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Personal Transformation in Times of Dilemma: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By kingbro715 Dec 05, 2013 1430 Words
Personal Transformation in Times of Dilemma
Many wonder what causes one to undergo a change of psyche. It happens in times of struggle and dilemma, when the line between right and wrong is skewed. Yet the cause of one to go against what they previously valued is as unique as the situation itself. In the story Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, these transformations are seen in characters of all backgrounds. Their jump from one end of the ideological spectrum to the other is what the story aims to spotlight. Many are put in situations of constant stress and conflict, which seem to bring out a more unfamiliar disposition. This instability brings the possibility of the characters being psychopathic, more prominently seen in the character Jekyll. When faced with moral and ethical dilemma, the characters of Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience abnormal personal transformation due to distress and psychopathic episodes. These dilemmas push characters like the restrained and reasonable Jekyll to become beast-like Hyde. Constantly faced with the moral limits of his ambition, Jekyll transformed into a man with none of his prior values.

The most prominent personal transformation in the story was faced by Jekyll. Beginning as a man of order, the pursuit of his twisted medical experimentations drove him to become an altered being. The altered being was Hyde, a man without the restraints and gentleman-like qualities that defined Jekyll. Stevenson’s aim was to “attempt to describe the nature of an anomaly,” (Rosner.) Whether the

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change Jekyll experienced is capable in all people, or just a special few, is the question the Stevenson raised. The story featured a wide array of characters to show the many forms of transformation that people can face. Characters were given personalities and ideologies that were applicable to all people of the Victorian era. Utterson, an “austere” and honest man, along with Jekyll, represent the conservative side of the moral spectrum. The two men are focused and ethically restrained. While men like them were commonplace in the Victorian era, the generally straitlaced culture would also take a toll on the mind. Although he was a Lawyer, Utterson found that his ambitions were subdued by societal and personal restraints. He however remained on his original path, up until he became a close friend of Jekyll. Jekyll represents what could be called “moral insanity,” (Rosner.) Moral insanity is defined as “a morbid perversion of the natural feelings, affections, inclinations, temper, habits, moral dispositions, and natural impulses, without any remarkable disorder or defect of the intellect or knowing and reasoning faculties,” (Rosner.) While initially Jekyll may not fit this description, as he continues down his dark path it becomes ever more prevalent. Moral insanity represents Hyde in Jekyll. Hyde embodies man’s farthest reach from order and restraint; he attacks the innocent on impulse, and guides his life with beast-like aptitude. This savage nature does not abide well with the culture in which he lives, as his primal ambitions are quelled by society. This side of Jekyll represents the terminal end of ambition, and the wild control it has over those who feed on it. The three main characters of the story each represent distinct dispositions: strong restraint,

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strong ambition, and one that is torn between the two. The restrained Utterson is conflicted with the dullness of his everyday life and his ambition to pursue the curious life of Dr. Jekyll. He sees the dark temptations that wait for him along that path, which makes him cautious. Hyde represents the burning ambition within Jekyll. Though his intellect remains, it cannot save him from the “moral weakness” that Hyde originates from. Hyde seeks to take over his other half by tempting it with wild ambition and exorbitance. From the extremes of the two previous characters, Jekyll’s struggle in emphasized. The stressful dual-life that he lives causes him to drift farther away from the norms of society. The less in touch he got with society, the more he began to pursue his dark experimentations. Hyde gained strength the more this happened, which led to an increase in psychopathic episodes from Jekyll.

“It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man...I was radically both. I had learned to dwell with separation of these elements. If each, I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable,” (pg. 123.) Jekyll recalls his history and struggles with the duality of man. He has seen men transformed by the weights of life, which in turn has spurred one of his own. Throughout the story, Jekyll distances himself farther and farther from societal norms. The self-inflicted alienation, combined with his Hyde personality, make him a psychopath. As his transformation into Hyde continues, so does his psychopathic symptoms.

One of Jekyll’s more prominent psychopathic events is when he brutally clubbed to death Sir Danvers Carew. Sir Carew was a member of Parliament and a client of Utterson. Jekyll had no connection with the man. Hyde, “having no moral or social mores that need be followed,” (Sing, King 4

Chakrabarti,) impulsively bludgeons the man then flees. This impetuous act brings to light a ferocious quality looming within Jekyll. He attempts to defend himself, saying “I cannot say I care what becomes of Hyde. I am quite done with him. I was thinking of my own character,” (pg. 53.) While Jekyll may believe that the heinous acts Hyde commits distances the two, it actually strengthens their bond. Both Poole and Mr. Guest begin to realize that Jekyll is covering up Hyde’s tracks, which makes Utterson increasingly distraught over his friend. Such a psychotic event brings about a transformation within Jekyll, by not only feeding Hyde’s influence, but getting himself further entwined with his other self.

Jekyll’s transformation takes place as he alienates himself from society in order to find salvation from his condition. Throughout the story, Lanyon recalls Jekyll’s pursuit of “scientific heresies,” (pg 35.) Though it was clear that Hyde’s influence was increasing, Jekyll was able to maintain the desire to remain Jekyll. Sadly, that desire contributed to his utter transformation. Focusing on his eccentric studies, he was under constant stress from Hyde and Society. The distress he suffered from caused his mind to weaken. Lanyon saw the consequences of Jekyll’s research, stating: “He began to go wrong, wrong in his mind,” (pg. 21.) The point at which he went “wrong” from was the untainted Jekyll, whom Lanyon was proud to be acquainted with. What drove the two apart was their personal involvement in the sciences, as Jekyll has much more of a cause to persevere than Lanyon. Now alone, Jekyll let the sciences overwhelm and define the direction of his life. In his letter to Lanyon at the end of the story, Jekyll describes himself living under a “blackness of distress,” (pg. 107,) to which Lanyon came to the conclusion that his “colleague was insane,” (pg 107.) Jekyll truly crumbled under the weight of his scientific salvation. Not only did it leave him weak enough for Hyde to take over his mind, but it also King 5

contributed to his psychopathic tendencies.
Jekyll’s dilemma tested the boundaries of scientific ambition and one’s morals. He showed how those guided by logic and reason can still succumb to ferocious ambition. Stevenson carefully crafted each character of the story to show different ideological standpoints’ reaction to the same dilemma. Jekyll’s psychopathic episodes brought about further transformation into Hyde, as well as increased the overall severity of his psychopathy. He was battling the influence of Hyde while also trying to find a cure for his condition. He was “different in mental and physical attributes” that were “constantly at war with each other,” (Sing, Chakrabarti.) Personal transformation was evident in this story, with distress and psychopathic episodes clearly being the cause. Whether or not such transformation is capable in everyone, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shows that duality is strengthened by distress and psychopathy.

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Works Cited

Rosner, Mary. "'A Total Subversion of Character': Dr. Jekyll's Moral Insanity."Victorian Newsletter 93 (1998): 27-31. 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2013.

Singh, Shubh M., and Subho Chakrabarti. "A Study in Dualism: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll andMr. Hyde." Diss. Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India, n.d. Abstract. National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 27 July 2008. Web. 03 Mar. 2013.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Ed. Caryn Yilmaz. New York: Kaplan, 2006. Print.

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