29 April 2012
Friend or Foe?
England saw much change as the British Industrial Revolution changed nearly every aspect of British society throughout the 19th Century. During the same period, at the peak of the revolution was the Victorian Era, which brought forth much change; politically, socially, and artistically. One of the novels during this period was Robert Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. To better understand the protagonist and his alter antagonist, we can use the ethical critical approach along with the behavioral function: mental instability. The protagonist, Dr. Jekyll, has his own manifestation of an evil alter ego, which is a by-product of the gaping schism between the working class and the bourgeoisie, and an absolutely testament to his mental instability; which later begins to heavily affect his ethical decisions. The ethical critical approach supplements us as we study the behaviors and decisions of Jekyll and Hyde.
A reason for Dr. Jekyll turning into the bête noire, or Hyde, could be explained as the adverse of everything he has ever had. It is that mental instability that affects his unethical decision to not tell anybody about his situation. Though to Jekyll, it may have seemed like a well-guarded secret, his close friend Utterson noticed his rather abnormal behavior. When confronted; in the novel, Jekyll was described as “The large handsome face of Dr. Jekyll grew pale to the very lips, and there came blackness about his eyes” (Stevenson 20). Jekyll is attempting to keep control, so that he does not transform into the hideously disfigured Hyde. When asked if Jekyll knows anything about Hyde, he becomes flush, and his pupils dilate because he is in fear that his secret will be discovered. At this point in the novel, Jekyll has very little control over Hyde, and cowers in fear that his good reputation will be tarnished. The fear that manifested in Jekyll’s mind is a gross ethical breach as he does nothing much more than become reclusive within his home. The start of much more mental anguish for Jekyll has just begun as he has to battle out against Hyde for mental domination. Over the course of the novel, the switch between Jekyll and Hyde for mental domination continues to shift. After Hyde’s murder of prominent Member of Parliament Sir Danvers Carew, Utterson visits Jekyll to deliver the news to him of the murder, at which point they converse about Hyde. But Jekyll is uneasy to discuss such topics as Hyde, and states, “I cannot say that I care what becomes of Hyde; I am quite done with him” (Stevenson 26). Though at this certain time, when Jekyll dismisses claims of connections between him and Hyde, he is speaking too soon for himself; only so because of the fact that Hyde is a permanent figure to his mental instability. But it was not too long ago from this point that Jekyll fell feverishly ill from frequent mental attack by Hyde, which coerces him to become reclusive within the safer confines of his home. It has become evident that Hyde has supremacy over Jekyll because he shifts personalities without much control, and this makes Jekyll a weaker person both physically and mentally; as he is unable to control Hyde. His mental instability and his inability to suppress Hyde hinders his ability to make rational and ethical decisions regarding his actions between himself and his alter personality.
The multiplex of his split personality engineers the near complete dominance of Hyde over Jekyll. Because Jekyll for a while cannot function within society, he becomes retreats to the safe confines within his home. During this period, he receives a letter from Dr. Lanyon inquiring his whereabouts and why he is seeing no visitors. To this letter he replies that he has personal ailments and problems he must sort out and states to Dr. Lanyon “You must suffer me to go my own dark way. I have brought myself a punishment and a danger I cannot name” (Stevenson 30). Jekyll still shrouds his bête noire personality in secrecy, and only comes out as Hyde. Now, more than ever before, the dominance of Hyde coerces Jekyll to hide in fear of being discovered. To this, literary critic Judith Halberstam claims, “Although Hyde hides within Jekyll, Jekyll is hidden behind the mask of Hyde and the difference is crucial to the staking out of their particular identities” (Halberstam 68). Halberstam points out that the shift of dominance coerces Jekyll to allow Hyde to become the main face of the figure. Now Jekyll is both physically and mentally dominated by Hyde, because he is only seen outside of his home as Hyde, and mentally cannot manage to escape the tight grasp of Hyde’s mental dominance.
