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In terms of this book, I think that it’s difficult for me to place Jekyll as a complete sinner or a complete sufferer due to the varying influences of the other characters, the society of the time and the drug that Jekyll uses. My opinion of him tends to fluctuate throughout the book. Certainly, some of the language used by Stevenson can be rather grotesque at times and at others, heart wrenching. As the storyline progresses, the reader becomes more aware of what has happened to the reputable Dr Henry Jekyll and how his life gets turned upside down. However, our suspicions are only totally confirmed in “Dr Lanyon’s Narrative” and “Henry Jekyll’s statement of the case”. Through the story, Jekyll displays acts of recklessness but also kindness and surprising self-control at times. It’s these episodes, mainly in his statement of the case that I will analyze in order to draw a conclusion about his character and to what extent the title quote is true.
I believe that the quote “If I am the chief of sinners than I am the chief of sufferers also” essentially refers to Jekyll transforming into Hyde. By all the pleasures in the lifestyle that this change brings, Jekyll has completely gone against G-d’s will and the laws of nature (being the chief of sinners). This leads to Jekyll also being the “chief of sufferers” i.e., he’d never forgive himself for the massive sin that he commits. In his eyes and also those of society, he can never be redeemed. It also relates to the physical suffering that he has to endure, such as the “pangs of transformation”, mentioned five times throughout “Jekyll’s Statement of the Case”.
For me personally, during the time I have been studying this book, one sentence has stuck out in my mind, the very last sentence of the book:
“Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.”
(Pg76, Last 3 Lines)
This, moments before Jekyll’s suicide, is his last plea for forgiveness, his last expression of suffering. I think that this crystallises any sense of suffering that has taken place and been felt by Jekyll. However, not always has Jekyll been so remorseful. Many a time he would transform to go and do all the things society wouldn’t have let him do. However, both Jekyll and our sympathy for him come crashing down to earth when we learn that as Hyde, he crushed an innocent little girl under foot and even committed murder on the kind, peaceful Danvers Carew.
These two events were the first indication that Hyde’s actions were getting out of Jekyll’s moral control and, particularly in the case of the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, display Jekyll’s recognition that whatever crimes Hyde commits, will have repercussions for him:
“At this moment, however, the rooms bore every mark of having been recently and hurriedly ransacked”
(Pg28, Line 22)
This describes the scene that greets Utterson and Inspector Newcomen of Scotland Yard as they visit the Home of Mr Hyde. Clear evidence of a rush to overturn the place and destroy Hyde’s chequebook containing evidence of some monetary transfer. In “The Story Of The Door”, during the incident of the little girl being crushed, a chequebook was also used by Dr Jekyll to provide compensation, this may be a subtle clue that Stevenson gives us in order to provide a link between the two incidents and the use of the chequebook may stand for Hyde’s return to Jekyll who then tries to undo what Hyde has done with money.
The use of language here gives the reader a clear impression that the last occupier of this room wanted to leave very quickly; “ransacked” is a word synonymous with quick careless destruction of a room and this is supported by it having been both “hurriedly” and “recently”. I believe therefore, at this point, Jekyll has regained his body and consciousness once again and knowing what he’s done, wants to escape Hyde’s residence as quickly possible, he realises that he’s now “the chief of sinners” having commited murder. Hyde will have a warrant for his arrest, the result of which would most certainly be the death penalty, something that would clearly affect Jekyll also.
I believe that Jekyll didn’t wish to be burdened by the majority of the problems that came with his dual personality. However he didn’t have the willpower to control them, due to his addiction to the potion that he took, and the pressures of society that gave him some sort of pleasure from being able to break free from the bonds of every day life.
Certainly, I don’t think he was right to commit some of the atrocities that he did however, had he been in a different time or a different part of society, then some of the attractions that enticed him to Hyde’s life – such as prostitution and violence – may have been more acceptable and this sort of unpredictable transformation may not have been necessary. We, as the reader must constantly ask ourselves whether Jekyll actually has any control over his actions at any given point before we blame him directly for what he does.
