, where the sky is peaceful at the time, this reflects the maid at the window’s pure serenity and relaxed mood, however this changes rapidly when Poole fetches Utterson, and the weather changes to heavy rain, this implies that the weather is used to reflect the moods of the different characters.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde both represent two very different ends of the social spectrum and Dr Jekyll are definitely the accepted end of it and throughout the novella the social classes that were prominent in Victorian times and at the time of the novella’s publication are echoed through ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Jekyll who’s always seen to be a respectable man, and always dressed in clothes which fit unlike Hyde’s, representing Hyde’s physical features as much smaller than Jekyll’s. Whereas the Hyde character consistently inhabits clothes that are too small for him, emphasizing the idea that Hyde represented Jekyll’s ‘poor’ side that relies on Jekyll’s clothing.
Clothing to the lower classes would’ve been expensive and therefore would have been handed down after it had stopped fitting, and rarely would’ve been thrown away due to its value, an idiom which best describes the situation between Jekyll and Hyde’s, rich and poor balance would be: ‘the man’s treasure is another man’s rubbish’, clearly highlighting the necessity for the lower classes to grasp at any whole material they could whereas the higher, more richer classes would have the ‘luxury’, of throwing things away quite like when Jekyll simply gives up his clothes for Hyde.
There are numerous other characters in the novella which all have their small roles to play and all add to the mystery of the Jekyll and Hyde connection. However, unlike Jekyll and Hyde they’re not split into two distinct characters to show it. One of those characters would be, Poole who is Jekyll’s loyal butler, who at one point fears for Jekyll’s life so much he runs to Utterson’s for help. This could show ‘good’ human nature as he is willing to go, against his order’s to leave him in his cabinet despite what he hears or sees, to essentially save Jekyll’s life. However this could be miss-construed as he fears that if Jekyll dies then his pay, and stable residence with Jekyll will cease. Another character who displays hints of a more twisted human nature is the police sergeant who investigates the murder of Sir Danvers Carew. We are told that when he hears of the murder, “his eye lighted up with professional ambition”, the irony that the sergeant has more feelings for his own future and that he could get a promotion whereas he doesn’t care as much that a Member of Parliament was brutally “bludgeoned”, to death by Hyde. In the sergeant and Poole’s cases, you can see two very different sides to human nature, similar to the Hyde and Jekyll’s differences.
Another character which shows a more sinister side but still relative to today’s human nature is Hyde’s housekeeper who when hearing of the news that he killed someone presses the police for information, most likely for gossip. Hyde’s housekeeper answered the door to the police and: “She had an evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy”, which implies that she was more than happy to implicate her employer suggesting that even during Victorian times people were as we are today ‘gossip motivated’. Yet another character in the novella is Mr Utterson, who in his own narrative reveals himself to be : “lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable”. Despite this Utterson shows himself to be a very nosey person, consistently asking Jekyll for details about his will, even by-passing Jekyll and asking Lanyon.
This could be taken in two ways: either Utterson simply wants to know why Jekyll has such a strange will, or as we are lead to believe Utterson genuinely cares for Jekyll and wants to help in any way he can. These two views of his character both showing ‘good’ and seemingly ‘bad’ human nature. However you can also link Dr Lanyon with Mr Utterson as they both have an unfounded hatred and un-scientific eye for the supernatural which is shown clearly in the novella as it progresses Both are unable to notice and link the disappearances and re-appearance of Jekyll and Hyde, until Lanyon witnesses the process and dies soon after, His death represents the more general victory of supernaturalism over materialism in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Then you have Utterson who doesn’t ‘see’ the ‘truth’ right up until the end when he receives the letter from Jekyll explaining the series of events. Throughout the novella, Mr Utterson is a frequent character who helps to lead the plot, displaying the behaviour and attitude, towards the ‘truth’ much like Victorian people at the time despite the fact he though Jekyll was hiding Hyde and being blackmailed, he’d rather not admit it. Even when he suspects Jekyll of criminal activities such as blackmail or the sheltering of the murderer Hyde, he prefers to ignore what he has learned, or what he thinks he has learned, rather than bring ruin upon his good friend.
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author, raised in a very religious way could be one of the reasons that he chose to write this novella, as a way of rebelling like many at the time when it came to the super natural and religion. However, we can link his religious upbringing to one of the characters: Gabriel Utterson, Gabriel is one of the ‘main’ angels in the religion and often referred to in the bible with ‘God’, so despite the rebelling against his religion, Stevenson still insert snippets from his past into the plot line. Lastly the link between Utterson and Lanyon, they both embody the lack of knowledge and unwillingness to entertain anything to do with the supernatural much like the Victorians who preferred what they knew, which was religion and not what this would have been during publication, a horror story.
