Dr. Jekyll and Mr Gray
The concept of the duality of human nature has been a pivotal idea in western culture since the days of Plato. In 1866, Robert Louis Stevenson created a story in which the evil side of a human being had not only spiritual ramifications but also physical. Four years later, Oscar Wilde also engaged this concept of the evil side of a human affecting their physical appearance. Both The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray engage the theme of moral nature revealing itself in physical appearance.
In The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the character Jekyll is a decent man who unleashes his evil side by separating it from the rest of him via chemical concoction. The quote from Stevenson’s story that best shows this theme is as follows: “Even as good shone upon the countenance of the one, evil was written broadly and plainly on the face of the other. Evil… had left on that body an imprint of deformity and decay”(Stevenson 1811). Dr. Jekyll is comparing his normal self with that of his evil embodiment: Hyde. These sentences clearly express this idea that degraded thoughts and actions lead to a degradation of appearance. Other characters in the story also contribute to the unpleasant image of Mr. Hyde with Mr. Enfield’s description of him: “there is something wrong with his appearance… something downright detestable…”(Stevenson 1783). Enfield is attesting to the unnatural appearance of Hyde, which the reader learns is a result of his evil nature.
While Dr. Jekyll separates his ugly evil side from himself by transforming into Hyde, