‘How, and With What Effects, Does Stevenson Present the Theme of Duality to the Reader of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?” Throughout Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ Stevenson conveys his readers. He claims that all human beings have good and evil within themselves and that there is another side to every individual. He places his message as a theme throughout the book, and almost everyone and everything revolves around duality. This essay will explain the effects of this theme and how the language, structure and techniques portray it.
Stevenson’s theme is complex and ambitious. He presents ideas that, in the eyes of a strict Christian, could be seen as immoral. Stevenson’s own grandfather was a Christian minister after all, and maybe the author’s exposure to sermons and services contributed to his willingness to experiment with religious ideas. His novella illustrates his message, which is brought to life by the open-minded Henry Jekyll and his own other half Edward Hyde. Jekyll is a scientist who enjoys flirting with the transcendental and attempting to unlock new areas of science, unthought-of by humanity, ‘I began to perceive more deeply than it has ever yet been stated…’ During his experimentation, Jekyll succeeds in producing a drug that brings out ‘the other side’ in people,
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‘… but managed to compound a drug by which these powers should be dethroned from their supremacy…’ By taking this drug, he becomes Edward Hyde, a being representing all the evil Jekyll possesses, ‘… and the thing that was projected was Edward Hyde.’ Hyde is pure evil and sends shivers up the spines of everybody he comes across, ‘I never saw a man I so disliked.’ As readers, we obviously respond to Jekyll and Hyde in totally different ways. We warm to Jekyll as he is described as ‘A smooth-faced man of fifty…’ The word ‘smooth’ has a comforting, lulling sound and gives the reader the impression that Jekyll is a friendly, peace-loving man.
Stevenson states his age, ‘man of fifty,’ and you, therefore, feel you know Jekyll fairly well. After all, everybody fears the unknown. The stereotype of fifty is that of a fairly wise man, and again the reader feels assured. Throughout the novella, Utterson, who we follow through the plot, takes great concern in him, ‘Poor Harry Jekyll… my mind misgives me he is in deep waters!’ Jekyll is a man who we respect, and we hope that he is safe from harm. We show great interest in this character as he is surrounded by mystery why he is so fond of Hyde. Utterson’s concern is passed onto the reader by constantly questioning Jekyll’s safety in his narration.
On the other hand, Edward Hyde is described as ‘Satan’s signature on a face.’ The constant ‘s’ sound is similar to a snake’s hiss, and snakes have always been associated with the devil and evil. This links back to what the phrase is actually saying: Hyde is signed by the devil and therefore belongs to his company. This is a strong thing to say about a human and shows the passionate hatred towards Hyde. Everybody despises him at first sight, ‘I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight.’ This feeling of hatred is passed on to the reader through the powerful vocabulary used by the narrative voice.
All the narrators in the book dislike Hyde with a passion. In his direct conversation with Hyde, Utterson sees him as ‘savage’ and again, the sound of the word is similar to a snake’s hiss. In fact, Utterson describes Hyde’s intake of breath as a ‘hissing.’ Lanyon says that his presence creates ‘an odd, subjective disturbance.’ This may seem a slightly less strong dislike than Utterson’s, but the key point is that all the narrative voices are against Hyde, and the reader, therefore, picks up this dislike and similarly responds to him. Even Jekyll says in his account that; ‘it was the horror of being Hyde that racked him.’ All these similar viewpoints work together to influence the reader.
However, it is important to remember that before Lanyon and Jekyll’s accounts of the plot at the end of the book, the readers do not know that Hyde and Jekyll are the same people, and we, therefore, react to them as separate characters. It is when we realize that they are the same character that our feelings towards them change. We now see that Jekyll actually possesses a lot of evil in him. The similarities between him and Hyde (the similar handwriting scrawled over Jekyll’s books) places doubts in the readers’ minds as to whether Jekyll is the kind-hearted gentlemen we had him out to be, ‘… the two hands are in many points identical.’ ‘… scrawling in my own hand blasphemies…’
In the final chapter, the narrative voice is exciting. What starts as Jekyll’s account of the plot starts to switch between Hyde and the doctor’s account. It is almost as if he is unsure of his identity and whether he is his evil side or his better side. He sometimes mentions Hyde as a separate person, sometimes as himself, ‘He, I say – I cannot say I,’ ‘I arranged my clothes as best I could…’ He sometimes mentions Henry Jekyll as a separate person, sometimes as himself, ‘I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end,’ ‘… it was partly in a dream that I came home to my own house…’ As readers, we are unsure as to where Jekyll’s heart now lies.
As for Hyde, we can now feel pity for him. He cannot be a separate person to Jekyll and is tied to Jekyll, ‘… when I recall the abjection and passion of this attachment…’ Even Jekyll himself, who declared his hatred for Hyde earlier in his narrative, says, ‘He fears my power to cut him off by suicide, I find it in my heart to pity him.’ Hyde now begins to cry, ‘Once I heard it weeping!’ As the boundaries between himself and Jekyll are becoming smaller, hence Jekyll’s sudden transformations into Hyde, maybe he is picking up some of Jekyll’s emotions. Is Hyde becoming a better person and Jekyll someone more evil?
Possibly Hyde’s weeping is a mistake that the author should not have included. If Hyde is pure evil and is crying, this may contradict Stevenson’s message of two separate sides to everyone’s nature, as the pure evil side of somebody can mix with the better side. Maybe we do not understand the full meaning of his message. Hyde, after all, has been created by Jekyll, and similarly to the monster in ‘Frankenstein,’ may wish that he had not been. Certainly, the hatred everybody has for him would make him feel that way. Hyde is no longer in control of his own life as he needs the sanctuary of Jekyll; the police are searching for him as the murderer of Carew, ‘Jekyll was now my city of refuge.’
