Exploring the Grotesque: The Fiction of Stevenson and McCullers

Over the course of several centuries, grotesque imagery has played a vital role in the arts, literature, and cultures all over the world. Attempting to attribute a clear-cut definition to the word grotesque has proven to be a challenge for historians and literary scholars since its definition has changed over time, but the role it plays in each of these subjects is essentially the same. The Grotesque serves as a means by which to stray away from conventional beauty standards, to distort and exaggerate, and combine the familiar with the unfamiliar- much like the Uncanny. Because of this, Gothic literature often incorporates grotesque imagery to further emphasize themes of chaos, madness, and other dark aspects of the human condition. This essay will examine the concept of grotesque imagery and the role it plays in challenging conventional body notions in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad Cafe.

When first introduced to the word grotesque, most people would think of its adjectival form: “very strange or ugly in a way that is not normal or natural.” (The Master’s Review). Although these are indeed common grotesque elements, they do not necessarily constitute the whole meaning of the word. Since actual word itself has evolved and changed meanings over the years, earlier iterations were used in a way that blurred the line between the real and unreal (The Masters Review). More recently, the Grotesque is used in literature to focus on the physical aspect of the human body. However, the Grotesque is both an artistic and literary term that involves a combination of the real and unreal, human and nonhuman, and horror and comedy.

An example of Grotesque literature that merges horror with comedy is in Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Nose”, which is about a man named Ivan who wakes up one day and discovers that his nose has ran away, and is now walking around Russia dressed up as a police officer. The nose harasses him when he accuses it of running away from him, and then nearly arrests him (LetterPile). Clearly this plot is disturbing, but it is also so far-fetched that it’s comical. The Grotesque tends to defy clear definitions and borders that occupies the middle ground between life and death, and is inherently ambiguous. In literature as well as art, the grotesque is defined by what it does to boundaries- transgressing, merging, or destabilizing them (Connelly 4).

The presumed universals of classical beauty often involve symmetry, aesthetically pleasing subjects, and perfect body proportions. Grotesque imagery, however, is quite opposite of this. To quote Victor Hugo, “ideal beauty has only one standard whereas the variations and combinations possible for the grotesque are limitless.” (Connelly 4). Visual imagery often depicts the grotesque as being monstruos, deformed, and ugly. In her academic essay titled “The Grotesque Body: Fleshing Out the Subject”, Sara Cohen Shabot defines grotesque art as, “art whose form and subject matter appear to be a part of, while contradictory to, the natural, social, or personal worlds of which we are a part. Its images most often embody distortions in such as fashion that it confronts us as strange and disordered” (Shabot 58). An example of this can be seen in the painting The Skat Players (pictured below), by Otto Dix. In the painting, Dix chooses to depict his subjects as horrifying hybrids of machine and man in order to make a statement about the technological revolution that was taking place during the time at which he painted it- the 1920’s.

Like Dix, Robert Louis Stevenson also utilized grotesque imagery to develop the character, Hyde, in his novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to make a political statement. He wrote this novel in London during the late 19th century, where it was commonplace for people to present themselves in a highly respectable manner, and things like expression of sexuality (especially homosexuality) were considered a taboo. In the novel, Stevenson describes Hyde as “pale and dwarfish, he gave a impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile… but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him.” (Stevenson 16). By characterizing him as this deformed, primitive creature, Stevenson uses Hyde as an allegory for the repressed desires and evil tendencies that are an inevitable part of human nature. The fear and hate generated towards Hyde by other characters in the novel symbolizes the attitudes of London’s elite members of society and their tendency to heavily veil transgressions and dark aspects of their personalities during this time.

In Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Cousin Lymon is also described as being extremely deformed and dwarf like. McCullers writes, “… the man was a hunchback. He was scarcely more than four feet tall and he wore a ragged, dusty coat that reached only to his knees. His crooked little legs seemed too thin to carry the weight of his great warped chest and the hump that sat on his shoulders.” (McCullers). This description of Cousin Lymon is different than that of Hyde in the sense that Lymon is not nearly as menacing, but he is described in a way that is so outlandish that it is slightly comical.

Despite his seemingly unthreatening manner, the reader later finds out that Cousin Lymon is actually highly manipulative and untrustworthy. The initial grotesque description of Lymon serves to create a sense of unease and mystery about him, which can be seen as a foreshadowing of his flawed character which is revealed later in the story when he betrays Miss Amelia during her fight with Marvin Macy. Given these two examples of grotesque body image, one can see how effective it is to catch the attention of the reader when such bold and unconventional body imagery is put forth.

Some other motives behind the use of grotesque imagery stem from cultural developments such as introduction of photography, mass media, science fiction, and weapons of mass destruction (Connelly 1). In his scholarly journal article titled “The Grotesque: First Principles”, Geoffrey Harpham describes ever-changing grotesque ideals by saying, “As our perceptions of the physical world change- as the world itself is changed by technology, pollution, wars, and urbanization- some things which has appeared as distortions are now seen as commonplace… Each age redefines the grotesque in terms of what threatens its sense of essential humanity.” (Harpham 463). For instance, Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde was composed at a time during which society was starting to develop social sciences such as psychology, where multiple personality disorder and other dissociative disorders were starting to be diagnosed for the first time in history. In today’s society, writers might draw inspiration for the grotesque from things such as space exploration, climate catastrophe, or rapid development of artificial intelligence.

In addition to using grotesque imagery that reflects the current fears or scientific advancements of a society, authors often use it as a tool to speak out against certain cultural ideals. Being a woman living in the 1950s, Carson McCullers did not adhere to the strict gender roles of her time. Known to dress in trousers and write against the grain of heterosexual convention, McCullers used grotesque imagery to characterize Miss Amelia, the main character in her story Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Miss Amelia is described as “a dark, tall woman with bones and muscles like a man. Her hair was cut short and brushed back from the forehead, and there about her sunburned face was a tense, haggard quality.” (McCullers). This imagery is complete opposite of what one would expect a woman to look like in this time. By portraying Miss Amelia in this way, McCullers is challenging the conventional roles of women during this time, who were expected to dress and behave in a feminine, housewife-like way. Miss Amelia was also described in the story as having a total lack of interest in her husband, Marvin Macy. This further contributes to McCullers challenging of gender roles and sexuality.

The coupling of the grotesque and Gothic literature is one that has proven to be a favorite among critics. The two compliment each other because they are both associated with vice and disorder. In his scholarly essay titled “Gothic Fiction and the Grotesque”, Maximillian Novak writes, “The secret passageways, caves and grottoes introduced into Gothic fiction by Walpole do not function merely as setting. They evoke the world of psychological terror as surely as, for the romances, a bank of jasmines in an arbor evoked the world of love.” (Novak 59) This statement provides insight about how grotesque imagery can enhance and exaggerate the morbid tone that is often associated with Gothic fiction. As mentioned earlier, by describing characters like Hyde, Cousin Lymon, and Miss Amelia in such absurd and freakish terms, the author is able to evoke a strong reaction from the reader by drawing attention to the character and the purpose he/she/it is intended to serve in the story.

Although Gothic literature and the Grotesque share similar components, there are a few distinctions between them. Gothic is defined by Merriam-Webster as: adj., “of or relating to a style of writing that describes strange or frightening events that take place in mysterious places.” The genre of Gothic literature was started by Horace Walpole in 1765, and has since evolved to include sub genres such as the Southern Gothic. The Grotesque is not considered a type of literature, but rather a literary device used to exaggerate certain Gothic themes. Grotesque imagery serves to draw attention to a particular character or idea rather than the whole setting and tone of the work, as in Gothic fiction.

As demonstrated through the works of Stevenson and McCullers, utilizing the Grotesque in Gothic literature is a highly effective way to deliver a message to the reader in a way that is bound to cause shock and speculation about the writer’s true intent. Challenging conventional body norms and drawing on political issues through use of grotesque imagery and allegory have been common patterns in Gothic fiction for centuries, and will continue to tie into concerns central to humanistic debate today, including representations of race and gender, government, and globalization.

Mr Utterson’s Perspective

In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson employs Utterson as the narrator and voice of the novella, as well as the investigator or detective figure that allows the story to be ‘discovered’ dramatically by the reader. Utterson also provides a contrast as a the voice of reason compared to the supernatural and fantastical elements provided by Jekyll and his experiments. In another turn of meaning, Utterson is used as a representation of the secretive and masquerading Victorian gentleman, who hides his flaws beneath an impeccable and impenetrable facade.

At the beginning of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson uses Utterson to demonstrate a logical response to the horrific story of a man trampling a young girl, as recollected by Enfield, Utterson’s companion. Upon hearing the story, Utterson remarks simply ‘tut tut’, demonstrating his disapproval of Hyde’s behaviour, but with very little emotion. This is typical of the Victorian gentleman and demonstrates to the reader that despite his supposed practice of not interfering with others, Utterson is unwillingly curious about the sordid affairs of others. In this way, he is beginning to contradict himself, as in the opening of the novella Utterson states, ‘I incline to Cain’s heresy […] I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.’ Here, Utterson is declaring that he will not interfere in the affairs of his ‘brother’ and will not stand in the way of any wrongdoings. However, we know this is not true, as by a few pages later Utterson is involving himself in the story of Hyde and the trampled girl. Furthermore, throughout the rest of the book, Utterson is curious and near obsessed with discovering the truth of Jekyll, who in this instance represents Cain, Utterson’s ‘brother’ who condemns himself to hell through his wrongdoings. Utterson’s immediate contradiction links to the theme of reputation in the book, where Victorian society was obsessed with their public image and would hide the dark aspects of their lives. Utterson’s contradiction between the passive character he chooses to present and the obsessive, investigative character he really possesses is an example of the hypocritical nature of victorian society, and also links to the idea that everyone is dual in nature. Utterson has two opposing characters of passive and assertive, just has Dr. Jekyll has his own character and that of Mr. Hyde.

