‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is not simply a horror, but incorporates various genres, thus cannot be classified under a single category. As it includes various genres, it is open to interpretation. Some see it as a mere horror, others as more of a psychological account, or a moral tale conveying a message. The novel is not a straightforward one, and contains elements of all three.
To ascertain to what extent it is ‘merely’ a horror, we must first examine what defines a horror. One aspect of horror is the clear presence of an evil antagonist fighting the good protagonist; the main character. In the story, there is one clear antagonist: Hyde. There are two protagonists, Utterson and Jekyll. Both can also be seen as main characters; the whole novel seems to follow Utterson, yet it is also based around Jekyll as the main aspect. There is no crystal clear protagonist. Jekyll is certainly the stem of the scientific aspects of the novel, and at the time people were very superstitious about scientific discoveries.
Horrors tend to be based on old superstitions, and ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ almost fits this category perfectly; as mentioned above, at the time people were superstitious when it came to science. The only way it differences itself from other horrors in this respect is that it is based around new superstitions, not old ones. Science is also used as almost ‘modern’ magic, as another classic trait of horror is the presence of supernatural elements. This use of science to create a supernatural element is made clear in the line ‘…the course of my scientific discoveries had began to suggest the most naked possibilities of such a miracle…’
The use of the word ‘scientific’ makes it clear that within the confines of the novel science is seen as the new magic. This is due to the word ‘miracle’ later on, as science would have to have supernatural powers to cause a miracle; one wouldn’t expect a miracle to be caused by natural means, as it would defy the meaning of the word. ‘Naked’ emphasises the raw power of the potion and the almost undeniable fact that a miracle has been achieved. The talk of ‘miracles’ and the style of writing implies an almost excited state, showing the heightened emotions experienced by Dr Lanyon.
Heightened emotions are an aspect of the horror genre, and can be clearly seen within ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. These heightened emotions are usually fear, dread, and other such negative feelings. One example of this within the novel is ‘…the deadliest terror sits by me all hours of the day and night…’ This backs up the idea of horror and heightened emotions: ‘deadliest’, being the superlative, really emphasises the intensity of the emotion, terror. When Stevenson (Dr Lanyon in the novel) describes the terror, he puts ‘sits by me’. This really personifies the terror, portraying it as a ghostly figure, sitting by Dr Lanyon. This is because of ‘sits’ implies a physical being. The word ‘night’ gives the theme of darkness, common in any horror. Darkness is one of the main themes in Gothic horror writing. They are also usually set in not only a dark location, but also a foreign one, usually of medieval style.
‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is not set in a foreign or mainland European locality, contrary to horror convention, as it is set in London. In most horrors, the setting also tends to be old, or at least the buildings do. This is due to one main restriction: Science. At the time, there were many scientific breakthroughs in London, but Stevenson tried to work around this: He makes London seem foreign; he takes a familiar place and makes it seem unfamiliar, by taking away the busy life and making London deserted. This turns London into a near-sinister setting.
A sinister setting almost obligatory within a horror, and ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is no exception. The laboratory and its housing are very mysterious, with an unkempt eeriness about them. One example of this house’s poor, ruined condition is ‘…bore in every feature the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence.’ In this quote, the word ‘prolonged’ entails that it has been unkempt for a long time, creating the feeling of an older mystery. This ties in with the earlier point about older buildings as being part of the setting. When it is described as bearing in ‘every feature’ the marks of damage, it emphasises the extent of the damage. The condition is described as ‘sordid’, which implies a seedy, sinister location. This can be compared to Stevenson’s life, as he used to live in Edinburgh. He lived an upright life by day, but sought the seedier areas of the town at night.
Most barbaric or shocking acts happen at night during horrors. In ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ however, the trampling of the little girl happened by day. This fits in with the violence of a horror, and was quite shocking for the people at the time. This was very common in horror, as it was victimisation of an innocent maiden. Elsewhere within the novel, females played passive roles. They do no particularly significant or useful things within ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. This is typical of any horror, and an example within ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is in Jekyll’s manse; his maids cower and scream with very little dialogue at all.
