A discussion on how this concept is explored in the text ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’
‘Man is not truly one, but truly two’ outlines Robert Louis Stevenson’s idea that to all there was a ‘double being’ and ‘two sides’. Whether these two sides were ego and id, or good and evil, ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ considers the reality of splitting these two sides, which to many, including Stevenson himself, was strangely attractive.
When he decided to write the novel, Stevenson was a very sick man. During a three-day attack of haemorrhaging and fever, he was confined to his bed. Even though he was quite used to being ill, he had complained of ‘bad dreams’ and ‘nightmares of damnation’. These frequent nighttime occurrences were to be the inspiration for his new novel.
As a child, at number seventeen Herriet Row in new town Edinburgh, Stevenson spent much of his time at home, the victim of many diseases. Because his mother was an invalid, and his father was often away on business as a lighthouse consultant, Robert had a full time nurse – Miss Alison Cunningham – a woman with strong Christian values. Stevenson was often so terrified of the stories Miss Cunningham told him, he was too petrified to even close his eyes for fear of going to hell.
Edinburgh had two sides, which starkly contrasted each other, in the nineteenth and twentieth century. There was the new town, where, with its wide streets, squares and crescents – and its strong mid-Victorian rules, ‘respectable’ was the best compliment one could receive. Beyond the castle cliffs, however, lay the old town, which Stevenson looking at it once said that it was like ‘watching a derelict fall down and die’. He was fed up of the Presbyterian values of the new town and fell in love with the medieval side. He believed Edinburgh had a double existence, and soon realised, that in many, there lay that double being.
The book, published in January 1886, was the birth of a new horror. It dealt with the shocking evil on the inside – not outside – which is what perhaps probed some of the readers, and especially his wife, to call it ‘the product of a sick mind’. In his defence, Stevenson claimed it was a story about hypocrisy, and man’s ‘double being’. Possibly one of the most alarmingly strange things surrounding this – his fourth novel – is that it was written in three days – whilst haemorrhaging and being violently sick in between.
The concept of ‘ego and id’ is explored throughout the text, and especially in chapter ten ‘Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case’. Relating it to his own life, Stevenson describes Jekyll’s early years in great detail, when the man realises that he is a ‘double being’. ‘… The worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition… but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public.’
This shows that Jekyll is ashamed of his ‘double being’. The ‘certain gaiety of disposition’ is referencing the happy, joyous side to him, which he feels is inappropriate and wants people to see the ‘more than commonly grave countenance’ in him. He found it hard to bring the ‘gaiety’ and ‘grave countenance’ together, and therefore had to give into the domineering, serious side. The ego is represented by the ‘grave countenance’ and the id, by the ‘gaiety of disposition’. The barrier that separates the two could be represented by the ‘public’ – keeping the ego in command, and the id at bay.
Another interpretation of the early parts of the statement could be the tension and contrast between good and evil. There are constant references to the idea of good and evil being compared, especially when Hyde takes the mixture to return as Jekyll. After the re-transformation, it is written in Jekyll’s Full Statement, ‘… although I had now two characters and two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still old Henry Jekyll, that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement, I had already learned to despair.’ I think he meant that he was sick and tired of Jekyll’s ideas and actions – and preferred the ‘wholly evil’ Hyde.
I get this impression because previous to this reference, Stevenson describes Jekyll’s shock and attraction to Hyde’s appearance, which contrasts so clearly with his reaction to the look of Jekyll. In Jekyll’s statement, it was written ‘And yet when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscience of no repugnance, rather a leap of welcome.’ The account then continues, ‘this too was myself. It seemed natural and human. In my eyes it bore a livelier image of the spirit… than the imperfect and divided countenance I had hitherto been accustomed to call mine.’ This long extract reveals Jekyll’s fatal attraction to the thing that was ‘alone in the ranks of mankind, pure evil.’ He explains that the reflection of Hyde was much more lively than Jekyll’s – with his ‘imperfect and divided countenance’. Therefore his preference is towards the ‘wholly evil’ Hyde.
During the description of the transformation, it cannot be read for three lines before either the semantic fields of “devil”, “evil”, or “God” are mentioned. ‘My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring’ suggests the masculinity of the ‘roaring’ beast within Jekyll. It stresses the comparison of Hyde to the devil and sin. ‘I declare at least, before God, that no man morally sane could have been guilty of that crime upon so pitiful a provocation’. I get the impression that during this transformation especially; there is not a moral bone in his body. It was at this point in the series of transformations, he murders Sir Danver Carew. He thinks this was a ‘pitiful’ crime – and therefore shows the depravity within him.
In Jekyll’s full statement, Stevenson writes about how one side cannot last without the other. ‘It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man… of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, and even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun… I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream, on the thought of the separation of these elements.’
