The theme of duality in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

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How does Stevenson explore the theme of duality in the novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and how does this reflect the time in which it was written?

In Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde the theme of duality is explored in such a way that fascinated the audience in which it was initially written for. For centuries people have been interested in all things unknown, especially the paranormal. However, what really struck the Victorians was the concept that beneath a person’s composure there could be darker elements to their personality that are kept unseen, meaning that no matter how they presented themselves it would just be a fa�ade.

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The idea of being able to change into another person to do whatever you like and live exactly how you wanted would have been a particular interest with Victorian readers as it is likely that they would have been able to directly relate to Dr Jekyll’s character, who felt that for all his life he had been forced to live a certain way and to only show one side of himself, The novella fits in with other pieces of gothic literature written around the same time as they pushed forward the boundaries of the unknown and were originally written as a reaction to the strictness and the suppression of a Victorian society.

Duality is used in the narrative voice of the novella by having three of the main characters telling the story at different times in the book. The different perspectives automatically create a duality because, for example, Dr Jekyll and Dr Lanyon are both scientists who have very different beliefs and methods of their work. For most of the novel, the narrative follows Mr Utterson’s viewpoint, straight away we are told that he is a lawyer, a credible and well-educated member of society – because of this we know we can trust him from the start. Stevenson describes him as “a lover of the sane and customary sides of life” this is probably because it makes him represent the attitudes of the average reader at the time, again making him the perfect character to follow.

Utterson as a narrator is effective in the way that he doesn’t know anything more than the reader does, this helps to keep the story going as when he gets closer to uncovering the mystery so do we. Utterson’s profession makes it harder for him to jump to the conclusion of what is actually happening with Jekyll and Hyde throughout the novel, his knowledge of law blinds him from what is really happening and causes him to jump to the wrong conclusions and immediately assume that Dr Jekyll is being blackmailed, this stops the reader from working out what is really going on too and so makes the last 2 chapters more dramatic as they would come as complete surprise. The last two chapters are written from the perspective of Dr Lanyon and Dr Jekyll and are in the form of letters, the two doctors do not feel they can talk about their experiences openly due to the suppression of the society at the time and shows how seriously they both took it to keep it from others.

Both letters were written with the aim of being read after both men had died, possibly showing how ashamed they’d felt, Lanyon for trusting Jekyll and Jekyll for what he had done. The letters in this novel are a way of portraying the opinions of the other characters as well as creating a sense of mystery and secrecy. Stevenson chose to not let Jekyll or Lanyon have their accounts until the very end, if he had the story would not have been as successful in the build up of mystery and tension that it originally created, If Utterson had read Dr Lanyon’s letter when it was given to him, instead of doing as it instructed and waiting until the death of Dr Jekyll, the entire build up would have been destroyed much earlier on.

The theme of duality is also emphasized throughout the novella due to contrasts in the setting. An example of this is when the author describes how the court was ‘very cool and a little damp, and full of premature twilight, although the sky, high up overhead, was still bright with sunset’. Here there is description of two opposite types of setting, one of them being dark and the other being light. This could be related to the characters: for example, the dark side would be describing Hyde while the light side would be a description of Dr Jekyll. However, this quote could also relate to Jekyll’s workplace as it is hidden away in the darkness behind the house and this gives the feeling of mystery and secrecy.

Another example of this also relates to Jekyll’s house. One side of his house has “freshly painted shutters, well-polished brasses and general cleanliness” this reflects the side of Jekyll he shows to people, much like this would be the side of his house people would see. The idea that his shutters are “freshly painted” gives us an idea that they are painted frequently and is ever changing, just like how Jekyll is ever changing into Hyde. It could also show that a lot of care and attention is put into this part of the house, whereas we see the complete opposite a the back of the house which “showed no window” this part of the house is where Hyde enters and it is where Jekyll’s laboratory is, this definitely suggests that bad things happen in there and that he doesn’t want anyone to see in and perhaps doesn’t want to see out either.

The appearance of the back of the house is very different to the front, Stevenson describes it as “discoloured… blistered and distained.” This makes it sound very unattractive and generally unpleasing to look at, much like the description of Hyde. The word ‘discoloured’ could also been seen as unnatural because the colour has changed from what it originally started as, this relates to how Hyde is unnatural, he is supposed to be hidden away.

The character of Jekyll represents duality because he is two people himself as he is also another person, Hyde. Jekyll represents a normal Victorian gentlemen with control, morality and good manors. As soon as we meet him we can tell he is a likeable character. However as the story goes on he appears to become more and more suspicious and it is clear to readers that he is not exactly as Mr Utterson and other characters in the novella believe him to be. Describing Jekyll in the way that he does means that Stevenson makes a clear contrast between him and the character of Hyde. Dr Jekyll is a ” a large, middle-aged, smooth faced man of fifty” this description makes him sound like a particularly soft, friendly looking character, an extreme in comparison to the description of the other half of himself which is described as ” displeasing… down right detestable.”

This agrees with the idea that gentlemen may not have been all that they seemed. These men were repressing secrets that they would not be showing to the world; this was because of activities such as visiting prostitutes, so there is hypocrisy. This problem is what Jekyll is trying to solve by finding a drug that separates good and bad in order to find a way to remove the evil in people. This, he believe, would allow him to enjoy life as he would no longer have to “conceal his pleasures”. Another example of duality is between Jekyll and Lanyon. Lanyon thinks that Jekyll is being a heretic and is taking science down the wrong road, whereas Jekyll believed that he is doing he experiment for the good of mankind. The word “heretic” or “heresy” means that when something is going against God, and this is what Lanyon believes Jekyll is doing, he thinks he is trying to play God.

The character of Hyde strongly contrasts to the character of Jekyll, so much that they are complete opposites. The main difference between Jekyll and Hyde is that one is good and one is evil, good being Jekyll and evil being Hyde. The first time we meet him is when Enfield is telling Utterson of a time when he met Hyde, he describes seeing him “trample calmly over a child’s body and leaving her screaming on the ground”. The word trample has connotations of something large and forceful, yet the adverb used to describe his action implies that he did it in a easy and smooth way – perhaps this is implying that this is a usual thing for him to do so he can carry it out in such a graceful manner, this shows how he truly has no conscience inside him.

This shows duality in his own actions, the way he manages to do such awful things but feel very good and calm about them. Hyde is also described as being like a animal. When he murders Sir Danvers Carew, Stevenson tells us that he behaves “with ape-like fury”; apes are an animal which humans were evolved from, meaning that Hyde is still not fully a human being. Humans are the only animal so far known to have a conscience, by comparing Hyde to a animal Stevenson is emphasising the fact that he might not be either.

I believe that the moral of the novella “the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” is that although it is acceptable for us to indulge in our desires, if we do it to much bad things will happen, however if we completely repress everything, we have an equal chance of destroying ourselves and I think he wanted to get that message across to Victorian readers especially. Dr Jekyll tried to find a way that meant he could enjoy all this and still live his life as a well-liked doctor to, but as we see from the story, part of living is learning and that you cannot do everything you wish to do. The character of Hyde was Stevenson’s way of representing the animal and primitive ways all human beings have, which is possibly more visible than we think, despite the fronts we put on to disguise that.

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The theme of duality in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. (2017, Nov 02). Retrieved from

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