Our first impression of Jekyll as Hyde appears during the first chapter as Enfield describes the trampling of the little girl to Utterson. The description certainly sets us off on the wrong foot, although at the time, we aren’t well informed as to Hyde’s real identity, it gives us a certain dislike even before the story has begun to properly develop or we have the chance to discover the characters more intimately:
“It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut”
(Pg9, Lline 27)
The first striking thing here is the use of the word “damned” to emphasise Enfield’s point. “Damn”, undoubtedly perceived at the time the book was written, an age without socially acceptable swearing and profanation, as a relatively strong word. Therefore, Stevenson’s use of this word, in Mr Enfield’s description of Hyde, brings across a particular strength of his feelings of dislike towards him. So already, we have a strong sense of shock at this character, simply from the strong language used to describe him. The use of the “Juggernaut” description is an effective example of personification. One thinks of a large Romanesque ship, famous for using a large pole at the bow to ram the enemy ship and sink it. The context in which this quote is used certainly is appropriate to that. It describes how, who we now know to be Hyde, trampled over a young girl, as if in a trance or “rammed into her” as a Juggernaut does.
The above quote, relating to the trampling event certainly lowers the amount of sympathy the informed reader would feel for Jekyll, this is relatively early on in the book, before, as far as we are aware, that Hyde has started to take control over Jekyll’s actions. Therefore, we can assume that what has taken place has been mainly caused by Jekyll’s consciousness as opposed to Hydes. Jekyll’s lack of remorse, until he has been threatened with losing his reputation certainly loses him sympathy from the reader and the event in general doesn’t make Hyde seem any more angelic at any rate.
For the uninformed reader, it’s difficult to state whether we feel sympathy due to our apparent lack of knowledge of the story. However, whoever or whatever this monster is, again, we certainly don’t feel sympathy for him.
The fact that Hyde is described as “not like a man” also dehumanises him. We see, throughout the book, many instances of Hyde being dehumanised, compared to monkeys and other animals:
“Hence the ape-like tricks that he would play me, scrawling in my own hand blasphemies on the pages of my books, burning the letters and destroying the portrait of my father…”
(Pg75, Lline 11)
This has a great effect on the reader’s perception of him as we begin to think that he isn’t civilised at all, the laws of society do not apply to him and therefore he is subhuman, no better than the dirt on our shoe and certainly, we should be glad for him to have any misfortune. It would be unthinkable at the time to write blasphemies in the pages of a bible and from Jekyll’s sentimental point of view, to destroy his letters and his fathers portrait would be a massive sin, certainly one that hurts him all the more because he knows that the only reason Hyde does these things is to cause even more misery and fear for Jekyll; acts which gain sympathy from the reader for Jekyll and increase our hatred towards Edward Hyde.
Early on in the book again, during the chapter “Search For Mr Hyde” the reader is introduced to Hyde, the language Stevenson uses to describe him shapes our response:
“Mr Hyde was pale and dwarfish … the man seems hardly human”
(Pg19, 2nd Paragraph)
The description of somebody as “pale and dwarfish” could easily be interpreted as one of somebody who is weak however; we know Hyde possesses superhuman strength. In this instance, the description is more sinister than deprecating, it brings to mind an evil hunched being which as a first impression makes the reader feel fear or hatred towards him, no sympathy. We also hear Hyde speak to the first time and react to this. An informed reader would become frustrated with Utterson’s inability to see the link between Hyde and Jekyll, which intrigues us further. Whatever we know, this description of Hyde certainly isn’t that of a man you would particularly like to meet in a dark alleyway.
A somewhat deformed and gruesome specimen, again, as I have said, Stevenson dehumanises him as he does throughout the book. In this particular instance, he uses Utterson’s impression of Hyde to get the message across; “the man seems hardly human.” Stevenson often uses the narrative of other characters in order to describe Jekyll or Hyde. At this stage in the book, it is still difficult for us to tell whether we feel sympathy for Dr Jekyll due to us knowing very little information. However, a connection between Jekyll and Hyde is now forming in our head, the mind runs rampage.
