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Duality in the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

By akachandis Dec 03, 2013 1898 Words

Duality in the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson, born 1850, wrote many notable and well-known works that feature duality or antithesis in his characters. His fixation with duality can be traced back to his studies on the Victorian idea of the double brain. Stevenson’s fascination with dual and split personalities can be found in many of his works, including Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is Stevenson’s most obvious use of duality. Dr. Jekyll, realizing that he has two parts of himself, drinks a potion to separate the more primal side from his refined persona. Images of duality run heavily throughout the story.

Duality is expressed not only through the physical separation of Jekyll and Hyde, but also through their surroundings. The first example is through the separate doors by which Jekyll and Hyde enter the home. Hyde’s door is described as marked by “prolonged and sordid negligence” and “blistered and distained” and opens onto a neglected and dirty street (Stevenson). Jekyll’s door opens onto a respectable and polished street. Both doors lead into the home of Dr. Jekyll. These two doors enhance the differences between Jekyll and Hyde, and enhance the duality. Hyde’s door represents his personality and actions: dirty and slum-like. Jekyll’s door also represents his personality and actions: dignified and refined. The house itself represents Jekyll’s struggle to maintain balance. The two doors are introduced before Jekyll and Hyde and foreshadow the differences later expressed in the story.

Another surrounding that enhances the duality of Jekyll and Hyde is the city of London itself. As described by Friedrich Engels in The Great Towns, London is divided into two parts: the slums in which the lower classes live, and the nicer areas in which the upper classes live. The upper classes never step foot in the slums, much like how Jekyll represses Mr. Hyde, the bad side of him. Engels says that “sometimes, of course, poverty is to be found hidden away in alleys close to the stately homes of the wealthy. Generally, however, the workers are segregated in separate districts” (Engels 1833). Before Dr. Jekyll created Mr. Hyde, his inner conflict was like the first town described by Engels: the poor areas, the bad in Dr. Jekyll, are very closely connected with the wealthy areas, the good in Dr. Jekyll. After Dr. Jekyll drinks the potion and creates Mr. Hyde, the two men are like the second town described by Engels, separate and compartmentalized. Mr. Hyde is completely free of morals or rules, and Dr. Jekyll is free of the “bad” urges. The town of London itself represents the duality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and exemplifies their differences. “London represented that division-with-essential-unity which is the very meaning of Jekyll and Hyde” (Saposnik 718). The upper classes cannot survive without the labor from the lower classes. The lower classes cannot survive without the wages from the upper classes. They require each other to survive, like how Jekyll and Hyde require each other to function in society.

Dr. Jekyll realizes that he indeed has more than one personality: “I thus grew steadily nearer to that truth by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two” (Stevenson 42). He yearns to separate his two identities, his moral and society-influenced man, and the identity of his younger days, a man not influenced or guided by morals or societal rules. If each, I told myself, could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path... (Stevenson 43).

Jekyll’s goal is to separate his moral and his immoral selves. He believes that separating the two will free them to pursue their respective moral and immoral goals. However, he does not anticipate that Hyde will completely take over. Jekyll wished to separate his barbaric self from his civilized self but instead enhanced his barbaric side. His struggle represents the Freudian idea of the id, ego, and superego. The id operates is the impulsive pleasure principle, and in Jekyll’s case, Mr. Hyde is the id. He is barbaric and acts on his instincts rather than logic. Society and its rules and social mores is the superego, found in Mr. Utterson and Enfield. Mr. Jekyll is the ego, the part of the mind that separates the id and the superego, the unjust and the just. While he aimed to separate the two and become solely the just superego, Jekyll found that the ego requires both an id and a superego to keep control. When Mr. Hyde, the id, was left to his own devices, he killed people. And without his id Dr. Jekyll did not have the primal desires that every other human has. Jekyll realized that he needed both the id and the superego to survive. The struggle between the id and supergo is “the inescapable burden which any relationship between the barbaric and the civilized produces” (Saposnik 728). Neither can fully live while the other survives, but neither can fully live with the other gone. This paradox is a foundation of Jekyll’s struggle that causes him to reevaluate his choices. Paradox, which always involves antithesis, is, of course, one of the most poignant means of bringing out the dual meanings of the terms, since, through its apparent self-contradiction, it forces the reinterpretation of one at least of the opposing ideas, forces an acknowledgement, of the larger meaning that makes sense out of its nonsense (Synder 545).

