Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,’ shows a haunting battle between good and evil and makes the reader question the whole basis of human nature.
This allegory shows Dr Jekyll, a famous and well-respected scientist who concocts a potion which has the ability to separate the two sides of man – good and evil. When Dr Jekyll consumes this concoction, he transforms into a grotesque monster consisting entirely of evil. Mr Hyde. Being the evil creature that he is, Mr Hyde spends his time committing terrible crimes such as trampling a young girl for no apparent reason and murdering a well-respected gentleman without motive. Therefore, it is no surprise that he is soon sought after by police all over London.
The entire text revolves around the mystery of the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde. Throughout the book, the reader wants to know the full extent of the relationship between the two and why Dr Jekyll puts so much trust in Mr Hyde when he is evidently such an evil character. The sudden revelation that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are in actual fact, one entity and the duality of one personality – Mr Hyde being the personification of every negative impulse Dr Jekyll has ever had – shocks the reader and provokes thoughts about the duality of human nature.
In this book, Stevenson is trying to suggest that all humans have an evil side as well as a good side, and no matter how good a person is, there is an underlying evil side, and vice versa. Right up until the end of the novella, there is a psychomachic struggle between Jekyll and Hyde for the possession of Dr Jekyll’s body. This represents the struggle we all experience when discovering our own personalities. Every person struggles with different sides of their personality when discovering themselves. Different personalities of the same person conflict within the body and at the end, it is the person’s own decision as to which side finally prevails but when discovering oneself it is difficult to suppress certain sides, and this is represented by the ongoing conflict between Jekyll and Hyde for Jekyll’s body.
Mr Hyde is a very grotesque and evil character. He gives off a bad aura, and whenever he encounters people, they are “turned sick and white with the desire to kill him.” When he was described by Mr Enfield, Hyde was not referred to as “he,” but rather as “it” as though he was “not like a man, it was like some damned Juggernaut.” This choice of language compares Hyde to an inhuman, unstoppable force. This shows that Hyde is such a capacity of evil, that he is not even considered human.
He is fairly small and plainly dressed, but even so, he gives off the aura of an evil being. This suggests that Hyde is composed entirely of evil, and there is not an ounce of good in him. The amount of evil inside him even radiates out, causing other people to “detect” the evil coming from him. Considering the nature of his being, it is not surprising that Hyde does not interact much with other people. However, he occasionally does, and when this happens, he usually breaks out in violence towards that person, for example, the trampling of the young girl and the murder of Sir Danvers Carew. He seems too evil a creature to be affiliated with such a respectable gentleman as Dr Jekyll.
Pathetic fallacy is a technique that is used often in the novella to show just how evil Mr Hyde really is. The place he lives isn’t as good a place as where Jekyll lives. All the houses surrounding Hyde’s seem to be those of well-respected gentlemen, whereas Hyde’s was a different matter. It was a “sinister block of building” with simply a door and “a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper [storey]” The door was plain, yet it “was blistered and disdained.” “Tramps slouched” and “children kept shop upon the steps.” It was as though “no-one had appeared…to repair their ravages.” This adds to the impression Hyde makes on us, as we assume that no good person could live in such a place. The reader expects a good person to live in a clean, well kept house, which looks grand on the outside, rather than “sinister.”
We first become aware of the existence of Hyde hen Mr Enfield tells Mr Utterson a story about how he saw Mr Hyde trample a young girl mercilessly. When we first encounter him in the story, we think of him as “that damned Juggernaut.” When we come across this term, we think of something indestructible and unstoppable. This adds to the effect Hyde has on us. We take an instant disliking to him, and immediately know that he is the villain in this story. After he tramples the girl, he is made by Mr Enfield and many others to pay compensation to the girl, but when he gives them the cheque for ï¿½100, it is in the name of someone who is “at least very well known,” there fore the assumption is made by the audience that Hyde is blackmailing a good gentleman i.e. Dr Jekyll. We know he can’t be a good character.