By the third chapter, “Dr Jekyll Was Quite at Ease”, we are getting our suspicions of Dr Jekyll having a connection with Mr Hyde confirmed. Still the other characters in the book can’t see this though. We are now getting the impression of Hyde as Jekyll’s apprentice, a man who is well thought of by the doctor. However, Jekyll is not particularly willing to talk about Hyde:
“‘I do not care to hear more,’ said he. ‘This is a matter I thought we had agreed to drop.'”
(Pg22, 3rd Paragraph)
This rather short chapter describes a party, hosted by Dr Jekyll in which Mr Utterson brings up the topic of Jekyll’s will. Jekyll is extremely quick to dismiss the topic as taboo almost. This does a lot to heighten the suspicions of the reader as to the secret dealings between Jekyll and Hyde, still we don’t have enough information to understand the entire story however, slowly it is leading us to the correct conclusion, it is merely a matter of time (i.e. the rest of the book) until the would-be detectives discover this conclusion as well. We are certainly suspicious at this point however, not well informed enough to draw a conclusion in terms of sympathy for Jekyll.
The chapter “The Carew Murder Case” describes the savage murder of Sir Danvers Carew, a man held in high regard by those who knew him. What makes this event even more shocking is that it is witnessed by a rather innocent young maid and it’s discovered that the perpetrator is Mr Edward Hyde, a piece of evidence is found linking Hyde directly to Jekyll:
“Mr Utterson had already quailed at the name of Hyde; but when the stick was laid before him… presented many years before to Henry Jekyll”
(Pg26, 6th Paragraph)
Using the information known from the previous chapters, the reader is beginning to build up a picture of what is going on here. A connection with Jekyll, a murder, we’re feeling a serious lack of sympathy for Jekyll here, one of his associates has committed murder. The more informed reader realises that this is in fact Jekyll in his Hyde guise, in which case even less sympathy is felt, Jekyll has reached a new low in his alter-ego form.
As we learn later on, the original objectives of Dr Jekyll were to separate good from evil, it could bring fame and fortune and do a lot of good for humanity, very innocent aims made with a good heart, every person across the planet could show simply their good side to others and the world may at last be at peace. It was due to his selfishness – and I use the term “selfishness” loosely – however, that led to his demise. Some may argue that Jekyll was simply an addict and that he was hooked onto whatever this potion was and yes, this is easy to see, as with any drug that gets you high, he experienced feelings of pleasure, happiness and freedom.
Personally I think we can sympathise with Dr Jekyll in a lot of respects, however, things did go out of hand for him. Once murders were being committed, it did sink in that perhaps the transformations should stop, he managed this for a while, returning to his old self, he noticed it and his friends noticed it. However, despite deep and utter resentment, it wasn’t long though until his hunger for what he had once experienced returned, and he gave in to his desires. Jekyll was addicted and in an act of extreme selfishness carried on taking his doses of potion. He recognised as soon as he took the potion, that he had given in to his addiction and that there was now no going back for him:
“The pangs of transformation had not done tearing him, before Henry Jekyll, with streaming tears of gratitude and remorse, had fallen upon his knees and lifted his clasped hands to G-d”
(Pg 70, 13th Line)
Jekyll doesn’t strike me as a particularly religious person, by the very nature of the experiments he was conducting and the results he was hoping to achieve, he was going against every moral value of the church, however, he even tried praying for forgiveness to try and make up for what he had done on a spiritual level, what he had done obviously bothered him so much.
This act of prayer casts Jekyll in a completely different light to that of the crazed scientist looking for an impossible cure to an equally impossible problem. This is quite a milestone in the book because it is because of this act that the reader realises the desperation of Henry Jekyll and the fact that he is now trying to, through any means possible, prepare himself for anything he might come up against. He isn’t by any means justifying what he’s done but he now knows that he will never again be able to stop himself from taking the potion. It is the catalyst to his eventual demise. Certainly “pangs” and “tearing” make this seem like an extremely painful and distressing event, the use of onomatopoeia (“tearing”) sends a shiver down the spine of the reader and makes us feel sympathy for what Jekyll is going through, it is worse than any injury we could ever have.