Utterson is also used to demonstrate the effects of the horrific story on ordinary people. Utterson is haunted by Hyde and even dreams of him, reinforcing to the reader the image of Hyde as a repulsive and truly frightening character. Utterson is described as having ‘tossed to and fro’ as he dreamt, showing the lawyer’s fear of Hyde. This encourages the reader to also feel fear, and as we trust Utterson as a logical character and we view his fear of Hyde, and therefore of man’s duality, as inescapable and rational. As Utterson is described as a ‘lover of the sane’, demonstrating how he is a sensible character, his opinions can be trusted and therefore replicated by the reader. Furthermore, Utterson’s love of order contrasts the chaos caused by Jekyll, who disrupts the order of nature. Here, Stevenson is teaching the reader that you cannot separate good and evil, as it is Utterson, the blend of good and evil, who restores balance by the end of the novel, and it is Jekyll who disrupts it. Indeed, the disruption is first caused by Jekyll’s alter ego, and can only be resolved once Utterson has discovered the truth and Jekyll, and therefore Hyde, have died. Utterson is also used as a narrator so that the reader discovers the plot in a dramatic and mysterious way, as we discover the truth through Utterson’s research and discoveries. Utterson is used to collect the information told through various mediums and characters, and thus compacts the story and makes him Stevenson’s envoy to the reader.

Finally, Utterson is used to hint at the duality of all men and society, particularly Victorian society. Despite being presented as on the whole reputable, trustworthy and slightly dull, Stevenson makes several hints to Utterson having a darker side. For instance, the very first page of the novella describes Utterson as ‘long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.’ This contradiction immediately demonstrates the duality of Utterson’s character and sets up the idea that everyone has two sides to their being. By showing that even the most respectable of men to have a dual nature, Stevenson is teaching the reader that no one is exempt from duality and we are all bound to that other half. He is teaching the reader that it must remain a part of you, and if you try to separate yourself from it, just as Jekyll does, it will end grievously. Moreover, Stevenson hinting at Utterson’s dubious side is also a comment on society as a whole. Stevenson is remarking that the whole of society has a corrupt and evil nature within it, but everyone is hiding from it. He is showing how hypocritical society is, for despite having darker sides to their personality, Utterson and the other characters are still horrified at Jekyll’s transformation to Hyde. This can also be read as Stevenson’s own horror at what man is capable of, and a demonstration of what are reactions are when we are confronted with the bleak reality of our nature. Utterson is also shown as the archetype of the Victorian gentleman through his fear of scandal. He prioritises his reputation above all else, and is plagued by the ‘terror of the law’, which again hints at a corrupt and secretive side to Utterson. The lawyer cannot discuss what he learns for fear of keeping up appearances, fearing a scandal.

Indeed, it is interesting that his name is possibly a pun for ‘Utters-none’, reinforcing the idea that he will not share what he discovers of Jekyll to the police or anyone else. It is left unclear why he does this, as it could be because of his obsession over reputation, but more sinisterly, his silence could be from his realisation that he or anyone else could have been in exactly the same position of Jekyll, with the exception that their evil side is within them, and does not have corporeal form like Hyde does. Despite these connotations of silence, Utterson is used for structural effect, and to allow the reader to view Jekyll’s story from an external and ambiguous view. Yet Utterson is also used as a representation of the typical Victorian gentleman, who reminds the reader that Jekyll’s duality is present within all of society and within every person.

Duality and Complexity in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde is a novel which is arguably entirely about duality. The most obvious example is of course that of the contrast between Jekyll and Hyde themselves, but underneath that is a multitude of smaller oppositions, such as dark and light; private and public; and animal and man, which collectively underline and strengthen the feeling of duality which permeates the novella. This essay will examine several of these dualities, how they interact and how they enhance the themes and messages of the story itself.

The relationship between dark and light is one which is repeatedly addressed throughout the story. While it is common in many types of novel, it has particular significance in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, as there are characters onto which the reader can directly imprint dark and light. Hyde is repeatedly characterized in dark ways; during his first appearance in the story, in Enfield’s recounting of the night the girl was trampled, he is described as possessing a “black, sneering coolness” (p.10) and, for contrast, the doctor is described on the previous page as being of “no particular… colour” (p.9). In addition, when the doctor looks at Hyde, he is described as turning “sick and white” (p.9). Jekyll’s change in demeanor after the murder of Carew is also described in these terms; his face is described as seeming to “open and brighten” (p.29). Following the meeting between Dr. Lanyon and Mr. Hyde, as is revealed in Lanyon’s letter later in the story, Jekyll sends Utterson a message and this section is replete with images of dark and light. The content of the message is described as “darkly mysterious” (p.30), and the portion which is shared with the reader shows that Jekyll is also thinking in these terms; he demands of Utterson that he be allowed to go his “own dark way” (p.30) and suggests that by acquiescing to his wish for isolation, Utterson would “lighten [his] destiny” (p.30). There are many other examples throughout the text, and Hyde is almost always associated with darkness (only once is Hyde described in ‘light’ terms; just after Utterson meets him for the first time, he is said to be “pale and dwarfish” (p.17)). Even characters’ appraisals of Hyde’s temperament include this dichotomy; Utterson describes him as possessing “black secrets” (p.19), and again directly compares him to Jekyll, whose worst secrets, according to Utterson, are “like sunshine” (p.19). This comparison extends even to the description of setting and place. Stevenson describes a “haggard shaft of daylight [which] would glance in between the swirling wreaths” (p.23), and streetlamps illuminating a scene in “a regular pattern of light and shadow” (p.15). The close relationship between dark and light is a recurring technique throughout the story; rarely is the concept of ‘dark’ mentioned without a corresponding mention of ‘light’ somewhere in the text nearby. Furthermore, the juxtaposition between light and dark is also addressed several times in the novella; people who are looking at Hyde, or thinking about him, are often said to be white or pale. The doctor in Enfield’s tale is one example, as is Jekyll’s reaction to Utterson’s mention of Hyde’s name during their conversation about his will – “the large handsome face of Dr. Jekyll grew pale to the very lips” (p.20). Lanyon, too, is described as having “grown pale” (p.29) after seeing Hyde transform into Jekyll. If dark and light are accepted as metaphors for good and bad, the effect here is that characters’ goodness is intensified upon seeing Hyde, in much the same way that a light patch appears lighter when next to something dark. The interweaving of these two concepts serves to make an overall point about the overarching duality of Jekyll and Hyde themselves; as is made clear throughout Jekyll’s full statement of the case, the dark (evil) side of man and the light (virtuous) side, while being opposed by definition, are nevertheless lashed together by necessity. This is also the case for dark and light themselves; where there is no light, there is dark, so despite their opposition they are two sides of the same coin.

Another pairing to which that analogy is applicable is that of public and private. Especially in Victorian society, known for its puritanical bent and clear-cut distinction between lower and upper classes, public and private faces often had to be very different. The first example in the text of someone curtailing their wants due to concerns about propriety is Utterson, who is said to drink gin to “mortify a taste for vintages” (p.7). He is said, on the same page, to enjoy the theatre but not to have attended a show in twenty years. While Utterson does not precisely ‘let loose’ whilst at home, these details imply that his private desires are such that they need to be contained; this is again addressed when he is reading “some dry divinity” (p.12) on his desk, seemingly for a similar purpose as drinking the gin. Utterson’s feelings on the matter are actually baldly stated at one point, where he is identified as a man “to whom the fanciful was the immodest” (p.13). The conflict between Jekyll’s private and public lives plays out rather more bombastically than Utterson’s, but the inclusion of these small details show that these aspects are present even in the unlikeliest candidates and provides a through-line, linking the men together. Naturally, the gulf between Jekyll’s public and private selves is the main thrust of the novella, and much of the material illustrating this point surrounds him. One of the ways in which Stevenson highlights this is through the mention of windows; a window can be considered a gateway through which one can view the private from a public place and vice versa. Hyde’s house is described at the beginning of the novella as “show[ing] no window” (p.8), emphasizing the inability of the characters and reader to view what goes on in there; additionally, the block at the end of Jekyll’s garden is said to be a “dingy windowless structure” (p.25). Utterson and Enfield finding Jekyll at the window also reinforces this effect; their ability to see him nearly leads them to witness his transformation into Hyde, or his private self, as is suggested by the haste with which he slams the window shut. This is the only time when Jekyll is seen near or through a window, and it is the last time he appears in the story’s chronology, so it is arguably a foreshadowing of Jekyll’s forthcoming exposure and the illumination of his private life. Connected to this symbolism is the repeated mention of eyes in the story; often, characters in the story make judgements about others based on their eyes, as if they betray something deeper than the person’s general manner. In this sense, eyes function a lot like windows, allowing access to private areas of information. This begins in the very first paragraph of the novella; Utterson has “something eminently human beacon[ing] from his eye” (p.7), prompting the reader to trust him and identify with him. Also, after Utterson’s first mention of Hyde to Jekyll, “there came a blackness about [Jekyll’s] eyes” (p.20) – this ties in with the idea of Hyde being represented by darkness. When Lanyon becomes ill, Utterson judges the state of his character and health not by his general appearance, but specifically by “a look in the eye” (p.29). This relationship between eyes and private thoughts is made more overt during Jekyll’s full statement of the case; when he writes about how close Hyde is to him, he describes it as “closer than a wife, closer than an eye” (p.61).

The difference between animal and man is also an important dichotomy in the story. Hyde is very often described in animalistic terms; although not looking like an animal, necessarily, his movements and speech are often described as such. The first parallels are in Hyde’s encounter with Utterson; when Utterson says his name, he shrinks back “with a hissing intake of the breath” (p.16). Additionally, on the next page, he “snarl[s] aloud into a savage laugh” (p.17). On this same page, Utterson finds Hyde “hardly human” (p.17). Later in the story the comparisons are drawn more noticeably; for example, Hyde attacks Carew “with ape-like fury” (p.22), when Poole sees him wearing his mask, he moves “like a monkey” (p. 37) and when Utterson is breaking down the door of the cabinet, Hyde screeches “as of mere animal terror” (p.38). Several other animalistic words are used throughout the story to describe Hyde’s actions, including “roaring” (p.56), “mauled” (p.56) and “growl” (p.58). These points are especially relevant for two reasons; firstly, the then-recent publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species setting forth a scientific theory in which humans and animals were, in essence, indistinguishable; and secondly, Victorian society being as image-conscious and puritanical as it was, ‘animal’ behaviur would be considered a disgrace, and the idea that humans might be descended from animals was practically heretical. It is arguable that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is, at least in part, conveying that humankind has both an animal side and a refined, cultured side, which the Victorians would have been considered to be polar opposites. However, this interpretation does not tell the full story, as Patricia Ferrer-Medina states in Wild Humans: “given his brutal nature, Hyde’s behavior is surprisingly civil: he refers to himself as a gentleman” (Ferrer-Medina, 2007, p.11). Mr. Hyde is shown several times throughout the story to be capable of refinement; when he first meets Utterson, he agrees to doing a favor for him with the words “with pleasure” (p.16), and he also furnishes Utterson with his address once he has seen his face – a social nicety which is far from animalistic.