The id is the antithesis of the superego; they are direct opposites of one another. Dr. Jekyll felt that his id, primal instincts, were too strong and wished to expel them. However, he cannot live without the id. And Hyde cannot live solely as the id. The situation is the classic “can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em”. This paradox forces Jekyll to reevaluate his choices and to stop voluntarily changing into Hyde. Hyde could not survive solely by himself and his behavior and actions would have gotten him killed. Stevenson developed this concept of the struggle between the good and bad around the same time that Freud developed his theory on the subconscious. Stevenson was an avid scientist and it could be argued that he helped form the idea of a split or dual personality. In the late 1870s Stevenson was “deeply impressed by a paper he read in a French scientific journal on sub-consciousness”, according to his wife Fanny (Stiles 879). Stevenson then went on to co-write a play about a man who leads a secret nocturnal life of crime.

All through his life Stevenson seemed fascinated by the idea of a double brain, and his fascination shines through his work, especially Jekyll and Hyde. Because of his close and personal connections with scientists Stevenson pulled from many case studies to form his story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, including the study of a soldier who developed two different personalities after his left cerebral hemisphere was damaged in battle (Stiles 880). Stevenson’s study of duality is expressed in Dr. Jekyll’s lament: “man is not truly one, but truly two”. It is also suggested that Jekyll and Hyde “could well have affected how some clinicians subsequently viewed their cases” (Stiles 881). Stevenson was influenced by case studies on the double brain, and in turn Jekyll and Hyde influenced other case studies on the double brain. This again is an unintentional example of duality formed by Stevenson.

Another duality not necessarily intended by Stevenson that can be found in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the duality of gender: “the dominant side of the brain represents the dominant gender, and the other the repressed gender” (Stiles 882). Jekyll is a well-to-do man who looks the part: middle-aged and distinguished, the stereotypical Victorian male. Hyde is not in control of his actions or emotions, the exact opposite of what females of the time were supposed to act. Jekyll represents the dominant male side of his brain, and Hyde represents the repressed female side of his brain. Jekyll represses his urges and emotions, much like how Victorian women were supposed to suppresses all emotions and urges. Jekyll’s dominant brain side represses the other side of the brain. While the most obvious usage of duality in Stevenson’s work is Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a less obvious example of duality can be found in Stevenson’s Treasure Island, exemplified in the character of the pirate Long John Silver.

When young Jim Hawkins first meets Long John Silver, Silver seems to be trustworthy. He confides in Hawkins and proclaims him to be “as smart as paint”, meaning bright and fresh (Stevenson 67). Silver flatters Hawkins and appears to be a good man. But it is thanks to his cunning that Silver escapes suspicion: “he was too deep, and too ready, and too clever for me... I would have gone bail for the innocence of Long John Silver” (Stevenson 67). Silver puts on an air of innocence to convince others of his trustworthiness and even has Doctor Livesey fooled. Silver tricks people into trusting him by putting on the “good” face, much like how Jekyll is seen as a good man. However, his true nature is revealed later to Hawkins when Hawkins sees his “evil” face, which can be compared to Mr. Hyde.

Hawkins hides in an apple barrel and overhears Silver’s plan for mutiny against Captain Trelawney. At first Hawkins hears Silver calling another boy “as smart as paint”, using the same compliment he gave Hawkins earlier. At this point Hawkins realizes that Silver never really liked him, and was just flattering him to fool him. Silver and the crew members then plot the mutiny against Captain Trelawney. Hawkins realizes his terrible mistake of trusting Silver and informs the captain of the plan.

Long John Silver could be described as being two-faced. He treats Hawkins and others one way, and then turns around and plots to betray everyone who trusts him. The duality of his personality, the good and the bad, isn’t as literal as the duality of Jekyll and Hyde, and is more of a figurative duality.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s fascination with duality can be found in many of his works, including Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The characters’ duality, some subtle, some obvious, represent the new idea of the split brain and multiple personalities discovered during Stevenson’s life.

Works Cited

Engels, The Great Towns. In The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch. NY: Longman, 2000. 1831-1837 Saposnik, Irving. "The Anatomy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."Studies in English Literature. 11.4 (1971): 715-731. Web. Snyder, Alice. "Paradox and Antithesis in Stevenson's Essays: A Structural Study." Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 19.4 (1920): 540-559. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Lincoln, Nebraska: The University of Nebraska Press, 2012. Print. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. New York, NY: Allyn and Bacon, 1945. Print. Stiles, Anne. "Robert Louis Stevenson's "Jekyll and Hyde" and the Double Brain." Studies in English Literature. 46.4 (2006): 879-900. Web. ENGELSSSSSS

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