The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Essay
Updated: Dec 20th, 2019
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is an investigation into the duality in human character. The novel demonstrates the duality in personality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through the conflict between the good and evil side of human personality.
Dr. Jekyll, a scientist, brews a potion that he tests on himself and brings out the duality in his personality in the form of evil Mr. Hyde. Initially, the emergence of the ‘Other’ in the form of Hyde is harmless, but soon it transforms into murderous chaos. This essay discusses the novel in three different perspectives.
The first thesis is based on the historical context of the novel and I believe that the novel by Stevenson is a resonance of the frustration of many Victorian intellectuals of the stifling social norms that prevented self-expression.
The second thesis is that in the novel, the protagonist in the form of Mr. Hyde is described through narration. The third thesis is that the 2006 film adaption of the novel by John Carl Buechler there are major deviation from the novel in form of the theme, subplots, and the characters .
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a representation of the society in London during the Victorian era, which was the milieu for the novel. In the novel Stevenson, pens down the frustration that Victorian England felt at the early nineteenth century. Initially, the potion made by Jekyll helps him to transform himself from one persona to another at will.
However, as the dosage increases, the ‘Other’ in form of Hyde becomes all-consuming. The initial desire to change into a more daring, revolting, maverick person is an expression of the Victorian frustration with the laid rules and norms of Victorian society. This is in a way is the personification of the Victorian men.
The transformation of Jekyll to Hyde allows the former to do things that the polite society would consider scandalous. The potion that Jekyll takes is a metaphor for opium addiction prevalent in London in late-Victorian era. It was the desire to break the bondage of a constructed behaving pattern of the Victorian era that Jekyll looked for a way of expression of his suppressed, baser animal instincts.
In the Victorian era, there was a pressure to behave in a certain way at the cost of suppression of the instinctive, baser elements of man. Therefore, Jekyll was the personification of the frustration of Stevenson and many others of his time.
Hyde was an escape for Jekyll (as opium was for many Victorian men) to shed the garb of discipline and conforming to a more instinctive, passionate, and unpredictable character. Therefore, the novel can rightfully be dubbed as a fable of Victorian anxieties.
Characterization of the Protagonist
The protagonist in Stevenson’s novel is the scientist cum devil Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. In most part of the novel, the character of both Jekyll and Hyde is developed through narrative description in speeches of other characters like Mr. Utterson or through description in letters or narration of by the author. The character of Jekyll is introduced in the novel through the description of a certain Mr. Enfield:
He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. … 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.
Hyde are known to the reader through the narration of the other characters of the novel viz. Mr. Utterson, Poole (Jekyll’s butler), Dr. Laylon, Mr. Enfield, Dr. Jekyll and others. Their description of Hyde brings forth the man the readers are encountering. The most important narrations that describe Hyde are the letter of Dr. Laylon and the full statement of Dr. Jekyll which forms the last two chapters if the novel.
Therefore, Stevenson actually does not introduce or develop the character of Hyde who is created through the perceptions of the other characters of the novel.
It is the perception of the other characters that the reader gets the picture of Hyde to be short, evil looking, having a cruel countenance, responsible for all the crimes enacted in the novel. Therefore, the novel follows a narrative style of characterization of its protagonist Mr. Hyde.
This section presents a comparison of Stevenson’s novel and a 2006 film adaptation of the story. On watching the movie, it is apparent that the movie is an adaptation of Stevenson’s novel but only to the extent that the theme of duality of human character and the name of a few of the characters such as Utterson, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, and Dr. Laylon.
The movie is set in modern times and Dr. Jekyll still shown as a scientist, works on a high-tech bioscience research. Dr. Jekyll in the movie had developed a remedy to cure a rare heart disease in high primates. However, intentionally (like Stevenson’s Jekyll) tests the potion on himself. The experiment has similar results in the modern Jekyll and the evil Hyde emerges.
The adaptation is similar this far, but a few tenets of the Stevenson’s novel are re-sculpted. For instance, all the main characters in Stevenson’s novel were bachelors (for example Utterson, Jekyll, and Laylon). However, in this film, Jekyll is a married man and the story of the murders by Hyde revolving around the café of Jekyll’s wife. Utterson in the film is a police officer instead of a lawyer and is a woman.
However, the biggest deviation that the movie shows is the murders committed by Hyde. In the movie, Hyde is shown to attack young women. He does not only murder them but sexually abuses them before committing murder. This is a definitive deviation from the novel as all the murder victims in Stevenson’s novel were old and distinguished men (for example Carew and Sir Danvers).
The gothic element of the novel is played down in the movie which is set in a modern American town with young and beautiful characters with little dark or weirdness around. The gloomy setting of the novel set in the mists of winter in London is missing in the movie.
For someone who watches the movie without reading Stevenson’s novel would perceive Jekyll to be a sexually repressive character who invokes an alter ego to give force to his darker instincts. Actually, Stevenson’s novel was not confined to the darker sexual desires of man but to the darker side of the soul of human being.
The essay traces the true character of the novel by Stevenson. It shows the historical significance of the novel in showing the repressive frustration among Victorian men and shows that the novel uses a narrative style in characterization of its protagonist.
A comparison with a 2006 movie shows that modern adaption of the novel has deviated largely in subplot and characterization. Overall, Stevenson’s novel helps the readers today to identify the presence of duality in human personality and the need to understand it and use it positively rather than giving it free reign.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. London: Harper Collins, 1895. Print.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde . Dir. John Carl Buechler. Perf. Tony Todd. 2006. DVD.
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