I think it was important that it was stressed that Jekyll was ‘radically both’ when he realised the duality of man, because it was then when he was in complete moral and intellectual control of himself. This emphasises that it was a decision that he seemed sane and rational enough to make. To accentuate the idea that one side could not live without the other, Jekyll had to learn to ‘dwell with pleasure, as a thought of a beloved daydream’. This shows that he was ashamed of his bad side, and had to try and block it out by only dreaming it, and ‘the thought of the separation of these elements’ was attractive to him – as he could therefore be one without the other.
Describing the final transformation, where Hyde must become Jekyll, Stevenson writes: ‘I knew myself at the first breath of his 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.’ The ‘new life suggests Jekyll to be reborn, and therefore it can be a representation of starting fresh and new. However, this depiction soon disappears from my mind at the repetition of ‘more wicked’. The echo of the adjective ‘wicked’ suggests to me, that he has the intent to do even more harm – ‘tenfold’ more harm. He tells us how he was ‘sold a slave to… original evil’; symptomatic of the iniquity he was once in control of, that is now in control of him. Stevenson describes Jekyll to be a ‘slave’.
This has connotations in my mind of being pushed around, bullied, and tortured. I feel this is a terribly important position we are at in the book – as it is one of the key ideas that support the concept that ‘man is not truly one, but truly two.’ It shows how Stevenson saw the evil side that he feels can grow and suddenly take over ones whole body. Hyde, however, loved the feeling of the overpowering evil. ‘It was not till weariness had succeeded that I was suddenly, in the top fit of my delirium, struck through the heart with a cold thrill of terror,’ shows how he was only able to feel the ‘cold thrill of terror’ when he began to get weary, and shocked me because it shows how much he was in ecstasy through the pleasures of evil.
Hyde can be symbolic of ‘the beast in man’. Throughout the book, Stevenson describes him, using animal imagery For instance, when Utterson confronts him after trampling on the girl towards the beginning of the book, he was described as ‘hissing’ like a snake with nowhere to escape, and a ‘Juggernaut’ which is, in my mind, a huge thing which crushes all that dare gets in its way. There is also animal imagery of Hyde when Poole, Jekyll’s manservant tells Utterson that the man in the room [which the audience know is Hyde] moves ‘like a monkey’, and a ‘thing’ that cries out ‘like a rat’. All these similes put together have connotations of a huge beast made up of many creatures – which is linked to Stevenson’s idea that man was made up of many personalities.
Stevenson also uses this book to get across his thoughts about hypocrisy. All the characters are so repelled by Hyde, but it is not exactly pinpointed what it is that is so repelling. It is these feelings of Hyde that the other characters have of him, that provokes violent and antagonistic responses from them all. Stevenson uses these characters as a symbol of man. He believes that all men and women are hypocrites – like Jekyll – because we all refuse to accept the dark side that Stevenson thinks is present in all human beings. He believed that people knew they had a bad side, but they all refuse to accept the truth, as ‘the dark side’ is so unpleasant. Because so many of the characters wanted to kill Hyde, this is a representation of how people reject part of their true selves – and are therefore, guilty of hypocrisy.
To stress this point further, the characters in ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ were chosen and designed very well. Utterson was a key person in the story, as the reader learns about the plot mainly through him. Being a lawyer, he is a man of complete integrity. He is a rather depressing character, but the reader trusts him, as in the first page of the novel, it is written that he was ‘yet somehow loveable’, and ‘when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye.’ It is this description; we first lay trust in him. There is no sense of danger within him initially, but we find out later in the story that he is ‘humbled to the dust by the many ill things he had done’, and gratified that there were so many things ‘that he had come so near to doing, yet avoided.’ This does not remove our trust in him, but reinforces Stevenson’s point of hypocrisy, and man’s ‘double being’, because of his leading of two lives.
When the reader first meets Jekyll, in ‘Dr. Jekyll was Quite at Ease’, he is described as ‘a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a stylish cast.’ This crafty look that is described here shows straight away the many layers that Jekyll has. His ‘large, well-made, smooth-faced’ suggests he has an enigmatic expression that the reader doesn’t fully understand. In doing this, the mystery of the second character is heightened. He had a firm, good upbringing, and he is a rather wealthy man – not only financially, but also socially. He had a good education, which is shown in ‘Henry Jekyll, M.D., D.C.L, LL.D, F.R.S.’ These mean Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Civil Law, Doctor of Laws, and Fellow of the Royal Society. Another issue that surprises and puzzles the unsuspecting audience is the fact that all his possessions were to pass into the hands of his ‘friend and benefactor, Edward Hyde.’ This adds to the unfathomable enigma of Jekyll.
