The Portrayal of Mans Duel Nature in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

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Within Robert Louis Stevenson’s renowned novella “The Strange Case of DR Jekyll and MR Hyde” published in 1886, duality is a key factor in building the basics for the ideas and concepts that make up both the majority of the plot and Stevenson’s personal beliefs. Duality can be seen in the portrayal of the characters, setting, Victorian society and the many references to secrecy throughout the novella.

Characters play a large part in the representation of duality. This can be seen on many instances and in almost every character throughout the story. First of all we see this in the depiction of the character Utterson. We are told that Utterson is “austere with himself” and “though he enjoyed the theatre, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years”. This tells us that, although he wants to go to the theatre, he refrains from earthly temptations and oppresses his second self or his duality nature. It is this duality nature that Utterson oppresses, that Stevenson believes is in everyone and of which can be seen prominently in Victorian society, in which many thought it disgraceful to act in an uncouth manner and so had to be oppressed.

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Utterson is described as a “man of rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile”, yet goes on to say “and yet somehow oddly lovable” and “something eminently human beaconed from his eye”. This may hint at Utterson’s duality nature in which the side he shows to his friends and to the public is that of a respectable hard working lawyer and yet his duality nature as a happy and joyful person still shows through and is exercised through his friendships and how he communicates to his peers.

We next see the portrayal of duality in that of Mr Enfield who on telling the story of the night he met MR Hyde, says “I was coming home from some place at the end of the world, about three o’clock of a black winter morning,” We see his duality nature here where he reveals his “coming home from some place at the end of the world” meaning that he was doing something that maybe considered vulgar. From this we know that Enfield dose not suppress his Duality nature and may even exercise it on a regular basis.

Duality can also be seen in the portrayal of the murder of Danvers Carew, who we know to be an MP “shocking murder of an MP” and from the impact his death has we can assume him to be well liked and respected. His duality can be seen in the circumstances of the murder in which he meets Hyde at night, which shows us that the business that he was conducting must have of a nature that he did not want others to know of and therefore in contrast with the person known to the public.

Lastly is the duality of the character of Jekyll of whom the plot is based around. Throughout the novella we are made to think of Jekyll and Hyde, although related by some circumstance, as two different characters and it is not till the second to last chapter that we are told of them being two different sides of the same person, one, the kind, good hearted but not perfect Jekyll “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast perhaps but every mark of a capacity and kindness” and the other as the animalistic and evil side of Hyde “something downright detestable”, “something troglodytic”. These descriptions of Hyde are used to give us the impression that he is the pure evil side of man, and the onomatopoeia of the word troglodytic is used to make us think that he is monstrous, animalistic and the resemblance of a monkey which can be seen in the quotation “has hairy hands”.

This then fits in with historical context in the form of “The Origin of Species” published 27 years before in which Darwin’s theory’s of evolution state that we are all evolved from apes. Jekyll on the other hand is the normal or middle side of man in which both the evil and good Dualities are intertwined “even if I could be rightly said to be either, it was only because I was radically both” and although more good than evil, finds it hard to repress a “certain impatient gaiety of disposition” or his duality nature. We also see in this portrayal of Jekyll and Hyde another of Stevenson’s ideas. Stevenson believed that the quality of one’s soul; whether it be good or evil based on your actions in life, determines your looks, this can be seen from the description of Hyde “the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through”.

This quote means that the fact that Hyde is evil and animalistic determines that he will look evil and like an animal. Also the character of Hyde is described as “less developed” and as “so much smaller, slighter and younger than Henry Jekyll.” This is because the character of Jekyll tries to refrain from exercising his Duality nature on a regular basis and so his duality nature is less developed than Jekyll himself. Lastly is the idea and reference to the Oedipus complex, in which it is thought that there is a time in a boy’s life when he tries to overthrow his father. This is mentioned in the Quotation “Jekyll had more than a fathers interest; Hyde had more than a sons indifference. This shows that not only dose Jekyll see himself as separate from Hyde and the immoral actions of Hyde but also that Jekyll sees himself as the father of Hyde and Hyde as the son trying to overthrow him as with the Oedipus complex.

Duality is not only portrayed in characters but setting also. First of all it can be seen in the description of London where it changes from “like a fire in a forest; and with its freshly painted shutters, well-polished brasses, and general cleanliness and gaiety of note” to “the square, when they got there, was all full of wind and dust, and the thin trees in the garden where lashing themselves along the railing.” From this we can see the two sides of London and how it can be transformed in to its Duality nature, the first being that of day where it can be seen as safe and secure, the later being that of night, a time where it would be seen as unsafe to venture out alone. This then links back to Stevenson’s representation of secrets where many of the crimes are committed at night so as to hide the criminal from view this then being the reason that London is described in this way.

