How does Stevenson play with the Concept of the Double in ‘Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Essay
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The novella in question is ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1885 at his residence in Bournemouth after a tragic nightmare. I am going to discuss the subject of duality in the novella. It is set in the nocturnal streets of London in the Victorian era, a period in which doubles and opposites were frequent. Curiously, this novella looks at the life of a scientist called Henry Jekyll who formulates a potion enabling him to temporarily transform both his personality and physical appearance.
This new individual is Mr. Hyde, the ‘id’ or the simian who ‘hides’ inside Dr. Jekyll. In many ways, this book reflects Stevenson himself and the Victorian period as a whole. I look at this novella from a various different origins; the father to son relationship as in Jekyll’s confession ‘Jekyll had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference.’; the hypocrisy in the Victorian age as Carew the MP gives the impression of being a homosexual and finally, the adolescent boy inside the grown man which due to Hyde’s physical status, he looks and feels younger.
Stevenson represents duality through the physical appearance of the people and places in the book. The first is the entrance to the shared residence which, is both Jekyll’s and Hyde’s habitat contemporaneously although it is not very obvious. The door by which Hyde enters is described as being ‘blistered and distained’ whilst Dr. Jekyll’s entrance has a great faï¿½ade. The blistered door can be a reference of a particular sexually transmitted disease, syphilis; Stevenson is trying to code one of the problems that society had in those days. These aspects were frequent in Victorian houses seeing as the front would be lavish whilst the rear constructed of inferior yellow bricks which gives reality a smokescreen.
Hyde’s entrance is described as ‘nothing but a door … a blind forehead … discoloured wall… prolonged and sordid negligence… was blistered and distained.’ These descriptive terms imply that the rear of the building was the hideous side, to be kept away from the public eye. This quotation also refers to Mr. Hyde, as it says ‘a blind forehead… discoloured wall.’ At the time, people with big foreheads were considered to have criminal tendencies. The ‘discoloured wall’ can represent the fact that Hyde was a suppressed part of Jekyll and therefore has no colour of its own. There is repetition of two in describing this access seeing as there are ‘two doors… two storeys.’ which again gives us a clear message of segregation between the two characters.
Soho once had a reputation for prostitution and brothels and it would be where the aliens or foreigners would go in that period. This is also where Hyde lives; his dwelling has two faces to it. The exterior was sordid and squalid whilst the interior was lavish and elaborate with expensive furniture. We can easily relate this with the characters in the story where the sleazy exterior represents Hyde but inside him is an aristocratic Victorian gentleman. Stevenson refers a lot to interiors and exteriors, ‘pockets inside out… lock fast drawers stood open.’ This is an exposition of the interior, a mirror image; Stevenson is trying to expose the truth of society at the time by showing what is inside. As the ‘pockets’ were ‘inside out’, or in a different sense, inverted, which could refer to an inversion of sexuality which maybe Hyde was leading at the time as he was a mirror image, thus the opposite of Jekyll.
Jekyll was the complete reverse of the ‘id’ in physical aspects such as the stature and the age but also in an ironic way that Hyde kills peoples and Jekyll saves lives. The fog that surrounds Utterson as he goes to Soho can also be seen as both a London particular and a reflection of his state of mind. His confusion as he tries to find connections between Jekyll and Hyde is constantly ‘reinvaded by darkness’. This has a double meaning, it could be that Utterson is loosing focus and then regaining it or, it could be that Hyde being the darkness recurrently invades Jekyll. In this atmosphere, there is an inversion of day and night due to the fog, and there would be a ‘glow of rich, lurid brown’ due to the faecal waste and the filthiness of Soho.
The three main characters of the book are Jekyll the ‘ego’, Hyde the ‘id’ and Utterson the ‘superego’. Throughout the whole passage, there are no real female characters which, represents the sexism prevalent at the time. Moreover there are auxiliary characters such as Enfield, Carew and Lanyon. Enfield is one of the first mentioned in the book; he appears to lead a double life as he finds himself in the streets of London at three in the morning which suggests that he might have been out in the brothels or maybe leading a second, homosexual life. Sir Danvers Carew also gives a similar impression of leading a two faced life as he too finds himself meandering the streets of London late at night.
An explanation that we can offer for the cause of his death was that he had mistaken Hyde for a homosexual prostitute and Hyde released the simian that he was, ending up with the MP’s death. By showing this, Stevenson is trying to show the hypocrisy in society at the time as Carew was both a homosexual and a Member of Parliament that had outlawed such behaviour. Mr Hyde is probably the most complex and mysterious character in the novella. All the characters that see him, sense this unidentifiable deformity in him.
This could be due to moral depravity. At the time, deformity was not accepted and those who were deformed were unwanted in the society. Stevenson captures the way people perceived Hyde’s deformities in one passage of the book ‘Snarled … savage … pale and dwarfish … deformity … husky … murderous … hardly human … troglodytic … foul soul … Satan’s signature on a face.’ We have the impression of an amoral, ‘ape-like’ being who is of a different order to the rest of society. As Mr. Hyde attacks the little girl and tramples over her he again gives this barbaric image of an untamed beast or a ‘masked thing like a monkey’ on the other side of this mask is the opposite of this beast.
The opposite of the beast; Jekyll is the ‘ego’ and the respectable face in society, a doctor and a wealthy middle aged man. Jekyll and Hyde are one being and this is shown in various instances, in the opening chapter, as Hyde has trampled the little girl, he remarks ‘No gentleman but wishes to avoid a scene’ meaning that he believes himself still a gentleman therefore a part of Jekyll is still present but is hidden inside the binary figure. Henry Jekyll’s response to Utterson ‘You do not understand my position … I am painfully situated, my position is a very strange – very strange one … cannot be mended by talking… it isn’t what you fancy; it is not so bad as that’ gives the impression of him being involved in an illicit affair or blackmail.