During his meeting with Lanyon, too, he is shown as capable of maintaining a certain level of decorum, saying “I beg your pardon, Dr. Lanyon” (p.45) and being described as speaking “civilly” (p.45). The idea of Hyde as an animal (reinforced by his name being a homophone for “hide”, as in the hide of an animal) is not completely congruous, then, with his characterization throughout the novel; while he elicits extremely negative reactions from others, it is not often due to his behavior. This is arguably a comment on how animals do not necessarily have to act like animals all the time in order to be counted as such, and indeed that perhaps even humans themselves could be animals, as was suggested in Darwin’s paper. Jekyll’s statement that “man is not truly one, but truly two” (p.48) is perhaps the most revealing comment on this issue; it can easily be taken to mean that humans are not only cultured, but also have an animalistic dark side which is a remnant of our evolutionary history. This is further strengthened by Jekyll mentioning “the thorough and primitive duality of man” (p.49), the word ‘primitive’ potentially referring to humankind’s animal past as well as somewhat mirroring the word ‘primate’, since they have the same root word. Jekyll’s insistence when describing himself looking in the mirror as Hyde that “this, too, was myself” (p.51) is the final piece of evidence which supports this interpretation. In Wild Humans, Patricia Ferrer-Medina states: “The concept of evolution is also mentioned to explain why Hyde is smaller in stature than Jekyll. The doctor explains that because he had exercised his evil side less than his good side, when the evil side was given free rein it was “less robust and less developed.”” (Ferrer-Medina, 2007, p.10). This speaks of the evolutionary influence on Stevenson’s work, an influence which, crucially, placed the concepts of animal and man on the same spectrum, rather than being opposites.

There are also some interesting connections between these established dualities. For example, while a window is representative of private and public, it is also representative of light and dark; a window lets in light just as easily as it may let secrets out. There is also a correlation between the dualities themselves, as the dark is often an effective shield for private affairs, keeping them hidden from the public. One of the ironies of the text is that when Hyde’s door is broken by Utterson, he is found dead, but in a brightly-lit, cozy room. One would expect Hyde, as a figure of malice, brutishness and animality, to reside primarily in the dark, as would be in keeping with his characterization throughout the novella. However, the room being bright and warm is actually representative of these dualities, in that Jekyll’s private life (i.e. Mr. Hyde himself) is suddenly being illuminated.

The concepts of public and private are also important within the text itself, as Jekyll uses them to disassociate himself from the consequences of his actions, and to avoid moral responsibility for them. Jekyll says, in his final letter, that he allowed himself to become distanced from the actions of Hyde since “it was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired” (p.53). This puts forward Jekyll’s seeming idea that one’s private self should not be reflected, at all, in one’s public self. In In The Company of Strangers, Ronald Thomas writes:

“Jekyll’s consistent absenting of himself from his own texts accords with his purpose in creating Hyde in the first place: to deny himself moral agency, to cease being an “I.” This intention is fulfilled at the end of Jekyll’s statement in the hopeless confusion with which the first- and third-person pronouns are used; the writer finally begins referring to both Jekyll and Hyde as “them,” as autonomous in other words (95).” (Thomas, 1986, p.8/9))

By separating the two parts of himself, the public and private, at the end of the text Jekyll himself cannot identify with either one.

Ultimately, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde is replete with dualities; these are only three examples, but in many ways they are interwoven and self-reinforcing in such a way that they lend an extreme depth to the text, both in intrinsic and extrinsic readings. The presence of so many oppositions gives the novella a great sense of ambiguity, since they are so often mixed and matched, and it also (perhaps crucially) underlines the overarching theme: as put by Jekyll, that “man is not truly one, but truly two” (p.48).

References:

Thomas, R. R. (1986) ‘In the Company of Strangers: Absent Voices in Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Beckett’s Company’. Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 32 no. 2, pp. 157 – 173

Ferrer-Medina, P. (2007) ‘The Culture/Nature Duality in Marie Darrieussecq’s Pig Tales and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Comparatist, vol. 31, pp. 67 – 87

Stevenson, R. L. (2003) ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. New York: WW Norton.

Liberation of Language in The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

All language exists with two definitions. The primary, literal meaning is defined as what the object physically is, and the secondary, symbolic meaning is what the object represents. An object’s literal meaning remains a stationary constant, as it exists in a physical reality, and can only change if the object also physically changes. The symbolic meaning, however, is subjective to an individual’s perspective. Therefore, if a form becomes ‘rigid’, the symbolic meaning is also stationary and all language is restricted to producing a single interpretation. Language becomes ‘ready-made’ in both literal and symbolic meaning. To ‘revolt’ from this, R. L. Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray both offer alternative symbolic meanings for the same, set language. Through this, language is only ‘ready-made’ syntactically, and is liberated from the ‘bondage of traditional form’ though development of the symbolic meaning.

A ‘ready-made’ language was originally created to describe a normative, human reality. As each novel encounters the ‘other’, a ‘double’ that does not fully belong in this reality, ‘ready-made’ language becomes inadequate in description. Freud’s theory on the Uncanny argues for an uneasiness in the heimlich developing to represent the unheimlich. Jekyll’s double is both familiar in his human resemblance, and disturbingly unfamiliar in his deformity. [1] To describe the unfamiliar accurately, a new language must be created. To transition from a set, traditional language to a new, unfamiliar vocabulary presents difficulty. Mr Enfield, as a model of the reasonable, middle-class gentlemen, embodies this struggle in his attempt to articulate Mr Hyde’s features in an inadequate, pre-formed language: ‘He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point.’ [2] Initially, Mr Enfield describes Hyde as ‘deformed’. However, he seemingly decides this singular adjective incompetent in offering an accurate portrayal of Hyde. The description transitions instead to a ‘strong feeling’, that features deformity, but now contains further unidentified horrors, made increasingly grotesque through the inability to determine a literal description. The only certainty present is in emotion that is ‘strong’ and asserts Hyde ‘must’ be deformed, implying a Tennyson-esque concept. Language limits emotion, as abstract feelings have to be expressed through a ‘ready-made’ vocabulary. Through this inability to describe Hyde in a ‘ready-made’ language, Enfield can neither classify him in a ‘ready-made’ category. Consequently, he addresses Hyde as ‘he’ as opposed to ‘it’, identifying the ‘other’ as physically closer to himself, Utterson and Lanyon than with any class of creature. Almost subconsciously, Enfield aligns Mr Hyde with Dr Jekyll, forcing the ‘unheimlich’ closer to the ‘heimlich’ form. Initially, Hyde is assumed to wholly inhabit the unheimlich ‘other’. This sense of uneasiness therefore emerges from the inability to classify Hyde in ‘ready-made’ categories of ‘human’ or ‘animal’. The new language that must be created only slightly differs from traditional form, and exists as both familiar and unfamiliar.

Stevenson struggles to mold a ‘ready-made’ language to a stationary image of Hyde’s unfamiliar form. The Picture of Dorian Gray instead encounters the limitations of a pre-formed language through the ‘other’ existing not as human, but as an inanimate object capable of human activity. This variety of personification requires a new set of verbs. The portrait is seemingly supernatural, yet it’s non-human actions are restricted to a human vocabulary. Wilde creates a conscious imbalance between vocabulary and meaning by using ‘heimlich’, pre-existing words to describe a supernatural scene that requires new symbolism: What was that loathsome red dew that gleamed, wet and glistening, on one of the hands, as though the canvas had sweated blood? [1] Dorian does not attempt, as Enfield does, to immediately identify either the substance, or the emotion it creates within him. Instead, Dorian reverts to a question to suggest he must gain the knowledge he lacks from an outside source. The same struggle of identification that Enfield encounters is present. Dorian can see the ‘red dew’, but cannot decide upon a noun to accurately describe the vision, presenting an uneasiness in being unable to identify the ‘unheimlich’. The consideration of, firstly, ‘dew’ presents an Eden-like image that traditionally would dictate a new beginning. Wilde inverts this through irony, to suggest the painting as taking, rather than giving, life. In progressing to ‘sweat’, the substance still remains temporarily less threatening than blood, however loses the innocence associated with ‘dew’. Syntactically, and mentally, Dorian only identifies the substance as bearing the closest resemblance to ‘blood’ at the end. Thus far, a ‘ready-made’ language is adequate in description, as all these substances exist in a human world. The previously stationary symbolic meaning is then taken from a traditional context to the unfamiliar Gothic through the moisture’s origin. The blood has ‘sweated’, not from flesh, but from the canvas. This action forces the picture to ‘revolt’ from it’s identity as an inanimate object, to a supernatural context where it becomes partially human. A ‘revolt’ from ‘ready-made’ language –that is used to describe a mortal, earthly world –is therefore necessary. Neither Dorian nor Hyde belong to this world, and cannot be described by it’s language.

Symons urges a revolt in both ‘ready-made language’ and ‘form’. In The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson revolts from this traditional form through narrative style. Instead of adhering to a singular narrative voice, the different narrative perspectives allow the novella to exist simultaneously as a crime report and memoir. However, even these distinct categories are not definite. Dr Lanyon’s narrative is a separate chapter yet is interrupted by Jekyll’s epistolary, suggesting that a claim to an account does not deem it exclusively one perspective. ‘Dr Lanyon’s Narrative’ focuses on physical interpretation: ‘as I looked, there came, I thought, a change –he seemed to swell –his face became suddenly black’ (Stevenson, p.41). If this novella is categorised as a crime report, the third person narration is the ‘traditional form’, as the perspective traditionally approaches the crime from the outside. Lanyon is detached in the action of seeing –‘I looked’ –and reporting what physically appears –‘his face became suddenly black’ –in front of him. However, this sense of detachment is also limiting. He restricts identity to the basic and external, and can only describe Jekyll in a child-like context of colour, with ‘black’, one-dimensionally representing death. Despite initially categorizing Stevenson’s novella as a crime report, Lanyon’s perspective is still subjective. He reports what he ‘thought’ ‘seemed’ to be real, suggesting that an attempt to remain within a traditional narrative form is, in itself, difficult. Stevenson perhaps deems Lanyon’s narrative as necessary to identify the bondage of a traditional, wholly aesthetic, third person narrative. As this form is restricted to exterior identity, Lanyon’s analysis cannot extend to the possibility of psychological motive behind action. ‘Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case’ is therefore necessary to this fiction also, as the title suggests a forensically accurate, physical description is not a ‘full statement’. In moving from this detective genre –that identifies who has committed the crime– to a first-person, psychological account, –why the crime was committed– Stevenson completes the narrative through adding the possibility of emotion. Only through revolting from the rigidity of one narrative is the reader allowed to examine and consequently sympathize with Jekyll’s actions, that are revealed as compulsive.