We next see the portrayal of duality in the description of the house that Jekyll lives in where one side has “no windows”, “tramps slouched on the recess” and a “blistered and stained” door, and the other “there is a chimney which is generally smoking”, “there are three windows … always shut but they are clean” and “the pleasantest room in London”. This shows how even the house has both an un pleasant and a pleasant duality in which the first side is dirty and unkempt and subsequently the side that only Hyde uses, and the latter is clean and well looked after and is the side that Jekyll uses.

Another method that Stevenson uses to portray duality throughout the novella is the theme of secrecy. Secrecy is found mainly in the form of five motifs, keys, doors, mist, night and letters all of which are used to hide from view, Jekyll’s dual self or Hyde. The first motif’s we are shown is that of the keys used by Hyde and the door they open. The motif for the key can be seen throughout the novella and first mentioned by Enfield’s experience of Hyde, “whipped out a key, went in”. This is a portrayal of duality because the key is used to Hide Jekyll’s duality, something important in Victorian society as ones duality or the acts of one’s duality where frowned upon. The motif for the key then signifies the hiding away or the secrecy of Hyde. We see secrecy in that of Jekyll’s house to. This can be seen in the fact that the side of the house most used by Hyde has no windows which could be hinting therefore at the need for secrecy on the part of Hyde and Jekyll as to keep the secret of their duality hidden from the public.

Within the same sentence Enfield also mentions the motif of the door, “Where do you think he carried us to but that place with the door”. This motif is similar to the last except in that where the keys is more of a symbolic entity of secrecy the door is a physical substance between the public and the secret and is related to the motif of the key in that a key is needed to open it.

Next we have the motif of the letters; “a large envelope was uppermost” letters play a large part in the portrayal of secrecy (and therefore duality) in that they may contain a secret and the confession of a secret as they are usually aimed at a correspondence. They may also be used to delay the discovery of a secret as is with this book in that there may be conditions to the opening of the letter and so the discovery of the secret, in a way stilling help to hide the secret as well as professing it. “Not to be opened till the death or disappearance of Dr Henry Jekyll”, in this case we have Dr Lanyon telling Utterson not to open the letter until Jekyll is dead or missing so as to delay the discovery of the secret.

Lastly we have the motifs of night and mist. Both are can be seen to surround secrecy as they both obstruct the view of observes and therefore can help to preserve the secret. Not only that but night is also the time that when Hyde becomes active and cavorting with characters of a nefarious and dubious nature.

The ideas and concepts of duality are conveyed not only using motif’s, character portrayal and setting but through language and sentence structure used by Stevenson. First we have a change in narration in certain key areas of the novella. This change of narration happens as we switch from the narrative of Utterson to; in the first case, that of Dr Lanyon of which the chapter is named “Dr Lanyon’s Narrative”, then to that of Dr Jekyll. This switch of narratives is done in the form of us reading the two letters written by Jekyll and Lanyon in which their portions of the events is uncovered or the secrets uncovered, in their words. The narrative switches for the first time in the chapter “The Carew Murder Case” in which it describes the events of the maid servant, it is here that the duality of Carew is discovered to and his secret uncovered. It seems that whenever a change of narrative occurs the secret of a characters duality is uncovered. Next we have his use of linguistic techniques such as similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia and alliteration.

These are used throughout the novella to add dramatic effect to the portrayal of duality and to emphasise its effects on the characters throughout. For instance we have the previously examined quotation of Hyde as being “something troglodytic” which uses the form of onomatopoeia to emphasise the animalistic quality of Hyde, this then portrays to the reader more of an image of Hyde. The use of similes is also used in a similar fashion, to portray to the reader a greater depiction of the characters and in this case the setting, “the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood, like a fire in a forest.”

This particular quotation allows the reader to imagine the street with greater depth but also to show the difference between its dual personalities that mentioned further along in the book. The use of metaphor is also used but in a slightly different way. For example the quotation “some place at the end of the world” allows the reader to guess about Enfield’s duality without directly telling them and therefore drawing in the readers interest, the novella would not be quite so interesting if all of the information was laid out with no need for the reader to think about what has been said. Lastly alliteration is used occasionally throughout to emphasis points made such as Hyde’s animalistic qualities, “hardly human”. This not only emphasises but draws the reader’s attention to points of importance and note. Its use also achieves a wider range of exotic techniques which makes the story ever more interesting and readable.

Duality is prominent throughout Victorian society and maybe the reason for the popularity and fame this novella has achieved. It gives the reader an explanation as to why certain people do certain things and gives a strong message about duality. This message could be that it is not healthy to hide away ones duality but to express it in moderation and in control ergo keeping us healthy in body and mind. The popularity may also be due to the new ideas achieved by Stevenson and the way these are portrayed in an almost believable fashion. The fact that he uses science to explain Jekyll’s transformation to Hyde rather than using magic or other less believable ways of describing it, make it seem all together more real or feasible making it more believable and explainable. Its success may also be due to it being written in the style of gothic literature which was very popular in the Victorian era as other Gothic literature such as Frankenstein’s Monster and Count Dracula which both became popular novels in their time.

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The Portrayal of Mans Duel Nature in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. (2017, Nov 01). Retrieved from

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