Hyde believes that Jekyll could easily commit suicide and end his life anyhow. Therefore, Hyde could be killed if found by the police or if Jekyll commits suicide. Hyde is frightened of Jekyll and is no longer in control of his own destiny. This can win the reader’s sympathy. It is these questions that lead the reader to doubt their feelings towards the two characters. After all, it is unnatural to see the elements of one character as two separate characters, and therefore the reader is unsure how to react at the end of the novella. This is particularly true of the reader’s reaction to the unusual narrative voice.
The idea of a dual nature gives the book a gothic feel. Any book that is unnatural and includes fantasy can go under this category. However, Hyde is presented as a monster, ‘There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable.’ and maybe, therefore, the novella falls into the horror genre. Stevenson’s message helps control the genres the book could fit into, but other factors such as Hyde’s presentation can also influence. So how does Stevenson get his theme across to the reader?
The obvious method that the author chooses to present his ideas is through character, particularly those of Jekyll and Hyde. Throughout the book, he contrasts the two characters using phrases such as, ‘Satan’s signature on a face.’ Which refers to Hyde and, ‘Smooth-faced man of fifty.’ Which refers to Jekyll. By revealing that the two are, in fact, the same character, the reader can clearly see the divide in the characteristics of Henry Jekyll and can understand Stevenson’s theory of a good and evil side to everyone. It is not just this character that shows a divide in personality, however. Utterson is described as, ‘… long, dusty, dreary yet somehow loveable.’
Therefore, Utterson can be a very boring person, but it is possible to admire him. This suggests that there may, in fact, be another side to this lawyer. Lanyon is described as a: ‘Hearty, Healthy gentleman with a shock of prematurely white hair.’ If the scientist is healthy and in good shape, then why does he have white hair? Again, this suggests that something may be hidden beneath the surface of Lanyon, and this could well be a different side to his nature. These divisions within characters subconsciously add to the reader’s understanding of Stevenson’s theory. By constantly mentioning the two sides to different characters, the reader is being prepared for the final chapter and, of course, when reading for a second time, can pick out these divisions in personality. It all adds to the effectiveness of the book as a means of spreading this message.
I mentioned earlier that Lanyon might have something hidden beneath his personality. This is another way Stevenson gets his message across to the reader by mentioning what might be hidden. Obviously, Stevenson believes that everyone may have a dual nature, and the second side is beneath the surface. For example, in Jekyll’s account, he says, ‘Jekyll was now my city of refuge.’ At the end of the book, Stevenson includes this to show that despite the character’s physical appearance being Jekyll, Hyde is lurking within. It helps the reader to understand how Stevenson’s concept works.
It is not just the people that have split personalities. However, places and objects can have dual natures in this novella. For example, Jekyll’s house, where he accepts his guests, is comfortable and very homely. However, the door leading to his cabinet is in ruins, and you would associate that door with Jekyll’s other side Edward Hyde. Thus, there are two different areas in Jekyll’s house, reflecting the divisions in Jekyll’s own character. Again, Stevenson’s language backs me up: ‘Nothing but a door… discoloured wall.’ ‘Round the corner… there was a square of handsome houses.’
This works for Hyde also. His house is located in Soho, a run-down area of London, ‘… a dingy street…’ Many of the rooms in the house have been left untouched. However, the rooms Hyde has used are well furnished, ‘Mr. Hyde had only used a couple of rooms, but these were furnished with luxury and taste.’ The well-furnished rooms link back to Jekyll and show us that Hyde is still attached to Jekyll. Society also seems to have different characteristics. For instance, usually, we see the square in which Jekyll lives as a welcoming and pleasant place to live, ‘Round the corner… there was a square of handsome houses.’ However, when we reach the final stages of the plot, the atmosphere has changed entirely, ‘The square was all full of wind and dust.’
Suddenly the area is threatening and unwelcoming. The square can become totally different and can have a split personality, very much like the characters. Again, the square that Jekyll lives in reflects the man himself and places and objects echo the duality of the characters and emphasize the dual-nature message. All of the aspects I have described subconsciously seep into the reader’s mind to get an impression of duality throughout the book. They prepare the reader for the final pages of the novella and also reinforce Stevenson’s message.
The final chapter is the climax of his message where there are more obvious links between Jekyll and Hyde, ‘… that insurgent horror was knit to him closer than a wife…’ and there is a clear moral: that it is evil in everyone. It is not something humans can control, ‘… where he heard it mutter and felt it struggle to be born.’ Without the preparation, the reader will not be ready for the moral. This is something the reader will notice more on the second reading. So which genre would you say ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ belonged to? Certainly, the title suggests a detective story, as does the chapter ‘The Carew Murder Case’ through the choice of title, but also the structure in which the chapter is written.
The entire section sounds remarkably like a newspaper report with its eyewitness accounts and the narrative tone. However, Stevenson’s message of duality throughout the book places it more in the gothic or horror areas. It is an unnatural concept that we as human beings find hard to comprehend. The fear comes from what we do not know about ourselves or other people. In conclusion, the novella enables Stevenson to showcase his ideas about duality and split personalities. He does this in various ways but most importantly through the characters of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde.
The author makes his message sound convincing as he constantly provides the reader with the theme of duality in many different ways, such as the dual nature of places and objects and the society itself. Everything in the book seems to revolve around duality, which convinces the reader the message is valuable by showing the thought and care put into the book. His message is designed to make people reflect on their own lives and their whole view of the world. Personally, I disagree with Stevenson as I feel that good and evil are just concepts themselves. We label acts as good or evil, and therefore that is just our perception of the world.