As previously established, Stevenson ‘revolts’ from traditional form through the act of writing. Wilde also revolts from the ‘bondage’ of traditional form through concept. Instead of language, The Picture of Dorian Gray interacts with art. Traditionally, Victorian art carried a political or social message, such as Ford Maddox Brown’s ‘Work’, that depicts reality to provoke emotional reaction and subsequently action. Wilde breaks this ‘bondage’ through the aestheticism movement of the 1890’s. His novel both exists as and contains ‘art for art’s sake’, revoking any responsibility previously associated with the action of viewing art. Dorian’s picture is created to provoke pleasure, not to induce social action: ‘Art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act’ (Wilde, p.198). Wilde perhaps condemns this extreme lack of traditional form, and the responsibility that accompanies it. Aestheticism refuses not only ‘action’, but the ‘desire to act’, a drive that future action is dependent upon. However, identifying future action, if the activity is not specified, as either good or evil is almost impossible. Removing this desire does not deem Dorian as either antithesis, but creates an indifference to responsibility and consequence. Whilst his hand does not personally murder Sibyl Vane, his indifference inadvertently causes her death. A ‘revolt’ to aestheticism can therefore be condemned as dangerously liberal. In refusing the social responsibility traditionally associated with art, Dorian refuses a moral responsibility also, suggesting that a lack of ‘bondage’ allows for too much freedom. This unsustainability, exhibited by Dorian’s inability to uphold a visual perfection, suggests aestheticism can only ever exist as a ‘revolt’ and will not develop as the new ‘traditional form’ of art. This ‘revolt’ in art is initially harmless, as Wilde claims the painting has ‘no influence’ on Dorian’s actions. He temporarily achieves this by splitting his conscience and physical body between painting and the human form. Yet, this separation does not consider mental influence. The painting haunts Dorian’s mind until it, ironically, does affect his actions. In attempting to engage with aestheticism to ‘revolt’ from the ‘traditional form’ of art, Wilde almost returns to again to a traditional form. The picture becomes art with a meaning and an inescapable responsibility. Bondage of form, even when attempted, cannot be easily broken.

Thus far, the form, both the ‘traditional’ and the ‘revolt’, has been examined as stationary concepts. The traditional form is implied as stationary through it’s ‘bondage’, and the ‘revolt’ exists as a new form, yet is still stationary. Walter Pater argues for a development, that ‘every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face.’ [1] Pater focuses on the transition between forms, highlighting this experience as more important than the form you either begin, or finalize with. Dr Jekyll views bondage as, specifically, the human body that remains in a ‘traditional’, singular form. The transition to Mr Hyde is, in Dr Jekyll’s perspective, growing ‘perfect’, as his experiment is essentially a success in his liberation from a singular form. However, in choosing to break free of this bondage, Jekyll can never again return to a singular physical form: ‘if I slept, or even dozed for a moment in my chair, it was always as Hyde that I awakened’ (Stevenson, p.53). Without this bondage to a single body, the boundaries between Jekyll’s two forms also cease to exist. The narrative ‘I’ claims Jekyll’s voice, yet is simultaneously conscious that he has ‘awakened’ as Hyde. The human form, ironically, still remains as a bondage for Dr Jekyll. He is successful in breaking free from a physical bondage, yet his mind remains imprisoned within a different form. Despite Pater’s focus on experience, the transition occurs during ‘moments’ where Jekyll is in a ‘doze’, and barely conscious. The experience therefore belongs to the ‘perfect’ form he becomes, and the reader is refused access to Hyde’s narration. The transformation itself is not witnessed, as if the reader too is in a state of semi-consciousness. Even in Pater’s idea of development, Stevenson introduces new ‘rigid’ forms. ‘Always’ suggests a definite result to the process, and simply a transition to a different, certain form. To escape wholly from the ‘bondage’ of form, whether traditional or not, Jekyll must eternally remain within this ‘moment’, an action unsustainable in itself.

The concept of ‘bondage’ has been explored as both negative in its restricting influence, and positive in it’s implication of necessary social boundaries. Pater’s statement defines growth as moving towards perfection, suggesting that any ‘bondage’ that refuses movement is a negative concept. The Picture of Dorian Gray instead considers Pater’s idea of growth as a negative aspect. Wilde extends this concept beyond a ‘moment’ to an entire lifespan, defining growth as a submission to the bondage of a physically decaying human form. The moment where Dorian anticipates this exists as his realization that youthful beauty is invaluable, displacing the vocal proclamation ‘I would give my soul for that!’: Yes, there would be a day when his face would be wrinkled and wizen […] the grace of his figure broken and deformed (Wilde, p.26-27). The image of Dorian’s future self is aligned with Hyde’s present condition in their claim to deformity. When Enfield describes Hyde, deformity equates to a degenerative, physical form. Instead, Dorian’s ‘deformity’ relates to his ‘grace’, suggesting his worth is based entirely on a socially accepted aesthetic beauty. An attempt to alter ‘traditional form’ is therefore attempted. Dorian temporarily inhabits a transcendent, immortal form and attempts to assert it as the traditional human form by living his entire life through it. The human body is not capable of liberation, as it is for Jekyll, but acts as a cage that will stunt Dorian’s social aspirations by becoming inadequate in decay. Through looking to the future, Wilde pre-empts a process that will occur after Pater’s ‘moment’ of perfection. It remains impossible to move beyond the highest level of perfection. After Pater’s ‘moment’ has passed, the human form cannot develop any further, and will begin to degenerate. For Dorian, the ‘bondage’ to a particular form becomes an ambition. However, to remain as a ‘traditional’ form is still defined as a mortal, physical bondage. Instead he attempts to ‘revolt’ from form, not to Pater’s development, but to a form that will not decay, but still resemble a human. Therefore, that action of looking forward to an impending moment acts as the defining moment where Dorian decides to escape the ‘bondage’ of decay that a traditional human is subject to.

To ‘revolt’ from ‘traditional form’ has consequences. Society punishes both Dr Jekyll and Dorian Gray for revolting from tradition as individuals. Dorian is forced to unite his conscience with the ‘bondage’ of his physical frame, returning once again to a conventional human form. In parallel, Dr Jekyll is refused existence in a reality where he can inhabit a form that accepts no social responsibility. For social change to occur in an established culture, it must occur as a gradual, collective change to a new tradition. The attempts of both protagonists can therefore only ever exist as an individual ‘revolt’, and will never develop to a reformed tradition. Society punishes both Dorian and Jekyll for revolting from tradition, deeming the death of the rebels as the only method to maintain this ‘bondage’.

Bibliography Pater, W., The Renaissance (Oxford: OUP, 1986)

Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (London: Penguin, 2003)

Stevenson, R. L., The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004)

Wilde, O., The Picture of Dorian Gray (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1998)

The Good Mr. Hyde

“I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man . . . if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both” (41).So says Henry Jekyll in a heartfelt letter to his best friend, Henry Utterson. His final letter to his friend draws upon realization after realization regarding the basic foundation of human nature: the omnipresent duality of good and evil. Indeed, Stevenson’s story of Jekyll and Hyde is a clear juxtaposition of these two ideals. On one side of the coin, Stevenson describes Dr. Henry Jekyll, who from his respectable social title to his pleasant good looks describes a perfect good. He is “a large, well-made, man of fifty” (18), well-liked, and highly-respected. Mr. Hyde, meanwhile, seemingly counters everything Jekyll stands for: he is pale, dwarfish, ugly, and “gives the impression of deformity without any nameable malformation” (15). The fact that these two diametric opposites are revealed, in the end, to be the same person represents Robert Louis Stevenson’s deliberate contrast between the ideas of good and evil, and more importantly, the incessant struggle between them. However, through Jekyll’s inability to fully split himself into two beings, Stevenson preaches about the flawed definitions of good and evil.Although Jekyll is meant to be the “perfect good” and Hyde the “ultimate bad”, it is only true on a superficial level. Stevenson’s novella is not so simple that these two characters can be defined in such stark, black and white terms: instead, each is an amalgamation of both ideals. In fact, in some ways, Hyde can even be viewed as a better person than Jekyll, especially to those who value honesty and truth over social goodness. He, at least, is honest and straightforward in his desires. Jekyll is a “hypocritical creature carefully concealing his little sins” (Nabokov 10) who tries desperately to hide his immoralities behind a mask, deceiving everyone he knows. Even in the face of death, Jekyll refuses to come out and explain himself to his friends, opting instead to reveal the truth in a letter meant to be read post-mortem, poisoning himself when on the verge of exposure. Ironically, even his adamant denial of hypocrisy in his letter to Utterson is a testament to his hypocrisy: “I was in no sense a hypocrite; both sides of me were in dead earnest; I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I labored, in the eye of day, at the furtherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering” (41).Though Jekyll is always quick to defend himself from accusations of his hypocrisy because he sees himself as justified in his pursuit of perfection, it is undeniable that he constantly uses Hyde—which, as Nabokov points out, derives from “Haven” in Danish (Nabokov 9)—as a hiding place behind which he can act upon his base instincts. Jekyll lives vicariously through Hyde’s freedom and delightfully uses him as a mask while he lives out his most wicked fantasies: “I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine. I stretched out my hands, exulting in the freshness of `these sensations; and in the act, I was suddenly aware that I had lost in stature” (42). Since Hyde is Jekyll’s mask, an extension of his original being, they are the same person; they only differ in inhibition. The two have the exact same instincts and desires, but while Jekyll puts effort into restraining himself from acting upon his viler instincts in an effort to maintain his high social standing, Hyde acts on desire and animalistic recklessness. Hyde releases his inhibitions, becoming a “social bad”—ugly, rude, violent, and cruel—because he sees himself as allowed to destroy his social duties.Stevenson uses this marked contrast to make an obvious point: every human is “not truly one, but truly two” (41). However, he also goes on to suggest that this same omnipresent balance of good and evil is both a necessary and fragile trait found in every individual. The conflict here, therefore, comes from from Hyde’s necessary existence, not the dissonance between good and evil. Through that observation, we realize that the reason behind Jekyll’s inability to fully separate his alter egos was simply due to the natural order of the universe: it is not possible to split something into “good” and “evil” because the two ideas so overwhelmingly overlap. Jekyll was unable to control the two separate beings because we, as humans, were not meant to be able to do so. The definitions of good and bad are flawed because they need to be—because it is not possible for them not to be. They are flawed because true good and evil do not exist, and therefore, they cannot be divided into separate entities.The reason that Hyde becomes evil and Jekyll becomes good in Stevenson’s novella is because they themselves believe to be those things—not because they actually are. Jekyll’s split into two personalities is more a psychological division rather than a corporeal one: by accepting a specific societal role, Jekyll and Hyde grows into “good” and “evil.” Because Jekyll considers himself responsible for social righteousness, he becomes a “good” in the way that society views good: gentlemanly, smartly dressed, and intelligent. His good appearance is what makes him “good” in the eyes of his city. Hyde, meanwhile, believes he is meant to be a bad person, and increasingly releases that idea upon his environment: once he is unwilling to remain a mask any longer, he soon begins to exert a will of his own. After Hyde tramples upon a young girl, Jekyll suppresses Hyde for nearly two months before Hyde is able exert enough resolve to reemerge. At this point Hyde’s consciousness becomes too much for Jekyll to subdue and Hyde becomes more and more realized until it is finally Jekyll who is the shell.Thus, Stevenson’s Strange Case warns us about trying to overstep human boundaries—it is in our best interest not to reach the potential that Jekyll was so fixated on. That balance between good and evil exists to limit the extent to which people can become “good” or “bad” rather than maximize it: it stops us from becoming bloodthirsty, uninhibited men like Hyde.After all, this balance is what makes us human. We all have faults, and we all have an “imperfect and divided countenance … commingled out of good and evil” within us (43). Trying to rid ourselves of that vital human characteristic is akin to amputating a limb. It is all a part of the human struggle to try to control both sides, but in the end, we will all only become stronger and better for it—advancing not only our individual selves, but our impacts on the world.WORKS CITEDNabokov, Vladimir. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. New York: Signet Classic, 2003.Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 1886. Reprint. NY: Norton, 2003. Print.