Another thing that Hyde is guilty of is the murder of Sir Danvers Carew. Dr Jekyll had refused to take his potion for nearly a year, but gave in to temptation “in the month of October.” Hyde had been repressed for so long, that when he came out, he came out worse than ever. He acted “like a madman” and “clubbed [Carew] to the ground.” But the murder seemed motiveless, as “a purse and a gold watch were found upon the victim.” This shows the pure ferocity of Hyde and how he is willing to murder anyone without motive.
Dr Jekyll on the other hand, is the complete opposite of Mr Hyde. He is apparently an “all intelligent reputable man” who is well-known in society. He has the looks of a good person, which adds to the impression that he is not evil, as Mr Hyde is. He is a “large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty… [with] every mark of capacity and kindness.” All the way through the book, he is portrayed as the “hero,” the good person, yet in this book, the hero does not win – evil prevails. Dr Jekyll is a famous scientist who conducts an experiment to separate the two sides of each and every man and woman – good, the part most of us choose to show, and evil, the “lower elements in [the] soul.”
This experiment, however, goes badly wrong. Rather than the bad side, i.e. Mr Hyde, being discarded, it is the side that surfaces, resulting in a repulsive creature that does no good. Though this is not what Jekyll wanted, the potion becomes a drug for Jekyll. He becomes almost addicted, getting urges to take the potion, and so continues to take it. He does abstain at one point, but the abstinence means that when Hyde comes back, he is worse than ever. As time progresses and the psychomachic struggle continues, Hyde slowly begins to take control of Jekyll’s body, surfacing even when Jekyll has not taken the potion.
Mr Utterson and Mr Enfield saw one of these transformations “for a glimpse” but even though it was only for that glimpse, it “froze the very blood of the two gentlemen” and cause them to grow “pale and there was an answering horror in their eyes.” Pathetic fallacy is also used in this part of the novella, as the transformation occurs at nightfall, when day transforms into night. The darkness represents the evil of Hyde and the light represents the good of Jekyll. The light transforming to dark draws a parallel to good transforming to evil and Jekyll transforming to Hyde.
When in the form of himself, Dr Jekyll tries to do as much good as possible to compensate for all the evil deeds he has done as Mr Hyde. But this is not enough to stop Hyde from surfacing. Slowly, he gains control, until the end of the novella when “the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll [is brought to] an end,” just as Hyde gains full control and surfaces for the last time. Throughout the book, there is a mystery revolving around Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The reader wonders what the relationship is between the two men and why Dr Jekyll puts so much trust in Mr Hyde. Stevenson drops hints throughout the book, but those hints are extremely subtle.
For example, there was a full moon at the time of the murder of Sir Danvers Carew. As Victorians were very superstitious, they would have picked up on this immediately and would have associated the full moon with transition and the duality of one personality. This mystery remains in the book, until it is finally revealed, at the end of the novella that Jekyll and Hyde are in fact one entity. This comes as a shock to the reader as you do not expect such a respectable character to have such an evil side to him. This implies that Jekyll always had an evil side that he kept hidden from the rest of society. The entire allegory conveys Robert Louis Stevenson’s ideas about the duality of man and how no human is purely good or purely evil and that each person has a hidden side to them, whether it is good or bad. He shows this through Dr Jekyll, a seemingly good person who has a hidden side which fulfils his desires to carry out bad deeds. When Carew is murdered, there is a full moon.
This symbolises change and the duality of man. The text reflects Stevenson’s thoughts about the hypocrisy of Victorian culture, and how many Victorians liked to seem “virtuous” to other people, and always worried what other people were saying about them. They liked to keep up appearances and wanted to seem like good people. However, they had a hidden side to them, a side which they preferred not to show to other people. This side was something undesirably, something they didn’t want other people to know about, such as visiting prostitutes, or excessive drinking. Most people in the Victorian era thought that everyone had to behave in a certain way, yet behind closed doors, they acted the complete opposite. The story therefore, shows the duality of man and the hypocrisy of Victorian society. It conveys Stevenson’s ideas about how each person has a good side and a bad side, and his ideas about the hypocrisy of Victorian society and values.