Character Analysis of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
In the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, details the story of 2 men, who appear to be polar opposites living in the Victorian era. During Victorian times, lower-class citizens, who lived in crime ridden, impoverished areas, were regarded as a degenerate form of life. On the other hand, affluent members of the upper-class were considered fully evolved, functioning members of society. Stevenson analyzes these Victorian concepts by following the story of a quintessential man of riches, as well as a criminal, who repulsed almost everyone around him.
The former, Dr. Henry Jekyll is an admired doctor, from a nice part of London, and is known for his civility. The latter, is Mr. Edward Hyde. Hyde is suspected to have committed two murders, and appears to be pre-human. Stevenson accentuates these men’s differences throughout the story, by juxtaposing the settings they are commonly found in. However, at the end, we learn that Hyde is a part of Jekyll. As a young scientist, Jekyll attempted to split the good and evil in him, into two independent people. He was only partially successful, but he managed to separate his evil into a new persona, Hyde. Stevenson complicates Victorian concepts of degeneration and crime by painting the criminal Hyde’s setting as opposite to Jekyll’s, but at the end suggests that they both exist within each other.
Stevenson represents conventional English ideals, by highlighting Dr. Jekyll as a reputable, charitable doctor. He is a well respected, wealthy person, who lives in a fancy house, in the new town of London. Mr. Utterson calls one of the rooms in Jekyll’s home the “Pleasantest room in London” (Stevenson 44). While most of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde takes place at night, the scenes involving Dr. Jekyll almost all portray a form of warmth and friendliness. This alludes to Victorian conceptions regarding the upper-class, who were viewed as completely separate and above those in the lower-class. Many claimed that rich “white British males such as [Jekyll were] at the pinnacle of an evolutionary hierarchy” (Danahay 18). Stevenson emphasizes the good sides of Dr. Jekyll, to confirm Victorian concepts of the bourgeoisie class. The upscale location and lifestyle Dr. Jekyll is associated with in the book represents how Jekyll strives to appear to others.
Stevenson depicts Victorian crime stereotypes, by illustrating Hyde as an animal like creature, who dwells in impoverished, rundown areas of London. Hyde, who is all of Dr. Jekyll’s evil, personified into a single entity, has done many horrible things. He trampled a young girl, and murdered a man, without feeling any remorse. Edward Hyde’s character parallels the setting he was placed in. In the novel, Hyde is frequently associated with the dilapidated door, on the back of Jekyll’s house. The door juts out into an alley, and all the windows are boarded up.
Hyde also often resides in the slums of London, which Utterson refers to as “ a district of some city in a nightmare” (Stevenson 49). Not only does Hyde himself appear to others as a repulsive, horrible character, but he spends his time in neglected, corruption prone areas, highlighting his reputation as a primitive being. Placing Hyde in decrepit settings allows Stevenson to evoke Victorian “theories of both evolution and degeneration in his descriptions of Mr. Hyde as a kind of monkey” (Danahay 20). Edward Hyde represents the lower-class, living in 20th century England, and how they were considered primitive compared to the upper-class. Stevenson purposely places Hyde in battered settings, to accentuate qualities that people in Victorian times were ashamed of, and tried to suppress.
Despite Stevenson spending most of the book differentiating Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, at the end he demonstrates that Jekyll isn’t entirely above Hyde’s actions. Dr. Jekyll is unhappy with man’s dual nature, and attempts to separate his good and evil in search of inner peace. He has high expectations, set by himself and others, that he feels he needs to live up to. Consumed by his rich lifestyle he craves to let out the immoral part of him. Jekyll states that if his personalities could be “housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable” (Stevenson 77). The doctor feels repressed by the standards society has created for him, and is constantly trying to be perfect to live up to his reputation. In the form of Hyde, he has no conscience to repress his negative thoughts, and can act on his urges, without trepidation of repercussions from those around him. While Dr. Jekyll is in the form of Hyde, he looks and acts like a degenerate.
However, there are certain attributes of Hyde that oppose Victorian evolutionary concepts. For example, he has a very eloquent vocabulary, and a luxuriously furnished home, which one would not expect from a murderer like Hyde. There are also certain attributes of Jekyll, that he has to keep hidden, to sustain his esteemed reputation. Although on the surface Dr. Jekyll models Victorian expectations of the upper-class, his “veneer of gentility . . . concealed so much of what was really going on in Victorian bourgeois society” (Danahay 24). As shown through Hyde, Jekyll, along with the rest of the upper-class, is not as perfect as he appears to be. This is because the evil Mr. Edward Hyde is merely a suppressed part of the affluent Dr. Henry Jekyll, and is carrying out actions that Jekyll’s conscience would have otherwise quelled. To be successful in Victorian London, Dr. Jekyll needs to maintain his morals, his friendships, his job, and his wealth. Living in a constant state of repression, he let out Hyde, who commits the sins Jekyll suppresses, because they would put his reputation on the line.
Throughout the story, Stevenson separates the lifestyle of Jekyll and Hyde, but in the end, he shows that they are not independent of each other. When Dr. Jekyll originally attempts to separate the evil inside of him, he succeeds in one way, because the bad side of him exists as a person. However, externalizing Hyde does not make Jekyll himself wholly good, as he is often perceived to be. Victorian London appeared impeccable to outsiders, due to its seemingly wealthy, successful population. What many people didn’t acknowledge were the extremely poor, run down, crime infested slums of London, hidden by the cities façade of perfection.
Similarly, Dr. Jekyll is constantly concealing negative parts of his personality, hiding behind a mask of prosperity and achievements. When Jekyll’s evil side is let out to the world, he can release his true thoughts as Hyde, without fear of backlash from society. Despite a clear juxtaposition in setting between the two characters, they aren’t as separate as they are portrayed, because Hyde will always exist within Jekyll, and Jekyll will always exist within Hyde.
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