The Supernatural and Its Discontents in Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Victor Frankenstein decided to push the boundaries of science and take the supernatural into their own hands. Both of the scientists’ experiments yielded creations that got out of control, but the men had very different intentions in mind when creating these monstrosities, as well as having opposite reactions to the fruits of their labor. Jekyll created Hyde, his evil alter-ego, because it allowed him to live out his repressed indecent desires without feeling guilty about it, and this gave him the sense of youth and power that he lacked while living respectably as Dr. Jekyll. Victor Frankenstein had no intentions of creating an evil being, and was horrified immediately after doing so. Dr. Jekyll planned to create evil, and was delighted to live a portion of his waking life as the wild and remorseless Hyde, hardly feeling guilty in retrospect. Frankenstein was simply trying to bring an inanimate object to life, and was not ready to act as the creature’s guardian when he succeeded, causing it to violently lash out in hopes of revenge. The skilled scientists both pushed the limits of biological science, but for different reasons. Victor’s mother passed away due to scarlet fever, and this greatly upset Victor, likely sparking his interests in the possibilities of returning life to the inanimate. Jekyll was fascinated by the idea of separating the good and evil parts of the human personality, because he himself had both a good and evil side. He explained, “I had learned to dwell with pleasure. . . on the thought of the separation of these elements. . . If each… could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable” (Stevenson 91). He felt that “man is not truly one, but two” (Stevenson 90), and set out to create a monstrous alter-ego that would allow him to act on his unknown but self-professed, and repressed, morbid inner desires. Victor was scientifically ambitious, but did not necessarily have bad intentions, while Jekyll certainly did. Victor Frankenstein created a totally separate being, and did not plan on it being violent. The creature only turned violent after it did not receive the acceptance or nurturing that it required. Jekyll created another identity within himself. But it seems as if Hyde had already existed inside of Jekyll, and the potion that Jekyll created essentially allowed Hyde to finally appear uncaged free from any intervention of Jekyll’s morality after being repressed for so long. Both of the scientists worked obsessively to create their respective monsters, but had very different initial reactions to their creations coming to fruition. Jekyll was delighted to transform into Hyde, as he explained, “There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and. . . incredibly sweet. . . I knew myself at the first breath of this new life, to be. . . tenfold more wicked. . . and the thought braced and delighted me like wine” (Stevenson 94). Turning into Hyde made him feel younger and stronger than his normal straight-laced, aging self. Victor was appalled by his creation throughout its entire existence, from the very moment that it came to life. This was surprising because of how incredibly hard he worked for months in order to achieve the creation of life. When first reading Frankenstein, it could safely have been assumed that Victor Frankenstein would be elated when he finally had success at completing his project. But this was certainly not the case, as it was when Jekyll was initially successful at transforming into Hyde. The scientists’ experiments both had negative influences on the people around them, as both of their creations killed people. Victor felt remorse for the terrible things that his monster did, but apparently not guilty enough to come forward and tell people, because he was convinced people would label him as crazy. After Victor died, even the monster himself looked back on his prior violence with regret. But Jekyll hardly felt any sense of guilt, because in his mind it was Hyde that did all of those terrible things, and he considers himself and Hyde to be two completely separate entities. Jekyll said in his farewell note, “Henry Jekyll, with streaming tears of gratitude and remorse, had fallen upon his knees and lifted his clasped hands to God. . . as the acuteness of this remorse began to die away, it was succeeded by a sense of joy” (Stevenson 107). He felt bad about Hyde’s actions for just a moment, and then took joy in realizing that he was safe from consequences by living as the unassuming Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll had evil intentions in mind when creating Hyde, while Victor did not appear to have bad intentions when creating what eventually became a monster, but started out as a pure and kind creature. Victor Frankenstein seemed mainly interested in bringing life to the creature that he sewed together, but never considered what to do with it afterwards. He was obsessed with putting the parts together and bringing his project to life, but he did not intend on using the creation for any specific purpose once it came to be. On the other hand, Jekyll made the conscious decision to create Hyde in order to act on his desires without causing people to lose respect for him. Frankenstein was interested in the process and the discovery itself, while Jekyll was more interested in the actual utility of his creation, which he used to his personal advantage. Frankenstein did not think about the potential consequences of his creation, whereas Jekyll thoroughly pondered the consequences beforehand, and figured that his pristine outer appearance would prevent anyone from catching onto the fact that he and Hyde are just two peas in a pod. He thought so far ahead into the future, that he created a will stating that in case of his death, or unexplained disappearance, all of his possessions should be turned over to Edward Hyde. This certainly drew some attention to Jekyll and Hyde’s mysterious relationship. Even though Jekyll does not seem to feel much remorse for Hyde’s actions, it is interesting that he makes an active attempt to fix some of the wrongs that Hyde committed. He may not feel all that terrible about Hyde’s wrongdoings, but it seems as if Jekyll does feel slightly remorseful deep down. Because otherwise, he would not have felt any need at all to go and mend some of Hyde’s misconducts, or make up for them by acting particularly kind and charitable when taking the form of Dr. Jekyll. While at the same time, Victor feels much more guilty about his creation’s violent attacks, but never steps forward or makes an attempt to prevent the monster from hurting anyone. It is strange that Jekyll, the man with malevolent intentions from the very beginning tries to make up for Hyde’s wrongs, even though he generally does not seem to feel any sense of guilt, “Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde. . . but the situation was apart from ordinary laws. . . It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty” (Stevenson 99). Literally Jekyll does not even consider feeling remorse. While Victor, who did not have bad intentions when making his creation, watched an innocent girl get executed amongst other avoidable deaths and still did not admit to anyone that he had let loose a monster. Clearly Jekyll was not going to admit to anyone that he created a monster because creating Hyde let him live how he had wanted to all along. Dr. Jekyll and Victor Frankenstein both experimented with the idea of creation, but Jekyll had malicious intent while Victor did not. Jekyll was happy that his plan worked and he was able to express his urges without feeling guilty about it. Jekyll did not feel very remorseful about Hyde’s actions because he considers Hyde to be a totally separate individual, when in reality he is just the darker side of Jekyll, lacking any ethical restrictions. These two stories are very different than each other, yet eerily similar in some ways. Both men created beings who continually became more powerful and violent, eventually overcoming their creators. The scientists were both excited about their experiments, but Victor was dealt a hand that he was not ready for, while Jekyll was more than pleased about finding the secret to separating the good and evil parts of his personality. Works CitedShelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 1990. Print.

