Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores the duality of man; the good and the bad sides of human nature. The novella presents to us the psychomachic struggle of Jekyll trying to regain power of himself; however Jekyll’s attempts to do so fail. As a result Jekyll regresses into an uncontrollable grotesque monster: Mr. Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll, a respectable noble man who had an “honourable and distinguished future” had always had problems with his multiple personalities. As a consequence, Jekyll wanted to hide one of his personalities, the evil side, from the “public eye”. Due to this, Jekyll, a scientist, conjures up a potion to separate both sides of his personality. However, his potion does not work according to plan and he is left with his evil side, over powering and dominating him. Jekyll’s evil side (known as Mr. Hyde) soon over-powers Jekyll completely, leaving Jekyll with no power over the switches.
The structure of the novella is successful in sustaining the mystery of the novella owing to the fact that we as readers do not realize the nature of the mystery till the very end; that infact Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are one person. The exposure of the mutual personalities leaves readers to decipher the true colours of Jekyll and to comprehend why Jekyll did what he did and reflect upon his on going predicament.
The axiom of the story is also equally as successful in presenting to us the duality of man and revealing to us that we as people all experience dual sides to our personality; good and bad. Stevenson shows us how even a “wise and good” being (Jekyll) can have a “secret double life” and also he shows us the battle of Jekyll trying to gain possession of himself and the difficulty and complications he faces through his struggle to overcome his dual personality.
We first become aware of Hyde’s existence when Enfield narrates an account of an incident in which Hyde was first seen. Hyde was seen trampling a young girl and was described as “displeasing” and “something downright detestable”. From this point onwards we are given the sense that Hyde isn’t a very nice person and he seems to be the incarnation of evil.
The description of the door which precedes Hyde’s description is useful in preparing the reader’s sensibilities for Hyde’s nature because in the description the device of pathetic fallacy is used: “a certain sinister block”. This shows us that the block in which Hyde stays in is not very pleasant as it is “sinister” also this characterizes and symbolizes Hyde as “sinister”. Also readers can interpret that Hyde has no visitors as there is “neither bell nor knocker” which shows us that Hyde isn’t very sociable.
Hyde is described as animalistic as his actions and speech resemble an animal. He “hissed” and “snarled aloud into a savage laugh” both things are resembled with animals, showing us that Hyde is inhuman. The language portrays a sense of inhuman behaviour as the words used are most commonly used to describe the way animals act. Hyde is also described as “Something troglodytic” which shows us he is also evil. Hyde’s outward appearance is almost as detestable as his inner evil. Others who are acquainted by him are disgusted and describe his image and presence as “Satanic” showing us that he is pure evil. Hyde looks as evil as his appearance.
Hyde’s appearance gives the reader a sense of his “loathsomeness” because he is the “mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through” meaning he radiates evil. Also, this shows us that his outward appearance is not almost as dislikeable as his inside evilness. Moreover, Hyde is the complete opposite of good according to Victorian values because of his deformity and ugliness. Hyde’s presence is sickening; whoever is around Hyde is immediately sickened and disturbed, showing us that Hyde is not very nice to be around. Others are aware of his abhorrent behavior almost like a sixth sense.
Victorians believed in phrenology strongly so Hyde being ugly and having a deformity made him in their eyes an evil being. Hyde did not fit in Victorians idea of how God created man, also making them believe Hyde was Satanic. Victorians also believed that if someone was ugly their nature would be bad. In this case they’re views were correct. Hyde is ugly on the inside and also ugly on the outside.
The response to all who see/meet Hyde is important because Stevenson wants the readers to be fully aware of the extent of the evilness Hyde portrays and for the readers to realize just how much evil Hyde contains within himself. Although this evil is concealed people realize Hyde is evil just by his daunting presence. The response is important because Stevenson wants to show us that whoever is approached by Hyde is immediately disgusted. He made people feel uncomfortable; “it went down my spine like ice”.
As the story progresses Hyde’s actions seem to worsen and he becomes even more awful and ferocious. First he tramples a young girl and then he murders a rich man; worse because rich men in the Victorian period of time were well respected, known and were seen as upper class.
Stevenson has presented the murder case of Danvers Carew as monstrous and inhumane to symbolize the horrific behaviour Hyde is capable of carrying out. Hyde is portrayed in the way he murdered Danvers Carew was inhuman. “He broke out in a great flame of anger, stamping with his foot, brandishing the cane, and carrying on (as the maid described it) like a madman”. The term “madman” makes readers interpret that Hyde is infact monstrous and nowhere near human like. Moreover, Hyde is also described as animalistic: “with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot”. Hyde at this stage seems uncontrollable.
We are shown that Hyde has begun to dominate Jekyll as the novella draws to an end. Jekyll has always had a split personality and as the novella draws closure Hyde becomes even more powerful and starts to completely dominate Jekyll. Jekyll can no longer control the transformations and Hyde becomes the stronger character from the two. Jekyll soon finds it hard to hide his evil side, Hyde and realizes he is stuck as Hyde.
The broader social connotations for the Victorian readership show us that society is actually quite hypocritical. Also, that we all have an evil side within us that can come through anytime, everyone can be half evil; nobody is perfect. Hyde’s triumph shows us that our ‘bad’ side can also take over us at times.
At the beginning of the novella, Dr. Jekyll’s personality and character is portrayed as respectable. Jekyll is “large, well-made, smooth-faced man” and with “every mark of capacity and kindness” showing us that Jekyll is good-looking and kind. So to Victorians Jekyll would be seen as good. Also Jekyll is from a “stylish cast” meaning Jekyll is well off. Jekyll’s reputation seems to be very good and he seems to come across as a well respected man however, this reputation is false. “But from the high views that I had set before me, I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame.” Jekyll leads a secret double life, showing us his dual personality.
Jekyll is infact half evil. Due to this Jekyll decides to resolve his problem and separate his evil personality from the good. However, his plan does not go according to plan and he is left with having no control over the switches. Jekyll believes that the duality of man can be split; he believes that both sides of his personality can be split and can be given separate personalities. However, Jekyll only unleashes his evil side.
As a cause of his experiment Dr. Jekyll begins to feel “very low” knowing that he can no longer control his evil side making his problem worse. As the novella draws to an end Henry Jekyll realizes that he can no longer go on as Hyde; being evil. He realizes he will have to die; “this is my true hour of death”. He knows that Hyde is getting out of control and is like Satan, “that child of hell had nothing human”. Jekyll then commits suicide, freeing the evilness from his soul finally.
The moral of the story is that everyone has a dual personality; good and bad. Jekyll could not handle the fact his evil side was over powering and monstrous so he decided to kill the evil side, he committed suicide. Only by destroying himself Jekyll finally takes power into his own hands. Also, the novella shows us how the Victorians were hypocritical and judgmental without even knowing the truth. They, as a society, were not very open to people who were ugly or deformed, immediately labeling them as evil because of their appearance. Also, this novella shows us that evil can appear at anytime and any minute and cannot be hidden.