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Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

By killerlot2 Apr 11, 2005 1233 Words
Jekyll and Hyde Analysis

In this essay on the story of Jekyll and Hyde written by Robert Louis Stevenson I will try to unravel the true meaning of the book and get inside the characters in the story created by Stevenson. A story of a man battling with his double personality. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hyde becomes Jekyll's demonic, monstrous alter ego. Certainly Stevenson presents him immediately as this from the outset. Hissing as he speaks, Hyde has "a kind of black sneering coolness . . . like Satan". He also strikes those who witness him as being "pale and dwarfish" and simian like. The Strange Case unfolds with the search by the men to uncover the secret of Hyde. As the narrator, Utterson, says, "If he be Mr. Hyde . . . I shall be Mr. Seek". Utterson begins his quest with a cursory search for his own demons. Fearing for Jekyll because the good doctor has so strangely altered his will in favor of Hyde, Utterson examines his own conscience, "and the lawyer, scared by the thought, brooded a while in his own past, groping in all the corners of memory, lest by chance some Jack-in-the-Box of an old iniquity should leap to light there" (SC, 42). Like so many eminent Victorians, Utterson lives a mildly double life and feels mildly apprehensive about it. An ugly dwarf like Hyde may jump out from his own boxed self, but for him such art unlikely creature is still envisioned as a toy. Although, from the beginning Hyde fills him with a distaste for life (SC, 40, not until the final, fatal night, after he storms the cabinet, can Utterson conceive of the enormity of Jekyll's second self. Only then does he realize that "he was looking on the body of a self-dcstroyer" (SC, 70); Jekyll and Hyde are one in death as they must have been in life. Poole, Jekyll's servant, and Lanyan, his medical colleague, are even more incredulous. When Poole sees Jekyll/Hyde in his final form, he thinks he sees his master with a "mask" on his face: "that thing was not [118/119] my master and there's the truth" (SC, 66). Again, Poole's "thing" is monkey-like and dwarfish, and it weeps "like a woman or a lost soul" (SC, 69). When Poole and Utterson hear Jekyll on the opposite side of the door that last night, they react like Ralph Nickleby's would-be rescuers. The voice they hear sounds like something "other," not like the peson they know. Lanyan, alas, never survives to that final night. An earlier party to the knowledge that Jekyll and Hyde are one, he has already lost his life to that secret. A man who believes in rationalism and moral rectitude, Lanyan simply cannot adapt to the truths uncovered in the revelation of Hyde: improbability and "uttcr moral turpitude" (SC, 80). He sinks slowly into death, his body following the lead of his "sickened" soul. His too is a kind of suicide, a death permitted, if not willed. Lanyan simply cannot accommodate himself to the horror of Jekyll unveiled. And neither can Jekyll himself, who is a suicide, as his name indicates ('Je" for the French "I"; "kyll" for "kill"). His double is killing him even in the early stages of their association, when he believes that he can with impunity rid himself of Hyde at any time. Initially, Jekyll does not care whether or not Hyde survives: "I cannot say that I care what becomes of Hyde; I am quite done with him" (SC, 52). But as his opposing selves prove inextricably bound, Jekyll becomes "careless" of life itself (SC, 97). He knows he risks death in taking his drug, but he does so quite deliberately. If not uppermost in his mind, suicide lurks there all the same. Jekyll often uses telling language, words like "I had come to a fatal cross roads" (SC, 85). Yet his Hyde-self totally fears death. As Jekyll becomes "occupied by one thought: the horror of my other self" (SC, 95), lie simultaneously delights in realizing he has the power of death over Hyde. On the other hand, Jekyll is fascinated by Hyde's "wonderful" love of life and remarks, "when I know how he fears my power to cut him off by suicide, I find it in my heart to pity him" (SC, 96), These vacillations continue until the cabinet door is forced -- and with it Jekyll/Hyde's nearly involuntary suicide. Through Jekyll/Hyde's equivocal attitudes toward self-murder, Stevenson leaves the mystery of his tale in place, much as Le Fanu did. Because all of Stevenson's characters are wanting in self-knowledge, they ultimately fail to understand the links between duality, demons, and death. Stevenson's readers are therefore forced to try to solve the mystery of the strange case. More than Le Fanu, however, Stevenson leads us in this attempt. For even in extremis, his Jekyll fears exposure more than death. This is why lie finally kills himself when the door is forced. Hyde must be hidden if it takes death to hide him, and Jekyll must ultimately be his own murderer to avoid full disclosure of the [119/120] duality. Here Stevenson is not only revealing human nature's deeply intertwined double nature; he is also castigating Victorian hypocrisy. The kind of double life that characters in this book lead is not only false but suicidal. As Stevenson says in his essay "Lay Morals": "We should not live alternately with our opposing tendencies in continual see-saw of passion and disgust, but seek some path on which the tendencics shall no longer oppose, but serve each other to common end." (Osbourne, vol. 24, 208) To behave otherwise, his tale implies, is to court the death of authenticity, the loss of one's self. If altruism and bestiality are both embedded in human nature, one must not only know this rationally as did Jekyll, but must live comfortably with this knowledge. Many of Stevenson's contemporaries did not live so, nor did they like the link with suicide that Stevenson's story forged. John Addington Symonds wrote Stevenson that one "ought to bring more of distinct belief in the resources of human nature, more faith, more sympathy with our frailty than you have done.... The scientific cast of the allegory will act as an incentive to moral self-murder with those who perceive the allegory's profundity." (qtd. in Steuart, II, 83) But Stevenson was nonetheless acting as a moralist. His "shilling shocker," conceived in a dream and written in a white heat, captured both his own deepest divisions and insights into the callous folly of late-Victorian hypocrisy. Stevenson had himself considered suicide at least three times and yet persisted through ill health to natural death.;(34) Far from counselling "moral self-murder," his dark story of monstrous alter egos was counselling integration. Far from starting another Werther-craze, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde pioneered as a modern admonition of blind, self-destructive behavior. Stevenson's fictional lawyers and scientists show dangerous second sides because they have not persisted in self-knowledge. His fictional workers, like the butler, Poole, see masks in place of the "horrors" that their presumed betters have become because they have opted for distorted vision over clear-sightedness.

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