The Limitations of Language in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, investigates the effectuality of language as a means of rational and logical communication when confronted with situations that represent the intangible and supernatural. Throughout the text, it becomes evident that there is a gradual disappearance of the ability to communicate ideas verbally when characters attempt to explain certain things – particularly, situations involving Mr. Hyde. This erosion of logical communication through language is represented and illustrated by several characters, mainly Mr. Enfield, Dr. Lanyon, and Mr. Utterson. These characters all represent the theme of silence that permeates the novel, and with this silence comes a gradual illustration of the limitations of language and its inability to efficiently rationalize and convey encounters with the supernatural. The first type of silence that is present throughout the novel is associated with refusals of various characters to discuss topics that could potentially harm their reputations as well as the reputations of others. It is possible that in some cases, Stevenson uses this lack of description as a mechanism of ambiguity, so as not to allow the reader to be completely familiar with the histories and backgrounds of his characters (Thomas 249). Additionally, there exists a refusal among characters to discuss various topics that would force them to pursue a situation with the potential to go beyond the limitations of reason, and this seems to stem from a concern for reputation and public virtue. For example, Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Lanyon both leave records of what they have seen and done, but they also insist that the records not be opened until after they have died. This suggests that the truth can be exposed only after the death of the person whose reputation it might ruin. Stevenson may be suggesting that this scorn for the unpleasant shown through the characters’ refusal to discuss certain topics is an outcome of the repressiveness of Victorian society, which prized good taste above all and preferred to subdue or even reject the truth if it had the capacity to upset the traditional paradigm of the era (Thomas 250). A second form of silence in the novel is that of uncontrollable speechlessness. Throughout the book, language – a rational manner of perceiving the world – is expressed as existing in opposition to the fantastical or supernatural. When faced with the irrational and things that are intangible, language does not suffice. In Richard Tithecotte’s book Of Men and Monsters, the author identifies “on the one hand, the cozy world of well-lit interiors, of hearths, of speech, and on the other the cold, dark world of the unspeakable” (Tithecotte 50). According to Tithecotte, Dr. Jekyll’s house, “with the front associated with Jekyll and the back associated with Hyde,” encourages the reader to “interpret these characters … in terms of ‘public side’ of the self and ‘non-social, private’ side” (Tithecotte 50). It can be further deduced that these silences are mirrored and illustrated by various secondary characters in the novel, particularly Mr. Enfield, Dr. Lanyon and Mr. Utterson. In the beginning of the novel, Mr. Enfield attempts to describe Mr. Hyde’s trampling of a young girl to Mr. Utterson. He says the following:He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point. He’s an extraordinary-looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. No, sir; I can make no hand of it; I can’t describe him. And it’s not want of memory; for I declare I can see him in this moment. (Stevenson 9)Mr. Enfield’s confused response “finds its counterparts” in the virtually “identical” reports of Mr. Utterson, Poole, and Dr. Lanyon (Arata 41). This lack of articulation establishes a pattern of speechlessness for the remainder of the novel, as not one single person can verbally convey a concrete description of Mr. Hyde. Instead, many people just conclude that he appears ugly and deformed in some indefinable way. As Joyce Carol Oates says in her essay “Jekyll/Hyde,” “Viewed from without Hyde is detestable in the abstract… Another witness testifies to his mysteriously intangible deformity ‘without any nameable malformation’” (Oates 605). These failures to accurately describe Mr. Hyde contribute to the development of an overall feeling that he is a strange and mysterious character, someone whose deformity is ethereal. In fact, it could be said that language itself fails when it comes face to face with Mr. Hyde. As Dr. Jekyll’s supernatural creation, Mr. Hyde does not really belong in the natural world, and correspondingly, he evades the “conceptual faculties” that are possessed by mortal human beings (Oates 604). One particular character that maintains a silence throughout the book is Dr. Hastie Lanyon, whose main significance has been to function as a representative of reason and logic. Dr. Lanyon dismisses Dr. Jekyll’s experiments as “unscientific balderdash” and essentially is the epitome of the rational man of science, distinctly opposed to anything that would cause superstition and fantasy (Stevenson 12). Dr. Lanyon’s deterioration mirrors the gradual erosion of logical forms of communication and explanation in the face of the supernatural in the novel. In the last chapter of the book, the reader is exposed to Dr. Lanyon’s account of what he has seen. However, it is important to note that while the doctor’s account does include many details of what he has seen, there is really a lack of explanation. The reader is left in the darkness of the unknown with regards to how or why the creation of the potion came to be. Dr. Lanyon writes that Dr. Jekyll confessed everything to him after he had completed the transformation. At the crucial point of his narrative, however, “when he is about to reveal the connection between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Lanyon duplicates Dr. Jekyll’s acts of censorship: ’what he told me in the next hour I cannot bring my mind to set on paper’” (Thomas 249-250). As with other silences in the novel, this refrain from speaking the truth comes from Dr. Lanyon’s refusal to confront such a truth that would upset his view of the world. Through his experimentation and creations, Dr. Jekyll has entered into an unstable realm dealing with investigations about the human nature, and Dr. Lanyon cannot conceive of this because he has always adhered strictly to rational, materialist science. When he is forced to confront this realm (upon seeing Mr. Hyde, who represents the manifestation of the supernatural), Dr. Lanyon begins to deteriorate, attempting to reject the undeniable event that has destroyed his worldview. Dr. Lanyon’s written record relates a warning that was technically delivered by Mr. Hyde, who accurately assesses Lanyon as someone who cannot resist his curiosity (Stevenson 50). However, by tempting Dr. Lanyon with the power of knowledge, Mr. Hyde does provide Dr. Lanyon with the chance to resist a desire for answers. The impact of the shock Dr. Lanyon experiences upon seeing Dr. Jekyll’s transformation is such that it causes Dr. Lanyon, a man who has been dedicated to pursuing knowledge, to realize that some knowledge is too powerful and dangerous for natural men: “I sometimes think that if we knew all, we should be more glad to get away” (Stevenson 29). Dr. Lanyon has determined that he would rather suffer in silence than have to face the exposure of such dark truths. He realizes now that some knowledge is not worth having. Like Dr. Lanyon, Mr. Utterson is a man who appreciates and believes in traditional, conservative knowledge. Since he is a lawyer, he is incredibly familiar with the laws that govern the ways in which Victorian society functions. Upon hearing Mr. Enfield’s account of Mr. Hyde trampling the young girl, Mr. Utterson is haunted by a dream in which Hyde “had no face, or one that baffled him and melted before his eyes” (Stevenson 13). He becomes obsessed with a need to see Hyde’s face, and begins spending time near the building Hyde had entered. This growing fascination is described at length:And still the figure had no face by which he might know it; even in his dreams, it had no face, or one that baffled him and melted before his eyes; and thus it was that there sprang up and grew apace in the lawyer’s mind a singularly strong, almost an inordinate, curiosity to behold the features of the real Mr. Hyde. If he could but once set eyes on him, he thought the mystery would lighten and perhaps roll altogether away, as was the habit of mysterious things when well examined. He might see a reason for his friend’s strange preference or bondage (call it what you please) and even for the startling clause of the will. At least it would be a face worth seeing: the face of a man who was without bowels of mercy: a face which had but to show itself to raise up, in the mind of the unimpressionable Enfield, a spirit of enduring hatred. (Stevenson 13)Mr. Utterson’s obsession with seeing Mr. Hyde’s face is most likely a product of his belief system that ultimately assumes truth can be identified by its external appearance. Not only does Mr. Utterson become preoccupied with seeing Mr. Hyde’s face; he also becomes obsessed with finding the words to define Mr. Hyde’s indistinguishable deformity. For Mr. Utterson, the thoroughly social man, “words are surrogates for reality, manipulation of the former representing control over the latter. While the use of language in this way is common enough, Utterson chronically fails to discriminate between the symbol and the reality” (Fraustino 235). For example, in his confusion about the origins or basis of the relationship between the respectable Dr. Jekyll and the mysterious – if not sinister – Mr. Hyde, Mr. Utterson reads: “Henry Jekyll, M.D., D.C.L., L.L.D., F.R.S., etc.” and determines that in these words there is no room for Mr. Hyde; to him, these abbreviations encompass the total reality (Stevenson 11). However, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde clearly implies that words cannot effectively convey reality. Examples of this implication are abundant, but a particular few include Dr. Lanyon’s declaration that he has “brought on” himself “a punishment and a danger” that he “cannot name,” Dr. Jekyll’s statement that his “affairs cannot be mended by talking,” and Mr. Hyde’s saying “never a word” prior to killing Sir Danvers (Stevenson 20, 29). Therefore, it is suggested that the truth about Mr. Hyde’s character and his relationship with Dr. Jekyll are beyond the extent of Mr. Utterson’s language, if not all language. The frustration that ensues (specifically for Mr. Utterson) when faced with this impossibility for the traditional Victorian man to come to terms with life’s illogic is demonstrated with the feeble explanation Mr. Utterson provides Poole about how the man who is writing in Dr. Jekyll’s hand could potentially be both Dr. Jekyll and someone else, someone completely unknown. As Daniel Fraustino says in an essay for the Arizona Quarterly, “the impeccable logic which Utterson uses to explain erroneously the enigma of the familiar hand and strange voice satirizes his methodology and ultimately his basic grasp of reality” (Fraustino 235):These are all very strange circumstances,” said Mr. Utterson, “but I think I begin to see daylight. Your master, Poole, is plainly seized with one of those maladies that both torture and deform the sufferer; hence, for aught I know, the alteration of his voice; hence the mask and the avoidance of his friends; hence his eagerness to find this drug, by means of which the poor soul retains some hope of ultimate recovery – God grant that he be not deceived! There is my explanation; it is sad enough, Poole, ay, and appalling to consider; but it is plain and natural, hangs well together, and delivers us from all exorbitant alarms. (Stevenson 38)Mr. Utterson’s attempt to place experience within the narrow confines of a world artificially ordered by language is what underlies his concern that his explanation be “plain,” “natural,” hang “well together,” and deliver him from “all exorbitant alarms” (Stevenson 38). Perhaps this is again Stevenson making the suggestion to the reader that, “unlike his early ancestors, modern man suffers from an ever-widening split in his consciousness, and we are all Lanyons, Uttersons and Jekylls who have repressed, alienated, or otherwise estranged the Hyde within us – acts which doom us to inhabit the outskirts of reality as well as those of our own personalities” (Fraustino 235). The presence of silence throughout Stevenson’s novel serves as a means to communicate the limitations of language. Mr. Hyde, a fundamentally supernatural creation whose origins belong to Dr. Jekyll, is emblematic of all things intangible and ethereal that cannot effectively be explained through language. Dr. Lanyon, a man of traditional convention, represents those in Victorian society with the desire to pursue knowledge but the refusal to confront situations that will destroy their perception of the world. Mr. Utterson represents much of the same, but additionally illustrates the refusal to recognize the truth, and the pathetic, satirized attempt to reject the supernatural with feeble explanations such as the one he provides Poole regarding Dr. Jekyll’s state. Ultimately, silence in Stevenson’s novel serves to demonstrate to the audience that at the time, there was a lack of exposure to things that would be deemed “supernatural.” When confronted with situations that presented things that were hard to identify or explain, the traditional Victorian response was to reject or deny these things, either through silence or through attempt to use language to figure out a way to use conventional knowledge to explain these situations. Works CitedFraustino, Daniel V. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Anatomy of Misperception.” Arizona Quarterly 38.3 (1982): 235. Oates, Joyce Carol. “Jekyll/Hyde.” Hudson Review XL. 54 (1988): 603–608. Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2006. Tithecotte, Richard. Of Men and Monsters: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Construction of The Serial Killer. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997. Thomas, Ronald R. Dreams of Authority: Freud and the Fictions of the Unconscious. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1990.

