‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is a mystery novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. At the time it was written, the Victorians that read it would have been shocked at the events that unfolded as the story progressed. Although the novel was a thriller, it held groundbreaking theories about human nature: that everybody has a hidden dark side. The novel is very well known, the outline of the story is known by people who have not read it. Therefore, the story of Dr Jekyll who created a potion that unleashed his wicked side that caused many problems and did not fit in with society at the time.
The novel highlights the point that the Victorians were often hypocritical about submitting to their desires and frowned at people who were seen to be doing anything unrespectable. Dr Jekyll was a very respectable gentleman; whereas Mr. Hyde was a complete scoundrel, used in this story to represent the inner-self, the part of each person that experiences primal, basic emotions, urges and desires. People rarely succumb to these desires or they do where it can’t affect their reputation.
Victorian culture was very repressive – people were supposed to be in control of their emotions at all times and their desires weren’t to be spoken of, but on the other hand, many men were out fraternizing and leading a secret other life.
Dr Jekyll is a tall, very polite, friendly and social man whereas Mr. Hyde slumps as he walks, he doesn’t care about how other people see him, where he goes or what he does. He sees himself as a free person, to do what he likes. Jekyll understands the values of Victorian Society; whereas Hyde has a total disregard for rules and customs.
Stevenson uses symbolism to convey a deep feeling of evil throughout the story, one of the first instances of this occurs in the first chapter when describing the background for the story: the door of Mr. Hyde. This is the entrance and exit of Mr. Hyde and it is therefore used as a very strong evil presence because the most evil thing in the world is allowed passage through it.
The door is a major evil in this story: most of the dreadful occurrences in the novel can be linked with the door. It can be seen as the door to the dark side of yourself, a gateway between good and evil. It symbolizes the opening of the mind to see the inner self. The door links strongly with the idea of Stevenson making a comment about the Victorian society because people feared the dark side of themselves and outwardly denied it existed, but inwardly were more than ready to satisfy their primal urges. The observation is particularly directed at the men of similar status to Dr Jekyll – unable to act on their lust for behaviour that was not acceptable to the rest of society, whilst keeping their reputation (reputation was extremely important and without that, the men would be nothing).
The door shows ‘marks of prolonged, sordid negligence’, this could be symbolic for the idea that you can abuse, neglect or forget about your bad side or try to leave it behind, but it never goes, or grows any weaker.
The door has no bell or knocker; this suggests that nobody is welcome and that even if they wanted to, they couldn’t get in. The only normal feature mentioned on the door is a keyhole – the rest of the features are the scars and damaged bits of the door through the lack of care and attention. The door is ‘blistered’ like burnt skin, which is associated with pain and suffering. The door has been abused and misused as ‘tramps slouched into the recess and struck matches on the panels’ this symbolises people’s abuse of the partition between the two different sides to their personality – they seem to take the self-control and self-restraint of others for granted.
The area around the door is described in great detail; ‘a certain sinister block thrust forwards its gable on the street’. The use of personification here is useful to the reader because it shows the house is menacing and wants to be noticed, thrusting itself at you to get in your way or be annoying, adding to the sense of evil. The techniques symbolism, imagery and personification combined create a sense of evil, as if it is emanating from the door and contaminating the surrounding area.
The setting, London, is made to sound very menacing also, especially the fog within it: ‘the fog settled down upon that part, as brown as umber, and cut him off from his blackguardly surroundings.’ This uses personification, giving the fog will, it cuts him off from his surrounding – a purposeful act. The fog has a ‘glow of rich lurid brown’ and the trees on Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde’s property were ‘lashing themselves along the railing,’ trying to escape.
The bars could symbolise Dr Jekyll holding back Mr. Hyde who is fighting desperately to get free. Words like ‘dismal’ and ‘gloomiest’ are used to show the extent of the nastiness of London. ‘Labyrinths’ is used to describe the area of London (Soho District) that the novel is set in, this makes it sound like it is trying to trap you and stop you escaping. These descriptions are used to set the scene and create atmosphere, they make London sound like an awful place. Much of the story occurs at night with lamplight and intermittent spells of moonlight as the only sources of light, this creates an eerie setting.
In the section where Mr. Hyde tramples over the girl, the actions of Hyde and the reactions of those around him show the effect of people meeting their inner self. This section of the story is very effective at conveying a sense of evil within Mr. Hyde: no-one present in the story can understand how a person can feel evil, as if it is escaping through pores in his skin.