It is clear from the evidence that the novel is a horror to an extent. To explore to what extent it is ‘merely’ a horror, we must first look at different interpretations. At the time, science was mistrusted as it was the time of many breakthroughs, and the birth of a new science: Psychology.
Psychology was a very new, scary, and exciting science at the time. Stevenson wrote the book to illustrate his ideas on the dual personality of man. He may have been influenced by his double-life in Edinburgh.
Multiple Personality Syndrome (MPS) is a recognised mental problem, although was reclassified in 1994 as Dissociative Identity Disorder. ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ included elements of MPS/ Dissociative Identity Disorder, although it was unknown at the time; psychology was barely in its infant stages, so the book’s scientific content is far before its time. Although there are various differences between Jekyll’s case and Dissociative Identity Disorder, the similarities are impressive given the time in which it was written.
For a start, Jekyll does not change due to a dramatic or traumatic experience, but due to the potion he made. The main difference of this is volition; he consciously chose to drink it, so he made an active decision to change, as opposed to a passive, sub-conscious decision. Another difference is that Jekyll and Hyde share the same memory, whereas with Dissociative Identity Disorder the two (or more) ‘alters’ have no knowledge of each other: there is total amnesia. Clear evidence of this communal memory is in the line ‘My two natures had memory in common.’ Stevenson makes it absolutely clear here that they share a memory.
The reason for this within the book is simple; if Jekyll did not know of Hyde and his actions, the sense of guilt and despair, leading to self-destruction, there would be no real story and much less drama. In the line ‘…Henry Jekyll, with streaming tears of gratitude and remorse, had fallen upon his knees and lifted his clasped hands to God.’ We can see clearly here that there is evidence of guilt. This is after Hyde has committed an atrocity; if Jekyll were unaware, the whole (melo)drama would be lost.
The word ‘remorse’ shows how he is sad for, and regrets, the actions of Hyde which are, at least in part, his own fault. This despair is emphasised after he ‘falls upon his knees’. This shows his desperation and heightened emotions, which would not be evident without the mutual memory. It also goes back to the beliefs of the time and religion as he ‘lifted his clasped hands to God.’ This re-iterates and emphasises his despair at the actions of Hyde and also goes back to the supernatural; Hyde is seen as the force of evil, Jekyll the force of good.
A similarity between the case of Dr Jekyll and Dissociative Identity Disorder is the fact that the ‘alters’ have different voices. This helps in the novel to distinguish between the two when Jekyll locks himself in his laboratory demanding high-quality ingredients. He also changes physically, however. Within the book, this helps to create the mystery for the reader and Utterson; If Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were visibly identical, there would be no sense of confusion or Jekyll using Hyde as a ‘vehicle’; he initially turned into Hyde for enjoyment as he could do things without a worry for his name. This is shown in the quote ‘Jekyll…projected and shared in the pleasures and adventures of Hyde.’ The word ‘projected’ implies that Hyde was apart from Jekyll, as little more than a shadow, image or faï¿½ade.
This, whilst being true at the beginning, gradually changed as Hyde gained influence and control over control of Jekyll’s body (Hyde’s version of Jekyll’s body, but only one could occupy the time and space at the same time). The phrase ‘shared in the pleasures’ shows that Jekyll enjoyed being Hyde, supporting the point that Jekyll initially used Hyde as a vessel to experience things he secretly enjoyed, but didn’t dare do. Stevenson uses the word ‘adventure’ which is almost ironic; he wrote children’s adventure books such as ‘Treasure Island’. This gives a chilling contrast, to readers of his other novels, between the jovial pirate capers and such, and the macabre, dark and sinister adventures of Hyde. Deliberate or not, this is a very good effect which shows the darker side of angelic Henry Jekyll.
These ideas, like the novel, were very new at the time, so caused great public interest. The idea of science and double lives was a much talked-about matter at the time. I.e. Burke and Hare. They killed people to be able to get fresh corpses to be delivered to scientists for public dissection. They led respectable lives by day, but were ‘body snatchers’ by night. These new ideas of the book discouraged and scared people, however, so the publishers branded it not as a horror, but as something else entirely: a moral tale.
To compare ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ to a typical moral tale, we must first remember that the publishers branded it as one to encourage the public to buy it. This is due to the public fear of horror stories. Due to the nature of marketing, we cannot take this as solid proof: we must analyse the elements of the story. There can be no one, simple answer, as it is not a straightforward novel.