The Collective Mr. Hyde

With his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson presents encounters between several upstanding members of Victorian society and Mr. Hyde, a man who seems to disregard all social conventions in favor of selfishness and barbarity. To be sure, Hyde’s actions merit disapproval, but Jekyll’s friends feel a severe physical aversion to Hyde at first glance, even before its intellectual equivalent can arise. Intriguingly, none of these men‹Gabriel Utterson, Richard Enfield, and Hastie Lanyon‹can pinpoint exactly what aspect of Hyde is so unpalatable. Enfield says, “I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why . . . he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point” (Stevenson 8), while Lanyon elaborates, “there was something abnormal and misbegotten in the very essence of the creature that now faced me‹something seizing, surprising, and revolting” (Stevenson 73). If he has no visible malformations, no disfiguring scars or deformities, why do three well-respected men react with such vehement disgust at the sight of Mr. Hyde?In his essay “The Uncanny,” famed psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud seeks to answer a more generic form of this question: what evokes “repulsion and distress” (Freud 219) in a human being, such that we call it “uncanny”? Over the course of his essay, Freud asserts that the word “uncanny”1 delineates, both linguistically and psychologically, a coalescence of two seemingly opposing categories‹that which is familiar to us and that which is concealed. For instance, Freud posits zombies, the dead returned, as an example of the uncanny; in them we see a conjugation of life, with which we are familiar, and death, the nature of which is hidden from our knowledge. He then explains this apparent paradox by claiming that what we have named “the uncanny” elicits disgust because it is “something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” (Freud 241). Using the zombie example, we feel disgust because we have repressed our once-commonly-held belief that the dead can “become visible as spirits” (Freud 242). In this way, familiar things that we forcefully conceal become uncanny and thus repulsive upon their return, no matter whether they were originally harmful or frightening.Hyde certainly effects repulsion in Jekyll’s friends, and the story of his concealment and subsequent release seems at first glance to fit Freud’s theory of the uncanny perfectly. Jekyll describes the repression of his selfish desires in a letter to Utterson, his lawyer:The worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition, such as has made the happiness of many, but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public. Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures. . . .I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life. (Stevenson 78)Thus Jekyll admits to spurning one side of himself, the side of sensual appetite, in favor of the sedate aspect sanctioned by the Victorian social network. When he later concocts a potion in order to let free this portion of his identity, which he ironically dubs Mr. Hyde, Freud’s theory would seem to predict that Hyde, as an example of the uncanny, should evoke distress and repulsion in others. However, if we read the story completely literally, we see that Hyde is familiar to and concealed by only Jekyll, not his friends, and thus should have no effect on them. For an answer to our original question, then, we must look deeper.Through a closer reading of the story, we see that Stevenson implies that there exists a Hyde within each individual, and the answer to our question becomes clear. Jekyll writes, “‘Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me, I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame” (Stevenson 78). Jekyll’s admission of the unsatisfied sensual desires within him thus leads to a realization that all men, specifically all men in Victorian England, were forced to conceal desires in order to remain in society’s good graces. Lanyon echoes this sentiment, writing, “I have since had reason to believe the cause [of his repulsion towards Hyde] to lie much deeper in the nature of man” (72). Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thus elucidates the individual Victorian man’s inner struggle between sensualism and the rigid moral and social structure in which he had to live his life.By hinting at a hidden Hyde in Utterson and Enfield, who serve as a representative “normal” Victorian men, Stevenson suggests that the repression of a Hyde is an aspect of the Victorian man’s condition. This intimation begins on the very first page of the novel: “[Utterson] had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds” (Stevenson 1). Whereas society as a whole would reproach a man who committed “misdeeds,” Utterson not only tolerated, but also envied his ability to rebel against society in order to indulge sensual appetites. Later, Utterson thinks of his own Hyde: “He was humbled to the dust by the many ill things he had done, and raised up again into a sober and fearful gratitude by the many he had come so near to doing, yet avoided” (Stevenson 20). The urge to perform these misdeeds derived from the Hyde within Utterson, and his ultimate ability to avoid performing most of them demonstrates a continuing, active repression of him. Enfield’s Hyde comes to light, ironically, during his account of his first encounter with the actual Mr. Hyde. When deciding how to punish him for trampling a young girl, Enfield thinks, “Killing being out of the question, we did the next best” (Stevenson 5). Since the child emerged unscathed from the trampling, it seems odd that Enfield would even think of capital punishment, let alone consider it the best, though implausible, option. Part of this extreme reaction against Mr. Hyde comes from the disgust evoked by his appearance, but it also hints at a violent aspect to Enfield’s character, an appetite that can be considered a type of Hyde. Freud’s theory holds true for Utterson and Enfield, and indeed for every member of Victorian society, because they each have their own Hydes inside them and in their pasts; Hyde’s otherwise normal visage disgusts them because some part of their subconscious recognizes him immediately.Heres we see the fundamental difference between Jekyll and his three friends; whereas Jekyll is able to revolt against his society’s command that all Hydes stay hidden, the other three remain faithful. Because Utterson, Enfield, and Lanyon all continue to adhere to the Victorian decorous ideal, we may say that they figuratively represent society’s viewpoint, and their disgust at Hyde then mirrors the general Victorian disdain for sensuality. Stevenson’s greater message becomes clear here, as we observe that the very characters who represent society’s influence seem to possess their own squelched inner desires. Jekyll’s respectable society, then, can only function by concealment of the collective Hyde, by denial of all “sinful” pleasures. Thus far, Freud’s theory applies; Jekyll’s friends feeling of disgust at the sight of Hyde does arise because he, or what he embodies, is both familiar to and repressed by them and their society.One would assume that Freud’s theory, having applied on a deeper level to Utterson, Enfield, and Lanyon, would hold true clearly and literally in the case of Dr. Jekyll himself. However, this is not the case; Freud’s notion of the uncanny must be altered slightly in order to fit Stevenson’s novel. It would appear that Jekyll could have been the model for Freud’s schema, since he is utterly familiar with Hyde’s urges and admits to concealing them in order to maintain his social status. When Hyde first appears in the story, though, Jekyll reacts not with repulsion but with acceptance. He writes, “when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscious of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome. This, too, was myself” (Stevenson 83). After suppressing his sensual urges for so many years, Jekyll feels relief at being able to indulge them, at being able to satisfy every aspect of his existence. He has made a conscious choice to lift the curtain of repression, and only later, when the social being in Jekyll tries to assert control, does he feel any disgust at what he discovers. For Freud’s theory to fit this case, we must add a condition: a person can only be disgusted if he or she did not actively and willingly cease repressing whatever has returned. Jekyll’s friends had no desire to free their Hydes, and thus are disgusted when they see Jekyll’s, while the doctor chose to do so and is not.Some may argue that Jekyll should be disgusted by Hyde, and that Hyde should have remained repressed. Surely, Utterson, Enfield, and Lanyon would clamor for Jekyll to re-encage Hyde, and indeed, by the end of the novel, perhaps Jekyll agrees that Hyde should never have received his parole. However, in a general sense, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde proposes that Victorian society exacerb ated its members’ Hydes by the very act of imprisoning them. Jekyll writes, “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring” (Stevenson 92). This suggests that Hyde’s evil “roaring” through Victorian London is caused by the mountain of unfulfilled urges that he amassed while “caged” within Jekyll; the Hyde of Jekyll’s youth was inherently sinful‹by the standards of the day‹but not so utterly evil as to be murderous, less honorable, but not necessarily harmful. Jekyll writes, “The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified. . .But in the hands of Edward Hyde, they soon began to turn toward the monstrous” (Stevenson 86). To be sure, the Hyde that emerges from Jekyll does reach this extreme monstrosity, but Jekyll implies that the Hyde that originally existed, before he was repressed, was merely “undignified.” Indeed, Hyde’s commits his lone murder directly after escaping from a two-month imprisonment, implying that his appetite had been built up over those two months until he craved to kill. Undignified actions may have offended the Victorian sensibility, but it seems doubtful that they would have included murder or violence against children. Indeed, Hyde’s commits his lone murder directly after escaping from a two-month imprisonment, implying that his appetite was built up through the repression of those two months, until he broke free with the desire to kill. In this way, as Freud posits in his essay, we see that the repression of all “misdeeds” leads to the eventual explosion of the most harmful. Conversely, by removing moral bans on the indulgence of sensual urges on a small scale, larger bursts of violence by individuals’ Hydes might be avoided.Using Freud’s essay “The Uncanny” with Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then, we find an interesting peculiarity. Whereas characters who do not fit literally into Freud’s schema react with the disgust he seeks to explain, the one characters who does fit feels (at first) no disgust whatsoever. Freud’s theory must account for the difference between a character or person who actively stops repressing an urge, for whom no disgust will arise, and one who does not, for whom it will. Indeed, in Stevenson’s novel, a society dominated by the latter creates the atmosphere of repression that pushes Mr. Hyde from merely “undignified” to truly evil. Works CitedStevenson, Robert Louis. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York: Bantam, 1981.Freud, Sigmund. “The ‘Uncanny’.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Hogarth Press, division of Random House Ltd., 1961.

Morally Questionable Smog in the Fiction of Stevenson and Pynchon

The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, both explore the ambiguous nature of human morality through the lens of mystery. Both texts are set in an urban environment, the character’s surroundings constantly obscured with an ever present, metaphorically resonant smog and fog respectively. This fog is physical manifestation of the morally dubious nature of the characters and the sinister underpinnings of both stories. This sordid undercurrent is only explicitly revealed to the protagonists when the smog dissipates, thereby implying that one cannot see the darkness that lurks beneath the facade of urban environments though the moral fog. This forces the readers to consider what the fog of modern society might be hiding in their own lives.

In both stories, the fog can be assumed to be a constant, and both protagonists experience epiphanies when it parts by chance or when they manage to rise above it. When the smog clears momentarily in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, everything is thrown into sharp relief; the reality of the dark underbelly of London is revealed to Utterson, the protagonist, in crisp detail.

“For a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths. The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful reinvasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyer’s eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare. […] As the cab drew up before the address indicated, the fog lifted a little and showed him a dingy street, a gin palace, a low French eating house, a shop for the retail of penny numbers and twopenny salads, many ragged children huddled in the doorway, and many women of many different nationalities passing out, key in hand, to have a morning glass; and the next moment the fog settled down again upon that part, as brown as umber, and cut him off from his blackguardly surroundings.” (23)

It is only when the fog clears that Utterson can see the disquieting, hidden part of London.

Oedipa is similarly accustomed to seeing through smog, she only notices it when it is absent or when she is removed from it. One such instance is her arrival in San Narciso, the smog fades as she overlooks the city and its absence startles her enough that she has to, “squint for the sunlight” (24). In doing so, she can see more than what is right before her eyes.

“She looked down a slope, […] onto a vast sprawl of houses which had grown up all together, like a well-tended crop, from the dull brown earth; and she thought of the time she’d opened a transistor radio to replace a battery and seen her first printed circuit. The ordered swirl of houses and streets, from this high angle, sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. Thought she knew even less about radios than about Southern Californians, there were to both outward batters a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate. There’d seemed no limit to what the printed circuit could have told her (if she had tried to find out); so in her first minute of San Narciso, a revelation also trembled just past the threshold of her understanding. Smog hung all round the horizon, the sun on the bright beige countryside was painful; she and the Chevy seemed parked at the centre of an odd, religious instant. As if, on some other frequency, or out of the eye of some whirlwind rotating too slow for her heated skin even to feel the centrifugal coolness of, words were being spoken. She suspected that much.” (24)

The jarring lucidity she experiences, and her realization that there is something interconnected and deliberate, something sinister and uncomfortable lurking below the exterior facade of San Narciso echos Utterson’s sudden confrontation with the reality of the seedy underbelly of London, for both are only visible when the fog parts. These moments of clarity, moments in which the characters notice the smog screen through which they ordinarily observe their surroundings and the world is thrown into high enough relief that darker plot becomes almost visible, are all the more interesting when one considers the metaphorical implications of the fog.

