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.

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