To further analyze the mental complexities of Jekyll, his cognitive function must also be understood. As the literary critic Fredrick Myers states, “In this perplexity I watch what happens in certain factories—where the hidden part of the machinery is subject to certain dangerous jerks or dislocations, after which the gearings shift of themselves and whole groups of looms are connected and disconnected in a novel manner” (Myers 136). In this passage, Myers describes that a factory machine is similar to the human brain; in the way that it attempts to function under new conditions. Though a machine cannot adapt naturally, a brain will adapt to new environments. It is compared that if a part of a machine breaks, it cannot function; much like the human brain. Much like the factory machine, the brain has millions of intertwined looms which rely on one another to properly function. This closely ties to Jekyll and his cognitive function, as he is mentally unstable due to having an alter personality since a young age. Hyde, the bête noire is his own manifestation of the exact opposite of everything he was brought up to become; a well-respected man, who is educated, affluent, and inclined towards industry. His brain is comparable to a broken factory machine as it does not properly function, and therefore makes him unstable and susceptible to becoming mentally and physically dominated by his manifestation Hyde.
The mental and physical struggles against of Jekyll against Hyde, literally tears at him as he rapidly plunges into the darkness of having no official identity to go by. Judith Halberstam supports that the dual personality is too much for Jekyll to handle and states, “Henry Jekyll recounts that his discovery of his own dual nature makes him all too aware of the ‘trembling immateriality, the mist like the transience, of his seemingly so solid body (80).’” (Halberstam 77). In the statement, it thoroughly analyzes the meaning behind the split personality of Jekyll and Hyde. As stated before, Jekyll originates from an affluent family, based purely on material and social wealth, and has unlimited potential wealth; which creates Hyde, the exact opposite, to be the ‘beggar’ who does not have the same possibility and prestige that Jekyll does. Because Jekyll is mentally unstable, he would carry the social stigma as having a behavioral disability. The protection of Jekyll’s social prestige soon becomes too much for him to handle and soon allows Hyde to gain total dominance. Finally, the stress of suppressing Hyde from emerging overcomes Jekyll, which results in his transformation in public during midday. After receiving a letter from Jekyll, Utterson comes to assist Jekyll in recovery, but is shocked, as “for there before my eyes-pale and shaken, and half fainting, and groping before him with his hands, like a man restored from death-there stood Henry Jekyll!” (Stevenson 47). Overcome by the tremendous amounts of efforts taken to keep Hyde shrouded, Jekyll succumbs and the well-guarded secret is now known to Utterson and Poole. At this point, it is clear that Hyde has almost completely dominated Jekyll; almost leaving nothing for himself to recover to. Instead of resisting, Jekyll soon admits, “Again, in the course of my life, which has been, after all, nine tenths of a life of effort, virtue and control, it had been much less exercised and much less exhausted. And yet when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscious of no repugnance, rather a leap of welcome” (Stevenson 51). But at the end it was too late, as even Jekyll’s own personality was taken over and now fully embraces the new self. Despite his original unwillingness to submit to Hyde, he soon, against his ethical decisions, succumbs to the bête noire. Despite Jekyll’s constant fight against Hyde, it proves futile, as in the end he only succumbs. The mental instability fared to be too much to be controlled, as it has its deep seeded roots from his childhood. Known better to society as Dr. Henry Jekyll, he attempted to protect is social status, but only ended with a social stigma. The gaping schism between the working class and the bourgeoisie; which he belongs to, created various problems for him, primarily mental instability of having a split personality and thus affecting his ethical decisions. The mental collapse makes the bête noire; Hyde becomes the face, as it no longer has to hide in the body of Jekyll.
Stevenson, Robert. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Ed. Katherine Linehan.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc. 2003. Print.
Halberstam, Judith. “Gothic Surface, Gothic Depth: The Subject of Secrecy in Stevenson and
Wilde.” Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Durham: Duke UP,
1995. 53-85. Print.
Myers, Frederic. “Multiplex Personality.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York, 2003. 134-136. Print.