In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the fog keeps Utterson’s London in a perpetual state of murky twilight. It not white or black but, “rich, lurid brown” (23). The morality of the characters in both stories is similarly unclear – Jekyll is sympathetic due to his pain and eventual remorse yet he repeatedly chooses to become Hyde, to personify and nurture the worst part of his nature. The readers root for Oedipa as she attempts to unravel the mystery and conspiracy of the Trystero but her character is questionable as she repeatedly cheats on her husband in the process. However, both texts remain equivocal on how their characters should be viewed; characters within the stories judge their contemporaries (as Utterson judges Jekyll) but, the final moral estimation is left open to the reader’s interpretation. Within the text, the characters are allowed to remain neither black or white – they are a “rich, lurid brown” themselves (23). The fog can then be metaphorically seen as a fog of questionable morals, as both authors project the morally dubious nature of their characters onto the city in which they live. This, in turn, says something larger about the urban environments they inhabit.

In using the fog to obscure the truth and to cast a shadow of moral doubt over both cities, the authors suggest that the same happens throughout modern, urban life. Pynchon alludes to the spread of moral ambiguity in modern, urban society directly, when, during an instant of unwitting perspicuity, Oedipa herself notices the metaphorical and physical fog spread to an area the “folklore,” claims it hadn’t previously infiltrated, though she refuses to admit that what she sees is smog, given the implication that its presence conceals something nefarious,

“Looking down at San Francisco a few minutes later from the high point of the bridge’s arc, she saw smog. Haze, she corrected herself, is what it is, haze. How can they have smog in San Francisco? Smog, according to the folklore, did not begin till farther south. It had to be the angle of the sun.”(108)

Hence, in concerning themselves with the spread of moral fog, both texts encourage readers to attempt to peer through it, through the obstructions of urban development, to get to the heart of things. They suggests that urban cities exist under this brown cover, in moral twilight zones, which allows things like the conspiracy of the Trystero or the mystery and murder of Jekyll and Hyde to go unseen and unrecognized. This in turn fosters in their readers the feelings of unease and morbid curiosity, similar to the feelings of justified paranoia experienced by Oedipa and Utterson.

By illustrating that the fog that shrouds Oedipa and Utterson’s cities conceals the sinister and mysterious plots at work in both stories and projecting the morally questionable nature of the characters onto that fog, The Crying of Lot 49 and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, suggest that urban environments allow their habiants to exist in a state of moral blindness and urge their readers to look for the moments when things become clear, to watch for the parting of the smog, and to really take notice when it happens, hinting that perhaps the events of these books, or at least things of a similarly sinister nature, are more plausible than one might think, and that one might be able to see them if only the fog would part.

Works Cited

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. Print.Steventon,

Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. Print.

Undermining of Late Enlightenment Progress in “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”

In the 1890s, realization that new knowledge and vast technological innovation created the potential for our own ability to shape the future of humanity, for better or significantly for the worse, prompted the existential crisis of a decade. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde suggests enlightenment ideals cannot protect against class divisions and conflict, possibility of racial degeneration, and overall mismanagement of knowledge and technology due to human nature itself.

1890s barons amplified class divisions considerably, economically and culturally. “…the fin de siècle has come to be identified as the moment of emergence, in their modern configuration, of the forms of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture.” (Ledger & Luckhurst, 4). London’s topography reinforces this class division, Jekyll’s own home’s position alluding to his duality, but also the duality of London’s class divisions, between slums and mansions. (Luckhurst, xxviii). Just how poor the disparaging lower class is described. “Tramps slouched…children kept shop upon the steps; the schoolboy had tried his knife on the mouldings…for close on a generation.” (Stevenson, 6). Referring specifically to the class of children who play in the streets near prostitutes and already vandalize property, and speaking of this “generation” implies these children will grow up, and their class will wreak havoc on the city and its inhabitants in the coming generation. A clear allusion to reality, riots, gangs, and urban unrest were rampant. “Newly enfranchised working-class men were imbuing the new radical politics like anarchism, and socialism, Marxism.” (Luckhurst, xxix). Famously on Bloody Sunday. Urban destitution was terrifying for the sheltered upper-class “The savage of civilization whom we are raising by the hundred thousand in our slums is quite capable of bathing his hands in blood as any Sioux who ever scalped a foe.” (Luckhurst, xxx). It’s worth mentioning Jack the Ripper’s crimes were believed to be “…perpetrated by some crazed surgeon or aristocrat intent on punishing working class prostitutes.” (Luckhurst, xxx). in a battle against a so viewed “degenerate” class.

Humanities racial degeneration is also seen to be enabled, even catalyzed by the structure of a modern, industrial urban landscape. “The close confines and foul air of our cities are shortening the life of the individual, and raising up a puny and ill-developed race…It is beyond prophesy to guess even what the rising generation will grow into, what this empire will become after they have got charge if it” (Ledger & Luckhurst, 5). Britain’s population living in cities created urban poverty the likes of which the world had never seen. “The language in which Hyde is portrayed in the book – ‘apelike’ and ‘troglodytic’ – owes something to the description of the degenerate urban poor, ‘a stunted, puny race’ in the words of one contemporary.” (Luckhurst, xxx). Hyde also seems to embody the indifferent, apathetic, “blasé” attitude the overstimulating “metropolis” fosters (Simmel, 2). taken to an extreme, degenerating into selfish cruelty as he romps about at all hours (enabled by the city’s electricity and constant operation, a new development) and delights in the ambiguous shameful pleasures that once again, a large city, has to offer.

Technologies of the 1890s fin de siècle seemed to have a duality about them as well. On one hand “Physical and biological sciences on a hundred lines is reducing individual freedom to zero, and weakening the sense of responsibility.” (Luckhurst, xxvii). by “…statistically categorizing, inventing people…apparently chance or irregular events have been brought under the control of natural or social law.” (Hacking, 10). However, now the realization occurred another side of human nature could be ruinous if we weren’t careful was abound due to the “Ambivalence of Modernity” (Ledger & Luckhurst, 3). supported opinions and actions were free to take any direction. Now with “the more the indeterminism, the more the control…Questions of degeneracy, regeneracy, and which direction the future of humanity would take…the growth of a research mentality in European society” (Hacking, 6). could form. Possibly deadly mismanagement of knowledge and technology seemed a given due to human nature, and the potential for us to engineer our own doom seemed nearer than ever before, ironically, in the most “civilized” modern of times and technology. “Parallel to the taming of chance…there arose a self-conscious conception of pure irregularity, of something wilder than the kinds of chance that had been excluded by the Age of Reason. It harked back, in part, to something ancient or vestigial. It also looked into the future, to new, and often darker, visions of the person…” (Hacking, 10).

Per example, in Jekyll and Hyde It’s with new chemical mixtures created using Jekyll’s gifted scientific abilities create that allow him to split and unleash his duality, with horrifying results. In using science “to shine upon the subject from the laboratory table…Nearer to that truth” (52). Rather than gothic castles, it is the backdrop of complex street lamps and towers created using the modern engineering of the London cityscape. Chemicals and papers “neatly set forth on the business table” (41). allude to Enlightenment rationality, implying new technologies of the enlightenment and combined personal freedom will lead us astray, back to the middle ages faster than anything else, as they allow for more rapid degeneration.

Another point, Jekyll has devolved, drifted from solid science into murkier supernatural pursuits, comparable to 1890s pseudosciences like phrenology, and social Darwinism, both incorrectly twist and invent science to justify racist ends. Like Jekyll’s magical potions, such investigative pursuits may be based on false science, but they have very real, awful results, undermining the “good” of enlightenment pursuit of scientific knowledge for the betterment of humanity. Jekyll later discovers his task is impossible “doom and burthen of our life is bound forever on man’s shoulders, and when the attempt is made to cast it off, it but returns to us with more unfamiliar and more awful pressure.” (53). allegory for the enlightenment attempt to rid humanity of its problems through science and rationality, but how the cycle will forever continue as “temptation of a discovery is so singular and profound.” (54). Another Gothic example of this occors in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, where it’s his pursuit of knowledge out of passion for discovery using new university laboratory technologies with his background of old philosopher’s ideas which create the monster.

More backlash against the enlightenment’s ruthlessly logical antics is shown in Langston, who before his death, remarks “I have had a shock…I sometimes think if we knew all, we should be more glad to get away.” (29). Unaware of Langston’s view of the horrible transformation, Utterson hypotheses, “he is a doctor, he must know his own state and that his days are counted; and the knowledge is more than he can bear.” (29). a worrisome concept that new enlightenment knowledge can prompt an unbearable, existential crisis, knowing too much and being destroyed by it. Through such cold enlightenment rationality, Jekyll had become “Not only hellish but inorganic.” (65). Modern and machine-like, and very much inhuman.

Jekyll and Hyde pushes back against the enlightenment idea new science, rational knowledge and technology, all blooming in the 1890s fin de siècle, will solve all of humanities problems, opening up the horrific idea these innovations may just carry on, even amplify humanities basic instincts. Humanities dual good and evil is, truly, forever inseparable.

Works Cited

Nordau. “Degeneration by Max Simon Nordau.” Lewis Carroll, Project Gutenberg, 9 Febb. 2016, www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/51161.

Lombroso, Cesare, et al. Criminal Man. Duke University Press, 2007.

Simmel, Georg. Metropolis and Mental Life. Syllabus Division, University of Chicago Press, 1961.

Ledger, Sally, and Rodger Luckhurst. Reading the ‘Fin De Siècle’. Oxford University Press, 9 Sept. 2018.

Hacking, Ian. The Taming of Chance. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Hogle, Jerrold E. “The Gothic at our turn of the century: our culture of simulation and the return of the body.” Essays and Studies, 2001, p. 153+. Expanded Academic ASAP, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A90534160/EAIM?u=umn_wilson&sid=EAIM&xid=8d5edb93. Accessed 15 Sept. 2018.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Tales. Oxford World Classics, 2006.