Broken doors and other symbols in “THE STRANGE CASE”
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a book written by Robert Louis Stevenson. It deals with the duality of human nature and the two extreme sides of good and evil that reside in a person.
This book revolves around certain characters that build up the story. It is a mystery novel that unfolds with the help of symbols along the story and their significance helps us identify their importance in the plot.
Symbols are basically objects, characters, figures or colors that are used to express abstract ideas or concepts. This book contains a lot of symbols and they contribute greatly to the story.
For example, there is a quote in Chapter one (paragraph 5, page 2) that relates to the symbolic significance of the door that occurs. The quote goes – “Two doors from one corner, on the left hand going east, the line was broken by the entry of a court; and just at that point, a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. It was two stories high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower story and a blind forehead of discolored wall on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence. The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained. Tramps slouched into the recess and struck matches on the panels; children kept shop upon the steps; the schoolboy had tried his knife on the mouldings; and for close on a generation, no one had appeared to drive away these random visitors or to repair their ravages”
As we know, doors are usually symbols of mystery and tradition. There is always something unpredictable about doors; they act as the barrier between the victim and the vile. Later on, we learn that this door basically is the one that connects the grimy laboratory to the Jekyll’s mansion.
"All this last week (you must know) him, or it, whatever it is that lives in that cabinet, has been crying night and day for some sort of medicine and cannot get it to his mind. It was sometimes his way--the master's, that is--to write his orders on a sheet of paper and throw it on the stair. We've had nothing else this week back; nothing but papers, and a closed door, and the very meals left there to be smuggled in when nobody was looking. Well, sir, every day, ay, and twice and thrice in the same day, there have been orders and complaints, and I have been sent flying to all the wholesale chemists in town. Every time I brought the stuff back, there would be another paper telling me to return it, because it was not pure, and another order to a different firm. This drug is wanted bitter bad, sir, whatever for.” (Page 39, paragraph 6, line 20).
This quote helps us proceed through the story, as we know now that there is someone who is perhaps, hiding, behind the door and is sending messages to Poole via the staircase asking him for medicines of some sort. A mysterious door always leads to something unwelcoming; Poole sees this as a ‘suspicious sign’. This becomes an important symbol.
In Chapter 4, the readers witness written documents. First in the beginning of the novel we read about Dr. Jekyll’s will. These written documents count as contributing symbols that take the story forward. In Chapter 6, the importance of written documents is illustrated again. Not only do we know about the mysterious enveloped Mr. Utterson is forbidden to open, but all the communication between Jekyll and Utterson is put to writing. This symbolizes mystery and secrets and scandalous behavior, which is soon to unwind in the chapters that follow. A quote that gives evidence to these activities is-
”The night after the funeral, at which he had been sadly affected, Utterson locked the door of his business room, and sitting there by the light of a melancholy candle, drew out and set before him an envelope addressed by the hand and sealed with the seal of his dead friend. "PRIVATE: for the hands of G. J. Utterson ALONE, and in case of his predecease to be destroyed unread," so it was emphatically super scribed; and the lawyer dreaded to behold the contents. "I have buried one friend to-day," he thought: "what if this should cost me another?" And then he condemned the fear as a disloyalty, and broke the seal. Within there was another enclosure, likewise sealed, and marked upon the cover as "not to be opened till the death or disappearance of Dr. Henry Jekyll."(Chapter 6, Page 23, first and last paragraphs)
The appearance of Mr. Hyde is a really important symbol in the story. The quote that shows this is-“He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. 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. No, sir; I can make no hand of it; I can’t describe him. And it’s not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment.”- (Chapter 1, page 6, paragraph 7)
(Chapter 5, page 25) Mr. Hyde looks evil and has a very disgusting looking countenance. There is something very unsatisfying about him. He is given the physical traits of being short, hairy and grotesque. He gives negative vibes to his readers. He connects with evil in the mind of the reader.
“ It was the first time that the lawyer had been received in that part of his friend's quarters; and he eyed the dingy, windowless structure with curiosity, and gazed round with a distasteful sense of strangeness as he crossed the theatre, once crowded with eager students and now lying gaunt and silent, the tables laden with chemical apparatus, the floor strewn with crates and littered with packing straw, and the light falling dimly through the foggy cupola. At the further end, a flight of stairs mounted to a door covered with red baize; and through this, Mr. Utterson was at last received into the doctor's cabinet. It was a large room fitted round with glass presses, furnished, among other things, with a cheval-glass and a business table, and looking out upon the court by three dusty windows barred with iron.”
The quote above is a very symbolic quote that describes Dr. Jekyll’s house and lot of his own characteristics. The front of the house that is usually seen by the guests is kept very clean and neat, just like the house of someone of a high social status. Whereas, the back of the house is kept rugged and dirty, a place where only Jekyll himself visits. This is just like any person, putting out his or her best for the world to see and keeping his or her ugly side hidden. Everyone has ugly secrets, but they are a part of who the person really is. They are connected just like the Mansion and the dirty laboratory at the back of the house.
To conclude, this story is built up on a number of symbolic features and countless symbols that we see throughout the plot of the story. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the symbol for the classic battle between good and evil. One constantly beating down upon the other, trying to gain victory. The good of course, tries to defeat the evil and the evil fights back.