Eventually, as the potion begins to consume Jekyll, taking over his consciousness, it is realised that he is truly on a slippery slope as predicted from the last quotation. However, there is a point where the potion becomes too weak for his use and the analogy with common modern day drugs continues:
“Once, very early in my career, it [the potion] had totally failed me; since then I had been obliged on more than one occasion to double; and once, with infinite risk of death, to treble the amount;”
(Pg 68, 4th Line)
He increased his dose, even with risk to his own life, so that the concoction would still be effective. At this point the reader pities Jekyll for the situation that he’s got himself in. The hardest thing for any addict is to give up their drug and although it’s a different situation here, with enough willpower, Henry Jekyll could have summoned up the courage to try and banish Hyde forever however he refused to, taking larger doses of potion and sealing his fate instead. This loses him a lot of sympathy with the reader because of his lack of courage and strength, instead resigning to the fact that he will never escape Hyde and so he better learn to enjoy his alter ego.
The last chapter, “Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case” gives us the greatest insight into the how the mind of Dr Jekyll works and finally gives the reader the full story so that we can finally find out for ourselves what events took place and we can piece together the chain reaction that resulted in the deaths of Dr Jekyll, Dr Lanyon and Sir Danvers Carew. We can also see the changing moods of Dr Jekyll as events unfold from the narrative that he gives us, after all, this chapter is meant to be a letter written by the man himself, one of the rare times we can get an insight into what he did and the fully detailed results of his actions.
The fluctuating consciousness of Dr Jekyll while he is Hyde, i.e. the change in control that he has over his actions can easily be seen to change as time goes on from the comments that he makes about his experiences. At the beginning, when he starts taking the potion for the first few, experimental times, he is unsure what to expect.
“There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and, from its very novelty, incredibly sweet.”
(Pg 62, 3rd Paragraph)
These were the first experiences of Jekyll in the form of Mr Hyde. It was as if it was something completely surreal and, he likes it! At this point he’s completely oblivious of what is about to happen in the future and as far as he knows, he’s made a scientific breakthrough, he’s changed his persona into something completely different. At this point the reader can celebrate with Jekyll; we can wonder in amazement at his achievement, we can join him in his happiness and elation. This all gives us a sense of support, that we are following Jekyll’s progress with a keen eye and certainly wish him well. Certainly we, as the reader, don’t want anything bad to come out of this, no side effects, no evil being taking over his body…
Therefore, when we eventually realise the true identity of Hyde, and the problems he has caused Jekyll, it is worse than our greatest nightmares, no one could wish this kind of pain upon anybody, even our greatest enemy. But as I have said, the reader wants Jekyll to succeed in what he’s doing, his intentions are great so, a setback of this scale – to put it mildly – makes us feel very sympathetic for Jekyll, he will never be able to achieve his dreams.
Dr Jekyll eventually began to realise that perhaps this new found freedom comes with a side effect:
“I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness”
(Pg 62, 3rd Paragraph)
He feels youth again however, feels along with the physical ease of youth, a sort of care-free existence in which anything is ok. Gradually this freedom gives Jekyll a desire to exploit it, he doesn’t understand it however and he finds it particularly welcoming. When the informed reader takes this quote into account, we start to lose some of our sympathy for Jekyll because he is describing that despite the fact that he feels a lot better than before he took the potion, he knows that he is also feeling somewhat mischievous. Despite knowing that problems may occur for him or others, he decides that this potion is something he is going to want a lot more of in the future. It can be argued however, that he couldn’t possibly know the extent of the mischief that he would get up to yet, in his particular society, any misbehaviour would be frowned upon, if only he had the common sense to realise the potential of his freedom and stopped himself at this early stage.