The novel, like many moral tales, mirrors society; it is almost satirical in its depiction of Victorian hypocrisy. This is shown when Hyde, having trampled the girl, says ‘No gentleman but wishes to avoid a scene’. This shows that even despite his barbaric nature, at this point in the book, he still wished to keep a clean name. The word ‘gentleman’ shows how, in Victorian times, gentleman was a common term, as it implied respectability. The manner of speaking ‘but wishes to’ implies the almost aristocratic behaviour of the upper classes of Victorian society. The phrase ‘avoid a scene’ shows how they wished to keep impeccable names and reputations.
Hyde eventually spoilt his good name when he murdered Carew, the politician. Hyde’s actions also ended up spoiling Jekyll and his morality. This led to complex moral dilemmas for Jekyll, and he wanted to expel Hyde. Moral dilemmas are almost the backbone of any moral tale. This moral destruction of Jekyll led to him being spoilt by the trauma. This idea of a spoilt hero is common within the moral tale theme. In the novel, Jekyll is clearly spoilt at the end, as he ends up hating his alter ego so much that he kills himself to get rid of Hyde. This is shown in the final sentence ‘…I bring that life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.’
It shows how Jekyll is driven to self-destruction by initially seeking his own secret, selfish goals. His detachment from either ‘alters’ is evident as he speaks in the third person ‘I bring the life of’. This shows how he is psychologically distraught, due to the moral dilemmas, so refuses to attach himself to either persona. His distress is so great that he refers to himself as ‘unhappy Henry Jekyll’. Here Stevenson openly states the unhappy state of Jekyll. He may have been using a writing device intentionally, or it may be sheer coincidence; the novel ends with the word ‘end’. This wraps up the phrase and declares the end of the novel, without the clichï¿½d ‘END’ or ‘FIN’ as separate words from the flowing prose.
After the inward struggle with Hyde, Jekyll eventually wins the battle of good against evil. This comes at the end of the novel described above. This is typical of a moral tale, good succeeding after a struggle. This is shown with his dependence on the powder to keep Hyde temporarily away; ‘About a week has passed, and I am now finishing this statement under the influence of the last of the old powders’. The fact that ‘a week has passed’ shows that it has taken Jekyll a week to build up the confidence to kill himself to end both their lives.
The fact that he requires the ‘influence’ of the powders shows his weakened state during this time, as he is reliant on them to stay himself. The phrase that really stands out is ‘the last of’. This is because of it really emphasises the desperation and that the struggle has led him down to the very last of his ‘weapon’ against Hyde. Unlike most moral fables however, the villain (Hyde) has no redeeming features; he is there to represent all of the suppressed evil within Jekyll
The publishers may well have branded it as a moral tale, but despite sharing aspects with moral tales, it cannot be classified as one solely. This is because of it was never written to be a fable or anything of the sort. It was based on a series of nightmares and bad feverish experiences. These factors tend to lead to horror stories, not moral tales. Although these are not solid grounds to dismiss it as a moral tale, I only wish to point out that the signs lead to horror or psychological.
In conclusion, I believe that ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is mainly a horror story, but not a ‘mere’ horror story. This is because of it was written to explore the dual nature of man. This means in a sense that it was designed to be a psychological novel. The content is typical of both horror and psychological books, though also contains elements of moral fable. The horror element is strong, although I wouldn’t describe it as merely a horror. I will say that it is much more a horror and a psychological novel than it is a moral tale, however. It could be interpreted as a mere horror if the psychological elements were overlooked, as it certainly has many underlying themes that make a horror.
It could equally be interpreted as a psychological account, as it was written around the time when people were beginning to grasp psychology, and Stevenson did write it to illustrate the dual personality of man. The only way it could be interpreted as a moral fable in my opinion would be if one read it after the publishers had deemed it one, and noticed the elements of a moral tale and almost ignoring the others. ‘The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is a mix of all three. It is predominantly horror, with heavy psychological implications, which does contain a few elements of a moral fable. It cannot be classified under a single category, as it crosses the boundaries, and contains various interlinking themes.