How does Stevenson explore the theme of duality in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’?

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Robert Louise Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, is said to have lived a double life, where by which he lead a life where he was a well educated and respectable man, but also one of mystery, where he visited the ‘old town’ regularly throughout the night. This strongly reflects the character of Dr Jekyll, and it is this theme of duality that dominates the novel. Stevenson was obsessed with this theme, and it can be noticed in many of his other novels. Stevenson seems to have set the novel in Victorian London, but he clearly has Edinburgh in mind too, by doing this he subtly conveys the theme of duality- one part of the city thriving for success and the other, an impoverished area. The book represents the struggle between good and evil, written in the time of a male dominated society where being a respectable figure in society really mattered.

It was a short while before the novel was written that Darwin published his theory that mankind descended from primates, this caused much controversy, and with this in the authors mind, he brings in the idea of a ‘beast in man’. Sigmund Freud also had a great influence on the author, his recognized idea of having 3 parts to you- the id, the ego and the super ego- influenced Stevenson strongly, and throughout the novel this becomes apparent as each of the characters seem to be constricted of secret desires. These profound ideas would have put a great amount of fear in to the Victorian reader, and this is why the book became iconic.

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The opening chapter introduces us to the theme of duality via the use of setting. The neglected dingy appearance of the door strikes an incongruous note in the otherwise smart and pleasant street. The imposing scenes in the novel mostly take place in the dark hours of the night or the early hours of the morning, where the common use of fog and mist is used and where the characters are seen on the ‘pleasant’ streets near Jekyll’s house. The use of fog and mist contributes to the atmosphere of gloom and secrecy, and ‘the dismal quarter of Soho’ seems to Utterson ‘like a district of some city in a nightmare’. Soho represents the darker, seedier side of London- ‘a dingy street, a gin palace’.

The fog plays a vital role in the setting when the murders take place, as it conceals and obscures what is happening, almost blurring the edges of reality to both the witnesses of the murder and the reader. Further impressions of the novel are shaped by the descriptions of Jekyll’s house. The strange door that Enfield remarks upon is always locked, the windows in the rest of the house always shut and the buildings around the ‘court’ are huddled together which give the impression of secrecy and conspiracy.

The glamorous, upper class appearance of the front of the house provides a further example of the contrast in setting as it contrasts heavily with the dingy rear of the house. The suspicious door at the back plays an important role in displaying the dual personality of Henry Jekyll, as it is only Hyde that is seen using this door. In the novel the significance of the back door seems to symbolise secrecy, or perhaps the part of man that should be hidden. Hyde’s rooms in Soho again draw on the theme of duality, where the descriptions of the ‘high quality furniture’ contrast with the opinions of Mr Utterson: ‘but the room showed every sign of being recently and hurriedly ransacked’.

The theme of duality is most evident in Jekyll’s dual personality. He believes that ‘man is not truly one, but truly two’ and he, as a doctor, attempts to formulate a drug that could physically allow him to split this dual personality. As a result of his farfetched experiments he splits his personality into the malevolent character of Mr Hyde. The reasons for his experiments can be explored by looking into the time in which the novel is set. The Victorian era was a period of time where hierarchy and ‘class’ were important in society, and it was because of the strictures of religion and the conventional morality, men were forced to repress their secret desires in their public lives and indulge themselves at night in the darker seedier parts of the city. It was this repression of sexual desires that is portrayed by the character of Hyde.

Using the Freudian theory of different personalities the characters can be broken down into three parts; the id- purely instinctive behaviour, the pleasure principle, the ego- learnt or conditioned responses, balancing the demands of the ‘id’ with the reality of a situation and the needs of others (this is what everyone should strive towards being), and finally the superego- the developed conscience, and the beliefs of right and wrong shaped by society and upbringing. The Victorian society is structured around everyone being the ‘superego’. Hyde displays animalistic instincts which prove him to be amoral and closely relate him to the reference of the ‘id’; where by which he leads a life based on his own pleasures irrespective of the consequences.

Jekyll’s actions are those that suggest him wanting to do ‘good’ for society and that he follows the social codes which reflects the superego. The balance between the two characters would create the ideal being, the ego- which can be symbolised by Utterson’s actions in the novel. In the final chapter of the novel it reveals that Jekyll is in a loosing battle with his personality, here the monstrous character of Hyde is winning the battle. However, Jekyll feels elated when he changes to Hyde and the purely evil face of Hyde is welcomed by Jekyll as preferable to that of his divided personality. Interestingly, Jekyll changes between first person to third person when talking about Jekyll and Hyde during his confession, this shows who is in charge of his mind, and because it keeps changing it shows that he doesn’t have complete control.

Hyde clearly represents ‘the beast in man’ and is described in a number of animalistic images; ‘sneering coolness like satan’. His speech is different from other characters. He lacks their verbosity, having no time for social discussion, and when Utterson first confronts him he is described as ‘hissing’ like a cornered snake. He speaks to Utterson with a short, blunt tone to his speech, staccato sentences which are in the form of unnervingly direct questions: ‘how did you know me?’; ‘what shall it be?’; ‘whose description?’; who are they?’. Finally when he leaves this conversation which had been forced upon him, he bluntly accuses Utterson of having ‘lied’. When Utterson complains that this is not fitting language, Hyde ‘snarled aloud in a savage laugh’ before disappearing into the house.

It is not surprising that the lawyer is left with ‘a picture of disquietude’ after this whirlwind encounter. Enfield’s impression of Hyde reveals further contradictions. He is ‘cool’ yet underneath ‘frightened’, and although there is nothing particularly displeasing about him physically, he provokes an intense feeling of hatred and evil within all around him. Hyde’s appearance is enigmatic, which mysteriously seems to change as he becomes the more dominant demeanour of Jekyll. There are frequent references to his devil-like qualities; Enfield describes him as ‘like Satan’. However, Stevenson hasn’t included a description of Hyde’s face; this could be a mistake or be even deliberate. If in fact it is deliberate, the purpose of doing this achieves a strong sense of mysteriousness around the facial appearance of Hyde, and as a result the reader is left to make their own image of ‘evil’ in the descriptions.

Jekyll attempts to suppress Hyde, but is soon overrun by Hyde once more, and as result commits the viscous murder of the beloved Sir Danvers Carew. Stevenson chose Carew as the victim of Jekyll’s suppression as his character represents the opposite of Hyde’s. His kind hearted actions illustrate him being the ‘superego’, which contrasts to Hyde’s animalistic actions of the ‘id’. The murder itself takes place during the late hours of the night where a maid of Hyde’s witnesses the terrible encounter.

The low mist and dimly lit street lamps contributes to the atmosphere of what becomes a harrowing scene in the novel. Elements of the dual theme of the novel are conveyed throughout this scene. At first it seems to be peaceful, but this is shattered by violence of Hyde’s actions. Stevenson’s use of concealing things, hiding certain details from the reader plays a vital role in keeping the read engaged with the novel, leaving them questioning the actions of Hyde. For instance the reader is unaware of what Carew says to provoke the malicious attack.

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How does Stevenson explore the theme of duality in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’?. (2017, Nov 04). Retrieved from

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