“I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine”
(Pg 62, 3rd Paragraph – Pg 63)
At this point, a lot of the elation and respect we might have had for Jekyll practically disappear, what is this, he enjoys feeling evil inside him, he welcomes it? The key phrase here is that he is “sold a slave to his original evil” it is like selling his soul to the devil, as if he almost recognises the path that he is taking from there on. I think we lose a lot of sympathy that we may have in the future because of this, he can see that things may go sour but is willing to take the risk and go ahead with his experiments purely because he is enjoying it, it is as if nothing else matters to him.
If the reader was at all confused before the final chapter as to the fact that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde could possibly have been the same person, the murder of Danvers Carew gave more than enough clues to confirm this theory:
“when the stick was laid before him, he could doubt no longer; broken and battered as it was, he recognised it for one that he had himself presented many years before to Henry Jekyll”
(Pg 26, 5th Paragraph)
This is referring to the weapon used to murder Sir Danvers, a stick that had been brought upon Carew’s body with such force, it had split in two. It was one that Mr Utterson had presented to Dr Jekyll many years before and was evidence, if we hadn’t already guessed that Henry Jekyll had an obvious affiliation with Mr Hyde. Once again, sympathy levels for Jekyll drop however, we have to bear in mind, that by this point, Hyde may have been in control of Jekyll’s actions more than he knew, it might not have been possible for Jekyll to stop this murder taking place but the reader is still shocked and disgusted by what has taken place. However, as we can see from Jekyll’s statement of the case, he was disgusted by what had taken place and he realised now that this had to stop once and for all. It was either that or to face the scaffold for the crime that had been committed, there was a witness to it who could identify Hyde as the murderer.
Jekyll realises that murder is the final straw, finally his common sense kicks in:
“The problem of my conduct was solved. Hyde was thenceforth impossible; whether I would or not, I was now confined to the better part of my existence; and O, how I rejoiced to think it! With what willing humility, I embraced anew the restrictions of natural life! With what sincere renunciation, I locked the door by which I had so often gone and come, and ground the key under my heel!”
(Pg 70, 27th Line)
Once and for all, Jekyll had given up becoming Hyde, although he hated having to return to his mundane old self, he simply couldn’t risk ever becoming Hyde again, it was too dangerous. As Jekyll says, becoming Hyde would never again be possible, he hated it but he would have to remain as Jekyll for ever more. With extreme displeasure, he locked the door to his laboratory and ground the key under his feet. This surely would stop him ever wanting to transform again. Now the reader feels proud of his good will, his commitment to giving up his addiction and once again feels sympathy for his situation, at least he’s making a conscious effort to redeem himself. However, this momentary peaceful existence does not continue, Jekyll misses the freedom he experienced too much and gives in to his pang of desire.
As himself, I don’t think Dr Jekyll meant to cause the harm that he did, but under the influence of Hyde, he caused great evil, his apparent lack of self control makes him accountable for all the actions that he carried out, it requires a large degree of naivety to carry on with what he was doing, knowing full well that his actions were likely to be more and more serious, even, as the book says, beginning to long for more disruption, more evil to be caused.
“To cast in my lot with Jekyll, was to die to those appetites which I had long secretly indulged and had of late begun to pamper. To cast it in with Hyde, was to die to a thousand interests and aspirations, and to become, at a blow and forever, despised and friendless”
(Pg 68, 2nd Paragraph)
I think a certain amount of sympathy can be felt for Jekyll and his impossible situation, he was faced with a huge decision, he enjoyed being Hyde so much, he was addicted to it however, if he was to carry on transforming, eventually, there would be no way to reverse the effect, slowly, by this point, Hyde was taking over his mind and body. Either he stopped being Hyde forever and lives a somewhat disturbed life with a constant longing to turn into his alter-ego or, stop being Jekyll and run a life of evil, with no friends and hatred all around him. He chose to continue giving in to his desires until the last traces of the once prominent gentleman Henry Jekyll had disappeared and in an extremely sad final paragraph, in a tone of extreme despair finally recognises that his life is slipping beyond his grasp.