The women, some of the very few in the story, are said to be ‘as wild as harpies’ because they were trying to attack Mr. Hyde. When Enfield was asked to describe Mr. Hyde, he was unable to do so; he said it was ‘not want for memory; for I declare I can see him at this moment’. Later, in the next chapter, Mr. Utterson informs Mr. Enfield of how he sees Mr. Hyde: ‘something troglodytic, shall we say? Or can it be the old story of Dr Fell?’ A troglodyte is a cave-dweller, and the story of Dr Fell is a rhyme:
‘I do not like thee, Dr Fell, the reason why I cannot tell. But this alone I know fair well, I do not like thee, Dr Fell.’ The author uses this to illustrate the evil further, and, by using a rhyme that was well-known at the time, it would have had a more profound effect on the reader. It shows very clearly that the evil in Mr. Hyde is not subtle, but not easy to locate precisely. The incident was ‘hellish to see’ as Mr. Hyde is described to have ‘trampled calmly over the child’s body’, ‘trampled calmly’ is an oxymoron, as it is a contradiction of terms, the word trampled is far more likely to be followed with ferociously, madly or insanely, rather than calmly. This use of language makes him seem inhuman which is a good technique for making something seem evil.
Mr. Hyde beats Sir Danvers Carew to death with a walking stick in the street, there is a witness: a maid, one of the few women in the book. The fact that it is a woman who witnesses the atrocious act makes it more poignant – the maid is described as ‘romantically given’ meaning she had a romantic outlook on life, this makes the readers feel sorry for the poor girl for having to witness this ‘crime of singular ferocity’, causing the incident to look a lot worse. The Victorian readers would have been shocked by the ‘insensitive cruelty’ and the fact that he shows no remorse for either the incident with the girl or the murder of Sir Danvers Carew.
There are lots of secrets and lies in the novel, making it a reflection of real life, but no-one would want to admit it.
Dr Jekyll created the perfect alternative to the strict confines of Victorian Society: Hyde – ‘I was the first that could thus plod in the public eye with a load of genial respectability, and in a moment, like a schoolboy, strip off these lendings and spring headlong into a sea of liberty.’ The man was proud of himself for creating Hyde and was gloating when he said this. He feels he is above the law because he regularly frees himself from it. His life was far better as he could have both the image of a reputable businessman, but also he could leave his respectable image behind and do whatever he felt like.
The final chapter reveals the secrets of the works of Dr Jekyll. In the confession of Henry Jekyll, the reader is made aware of a potion which transformed Dr. Jekyll into Mr Hyde. This potion could represent a large amount of alcohol, turning respectable gentlemen into villains. He mentions in his ‘full statement of the case’ that he and Hyde were an ‘incongruous compound’, an oxymoron – incongruous means they don’t mix and compounds are chemically bonded, this is a fairly accurate metaphor – Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde were very much stuck together and do not mix, their friends, actions, decisions and way of life were very different, almost opposites. The conclusion of the story would have come as a severe shock to the Victorians who were reading it.
The name Jekyll may have been chosen for this reason – it may be Je-Kill, ‘je’ is ‘I’ in French, therefore ‘I kill’. The Oxford Dictionary defines Jekyll and Hyde as ‘a person alternately displaying opposing good and evil personalities.’
The psychoanalysist, Sigmund Freud developed theories which are very relevant to ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, he said that self-control is broken into two sections, reason and passion. In the story, Dr. Jekyll is the reason and Mr. Hyde is driven by passion, but in most people, the reason and passion both work together. He said there was a fine balance between good and evil and that there is no way of experiencing evil without becoming it, and that the more desire you experience, the more you lose sight of reason. He wrote a book about the interpretation of dreams, in it he said, ‘although unconscious, a part of the human mind exists which affects a person in profound ways’, this is referring to what can be seen as everyone’s personal Hyde.
There are monitors in your brain which react in different ways to different circumstances, ‘id’ is in charge of your subconscious desires and your animalistic wild side; ‘superego’ is in charge of your conscience and guilt; and ‘ego’ is what keeps you sane and causes you to avoid danger. These different monitors are present in varying amounts in each person, for instance, a person with only ‘id’ like Mr Hyde, acts only upon animal instincts and urges, without a thought for safety or reason. Someone like Dr Jekyll had a mixture of the three to start off with, but the potion allowed his ‘id’ to break away and form a new being in the same body.
Stevenson used a large range of techniques in this novel to convey evil; the metaphor ‘incongruous compound’ was particularly effective, as it shows accurately the relationship between the good and evil in the story. The reason there is no specific description of Mr. Hyde in the novel is because Mr. Hyde is intended to represent the whole human race, as everyone has a dark side. If there was a specific description of Mr. Hyde, this evil would not be visible in every single person, as the evil would have a face. The point Stevenson was making about Victorian society is also very clear, his beliefs about the hypocrisy of his people may have been lost at the time of first publication, but they provide valuable insight from an insider’s point of view. It is a story about self-destruction in a way; Stevenson showed the consequences of what happened when a man tried to live his dream in that particular society – he died.