The Strange case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde
Perfect Good vs The Ultimate Bad
“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.
Nabokov, 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.
Analysis Of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
When reading literature and viewing movies much of the important messages and ideas can fly right by the audiences head without their knowledge. The best way avoid this is by entering the art we view with a purpose. The perspective in which we obtain information can change all we know about the piece we are viewing. This holds true when reading novels such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or even watching movies such as Birdman. Whether the audience is reading or watching the piece of art, viewing it thinking of Sigmund Freud’s theory of the psyche can change everything believed beforehand. Studying his theory can completely unravel some of the unsolved mysteries of the story.
This theory is very applicable to the story of, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The double character in the story is at constant battle with himself throughout the novel. When Mr. Utterson first encounters Mr. Hyde he describes him as, “pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the
lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice.” (Stevenson, 43) I believe this is a very significant part of the novel understanding Freud’s theory of the psyche as well as the background of the novel. Every person that encounters Mr. Hyde has a negative perspective of him. Despite Mr. Hyde being Dr. Jekyll people can only see his alter ego which is viewed as displeasing. According to Sigmund Freud’s theory of the psyche, Dr. Jekyll’s, “Id” is overpowering his “Ego” (Sheppard, 65). This is a concept that that is easily left for interpretation, but I believe that Stevenson is trying to portray our alter ego’s as more powerful than just our personality. This is the reason that people lose power of their Id and develop psychological issues. For many people, the ego is just outweighed by their desires and needs, and it may change them as a person. One of the most interesting parts of the novel is the fact that we get to see the deterioration of Dr. Jekyll as the story progresses. “I fell in slavery. I had but to drink the cup, to doff at once the body of the noted professor and to assume, like a thick cloak, that of Edward Hyde.” (Stevenson, 80) Dr. Jekyll had to consume a potion that would tame his alter ego. As the story continues he finds himself losing control and having to take larger dosages just to stay his ego, Dr. Jekyll. This potion is a metaphor to his ego fighting back, despite losing the battle to his id; Mr. Hyde. Being able to apply Sigmund Freud’s knowledge to the novel allows the reader to interpret the genius of Stevenson’s grand metaphor.
These same concepts are even possible to apply to the art of cinema. The entire movie, Birdman directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a storyline of Riggan Thompson losing control of his Ego to his Id. Throughout the movie we find Riggan Thompson having conversations with himself, Birdman. Whenever he is alone in the film we catch him using supernatural powers that Birdman would possess. Many would be led to believe that he truly possesses these abilities, but Inarritu is depicting Riggan’s deteriorating self conflict. Despite these supernatural abilities, the beginning of the film depicts minimal obvious battle between Riggan’s Id and ego. The most subtle form of his conflict is shown through his attempt to leave the label he has received as Birdman and become an, “actor” through his broadway production. Without the actors direct conscious being aware, he is trying to make his name as renowned actor in order to fight his Id as Birdman. At the end of the day all he seeks is his desire to be famous and relevant with the modern times. Transparent to, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we observe Riggan’s state of mind deteriorating throughout the story. By the end of the movie Thompson is having full arguments with his Birdman Id and eventually the alter ego becomes visible. Once his Id becomes visible the audience can assume that Riggan’s ego has lost control of his Id according to Freud’s theory of the psyche. Riggan gives out a screech and embodies the desires of his Id. He has embraced his alter ego and finally lost that battle that we watched over the course of the film.
The perspective in which we observe the art around us can make all of the difference in the world. Applying the concepts of Sigmund Freud has allowed me to decipher and enjoy many productions of the literature throughout this course. Authors and directors such as, Stevenson and Inarritu were able to illustrate their own perspective of the deteriorating psyche of the human being leaving the audience with an open mind on the subject.
From Mr. Utterson’s Point of View
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.