Hyde, who as the reader know to be Jekyll’s ‘dark side’, is a rather diverse character altogether. He is less inclined to socialise with the other characters, which is evident within his meeting with Utterson after a long stakeout of Hyde’s residence. His language is coarse and snappy – and the man is evidently bad-tempered. His answers are short and concise. ‘How did you know me?’ ‘What shall it be?’ and ‘Who are they?’ demonstrate this well. He is constantly compared with evil, and the devil, and I think this has an impact on the way the reader see him, as some may interpret Hyde as a victim of bullying and gossip. I think this possibility is, however, ruled out by Hyde’s actions, speech and thoughts.
Dr. Lanyon, who is also a scientist – much like Jekyll, is much more ‘narrow-minded’ and ‘traditional’. Contrasting with Jekyll’s rather eccentric approach to science and medicine, Lanyon is only used twice in the story. The chapter ‘Dr. Lanyon’s Narrative’ is important, as it concludes his involvement in the story. Without this, too many questions remain unanswered, such as the true nature of Jekyll’s experiments and the real identity of Hyde. The lead up to Lanyon’s death is also significant, as the reader finds out that Lanyon too, has a divided self. He cannot abide the thought that there may possibly be a Mr. Hyde of his own, locked up inside him.
Stevenson uses language as a tool of emphasising his ideas of double being, and also uses the characters as examples in the underlying parable. Firstly, to learn plenty about the characters, Stevenson chooses the dialogue between characters very carefully. Jekyll is like Utterson, and they are both respectable men, and are measured and reserved in the way they speak to others. This pattern however breaks down to fragmented speech when Jekyll fights with Hyde for superiority. This is symbolic of how Hyde is taking over, as it shows how Hyde speaks himself, with his direct and unruly approach to others. Dr. Lanyon is fancy in his choice of words, and is a rather colloquially spoken man. This is hardly surprising, as his ‘geniality… was somehow theatrical to the eye.’
Secondly, the extraordinarily large amount of symbolism used in the text shows how carefully crafted ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ was. The use of fog throughout the book helps to build a sense of atmosphere. It is personified as it lingers constantly over the city. This is hardly surprising, as for one thing most of the action in this book either takes place at night or early morning where there is likely to be things like fog, and also because at that time, smog was a familiar thing. It acts like one of the characters, and at various points in the story, it even enters some of the houses. This acts as a tool to build a sense of mystery and atmosphere.
Doors and windows are also used. The first time we see the door, it is described in great detail – how it ‘bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence’ intensifies the sense of ambiguity. It also had ‘no bell nor knocker,’ and was ‘blistered and distained.’ This is terribly symbolic for two reasons. Firstly, it can support the interpretation of ego and id as the ‘two sides’, with the door being the barrier between the two; and secondly why was it described in such detail? This can prolong the reader’s urge to know what lay behind the door, and in essence opens questions to the reader – a device used widely in the building up of suspense and tension.
The imagery of the unwanted transformation overnight vividly helps the reader to picture the scene and series of events more clearly. Many adjectives are used in these pages, which build a sense of the importance of this event in the plot. ‘The hand which I now saw… Was lean, corded and knuckly, of a dusky pallor.’ This illustrates the hand in a melodramatic way, which again, helps to picture it in the reader’s mind. Stevenson wanted the contrast between Jekyll’s hand and Hyde’s to be highly apparent. ‘As sudden and startling as the crash of cymbals’ is a simile that helps the reader to compare this event with a more real-life practical experience. It all helps the depiction of the occasion.
Stevenson chose to have the use of several narrators, which helps build the foundations of a story or theme using many perspectives. The effect of this on the reader is simple – it allows the reader to see more clearly into the characters of the story, and to try and understand their relationships. Another use of this is authentication. Authentication is making the reader feel that what they are being told is more fact than fiction. By learning about the plot through the eyes of others, the reader feels they are seeing the intimate unravelling of true feelings and events, rather than being told a story.
A factor that must be taken into account is the reality that a Victorian reader would have had a highly different experience reading the book than a modern day reader. This is because as a modern reader, I already knew that Jekyll and Hyde were the same person, either through word of mouth, or television adaptations of characters to suit other situations. The effect of this is firstly, the heightened experience of suspense and excitement for the uninformed Victorian reader. Because they do not know Jekyll and Hyde are one, the tale is a true mystery to them. Secondly, it has an advantage to a reader like myself. Because I know the outcome, I can appreciate the complexity of the plot and theme, and because I am studying the novel, I can look out all the way through for ‘giveaway signs’.
In conclusion, I feel that as a novel, ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is an excellent demonstration of a complex ideological theme. It explores many avenues of thought connected with contemporary psychological ideas. The thought of man being ‘truly two’, to me is rather chilling, and the thought of ‘separation of these elements’ is not at all attractive to me. I can understand Stevenson’s thoughts, and appreciate the intricacy of his ideas associated with hypocrisy. I must, however say that I do not agree with him, and I have no interest in psychological ideas. I feel that the contents of one’s mind should remain that of that person, whose inner thoughts are being available to anyone. I would hate the thought of others reading my mind. This is, however my opinion, and others are welcome to theirs.