Another very prominent theme displayed in the novella is the presence of silence like the Victorian’s at the time of publication; two kinds of silence in the novel indicate two different notions about the interaction of the rational and the irrational. The characters’ refusals to discuss the sordid situations indicate an attribute of the Victorian society in which they live. This society prizes decorum and reputation above all and prefers to repress or even deny the truth, certainly if that truth threatens to upset the conventionally ordered society in place. Faced with the irrational, Victorian society and its population prefer neither to acknowledge its presence nor to grant it the legitimacy of a name. Involuntary silences, on the other hand, imply something about language itself: Language is by nature rational and logical and many characters display this silence throughout the novella for example: Enfield and Utterson cut off their discussion of Hyde in the first chapter out of distaste for gossip; Utterson refuses to share his suspicions about Jekyll throughout his investigation of his friend’s predicament.
Moreover, neither Jekyll in his final confession nor the third-person narrator in the rest of the novella ever provides any details of Hyde’s behaviour or secret vices. Maybe the silence is kept out of the mutual respect for each other’s respect however it is more likely that during Victorian times, everyone knew what everyone else was doing although never revealed their knowledge due to the age old idiom: “Knowledge is power”, allowing a crime such as black mail to thrive, which it did during Victorian times and why would a reputable man want to be seen in such circumstances, it could destroy their reputation quite like when Utterson suspects Jekyll of being black mailed.
Quite like the Victorian’s at the time we are really gossip crazy, and we all love to have information about other people to use at our advantage, much like the Victorians we don’t like our family secrets and self-pride to be damaged no matter what social class we belong to, both the Victorian’s and ourselves didn’t like to ‘air their dirty laundry’, implying that if something could damage the honour, pride or reputation of the family or person then it simply would be kept secret seemingly to protect themselves like Jekyll does with Hyde.
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is medium length and that is why it is categorised as being a novella, because it isn’t long enough to be called a novel, nor short enough to be called a short story. All but the last two chapters are written in third person: the penultimate chapter, ‘Dr Lanyon’s narrative’ is written in first person, from Dr Lanyon’s point of view, in a package to Mr Utterson. Again, in the last chapter, with Dr Jekyll explains the long series of events in a mixture of third, and first person, when talking about himself, Dr Jekyll, (third when talking about Mr Hyde’s actions). The novella has two endings emphasizing the idea of dual natured personalities, and two different sides too our personalities: firstly when Utterson and Poole, the butler, find Hyde in Jekyll’s cabinet, and secondly, when Utterson finally reads Jekyll’s letter at the end of the novella which explains the series of events.
At points in the last chapter, even Dr Jekyll becomes confused as to who he is, which emphasizes the idea that Hyde could be taking ‘over’. The book, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, starts with a long narrative from Mr Enfield; a key character in the plot line. The narrative concerns Mr Utterson and Mr Enfield who informs him of the night were he witnessed a “stumbling… damned Juggernaut”, character “who was as emotional as a bagpipe”, a metaphor insinuating Hyde, whom they were talking about was careless and oblivious to the pain he caused. Also they mention, ‘door’ which becomes more important as the story goes on proving to be of use to Hyde and Jekyll as a physical and theological escape to each other’s acts. It is at this point that due to both of the men’s disapproval of gossiping, that they stop the conversation, and continue their walk. The novella consists of a long anecdote started at the beginning and ends with a summary of Dr Jekyll’s point of view. Jekyll mainly explains their story and that he will transform into Hyde again, soon and will not be able to stop it.
The idea of Jekyll and Hyde is for the reader to think about the two different sides to human nature, and how things can ‘possibly’ go wrong when you lose all control over the ‘evil’ side of your personality, as inevitably happens in the novella. I think that Stevenson, who was plagued throughout his life by illness, wrote this story to share his own experiences, and views in a controversial religious and scientific situation at the time of publication. Throughout Stevenson’s life he battled with respiratory problems, consistently moving from city to city, and even to different countries most notably the Samoan islands and I believe that this is just one of the ‘demons’ in his life, or part of his own ‘evil’ human nature that led him to write this story.
No one philosopher can be linked directly to the story since the text grapples at parts of Locke’s and Hobbes’ theories. A possible moral of this interesting story is that which many Christians recite daily, (yet another religious link to the story): “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”, and that ‘one’ needs to be in control of their darker side of human nature, and to stop this evil from growing larger as happens in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or perhaps, the moral is that we cannot control evil once unleashed.