Jekyll is reassuring Utterson that it is not the usual case a lawyer was used to. Utterson gives a very vivid description of what he thinks about the two characters Jekyll and Hyde, ‘turns me quite cold to think of this creature stealing like a thief to Harry’s bedside.’ This quote clearly tells us that the other characters do not know of Jekyll’s duality. What I believe Stevenson is trying to get across is this message of ‘a monster next to his creator or his double’ the man that created the being that will lead to his destruction.
Stevenson applies different layers to the structure of the book where nothing is quite what it seems. The book opens with a frame narrative but ends abruptly with Jekyll’s confession. This can be interpreted as the presence of Hyde; at the beginning it has a frame but at the end this book closes without one as he is not present. The story consists of multiple narratives which again lie within a narrative and this corresponds to Jekyll and the character within him, Hyde. One example is in Dr. Lanyon’s narrative and in Dr. Jekyll’s letter to Lanyon. In the last chapter, Stevenson begins to write in the first person and suddenly there is a shift of person as he talks about Hyde, in such a way as to set aside his second self. ‘He, I say – I cannot say, I.’ as Jekyll begins to regret his discovery and the impossibility of controlling his other self. Furthermore, in the confession, this change of person can be considered as a confused identity, Hyde slowing taking control and manipulating Jekyll.
Throughout the novella there are explicit references to the double that are used in either a numerical or a metaphorical way. In the last paragraph of the novella, Stevenson emphasises the sense of the double as he finally reveals, to the shock of the Victorian reader, the duality of Jekyll. The reoccurring references to the double in his confession seem to be a means that Jekyll uses to reassure himself that Hyde is not taking over by segregating him. Stevenson is telling us this strange case starts with one person and will finish with another, meaning that by the end of the process, Hyde takes over and Jekyll will lie dormant and suppressed as once his double did. The obsession that Dr. Jekyll has with the double could also be a reference to the obsession he feels with the experiment; as Lanyon describes the entry book ‘ ‘double’ occurring perhaps six times in a total of several hundred entries.
This feeling of the double also appears in various puns and metaphors. ‘On the other side’ is used as ‘on the other hand’ but has been carefully chosen since not only is Jekyll another surface to his physical self but also writes with his left hand which could be referring to sinister (deriving from left in Latin) evil. A mixed metaphor is used in the confession ‘the animal within me licking the chops of memory’ this metaphor has a double duality to it. Hyde is the animal within Jekyll and as we know of Hyde’s deformity, the ‘chops’ could be of his face, whilst the use of ‘memory’ gives us the feeling of it all possibly being a nightmare. As Stevenson wrote this book, he was suffering from tuberculosis and ‘the animal within’ could be the disease wearing him away.
The language used describing Dr. Jekyll’s cabinet has a double symbolism to it. The cabinet is clearly divided into two parts, the ‘cosy fireside’ with ‘the things laid out for tea’ and the ‘kettle singing’ gives us this feeling of the place being homely and comforting whilst on the other hand, there are ‘the glass cases full of chemicals’ giving a different atmosphere to the rest of the room. ‘Several books on the shelf… open… annotated… startling blasphemies.’ The book that is laid next to the tea things, presumably a holy book, had been written on with wickedness by Hyde. We can relate this to the fact that it was open meaning that Hyde had been unleashed.
The last object yet, probably the most significant in the room, is the cheval-glass. Stevenson shows his bilingual skills and produces a bilingual pun. In French, a cheval glass is also called a phsycï¿½ which is another way of saying psyche. As Utterson and Poole peer into this glass and see nothing, it is another way of saying that they peer into the psyche of Jekyll and Hyde and see nothing as ‘they’ are both dead. This pun tells us a lot of what Stevenson thought of society at the time. Stevenson uses the cheval-glass to say that the Victorian era was not yet ready for psychoanalysis.
There are various ways in which Stevenson shows the socio-historical characteristics of the novella and of the time. The typical Victorian gentleman was well known for his duality. This could have been for sexual suppression since there are many sexually-related citations with the lack of female characters and the compromising situations the reader often finds them in. At the time, the exciting possibilities and dangers of science posed many questions to the Victorians. This was epitomised by the fierce debate caused by the publication of ‘The Origin of Species’.
This novella can be related to this question as it shows a vast contrast between the two figures, Hyde being the simian and Jekyll the religious man who believes in God. Social problems that were faced at the times were many and severe. Syphilis was a very widespread sexually transmitted disease which was due to the many brothels present in London. Drug addiction was another of the society’s worries; this book tightly relates to this problem as Jekyll depends on the chemicals that he requires to keep Hyde under control. Drugs also had a hallucinogenic effect on people and what Stevenson may be saying is that the whole of the double life that Jekyll was leading was a hallucination and that the drugs transform oneself into another being; that is why he finally dies as Hyde due to toxic-dependency. Victorian society was also obsessed by class. The industrial revolution emphasised the gap between the upper classes and the working class. Stevenson played on the prejudices of his readers in making Hyde a proletarian figure in contrast to the upright and apparently worthy Jekyll.
In conclusion, this novella has many subtexts and concealed messages which the 1886 reader would have readily identify with. This was because they would be exposed to these things every day. We now have a different view of society and science but it could be questioned whether we are any less hypocritical. The theme of the double still continues to inspire play writers and novelists now and for a long foreseeable future.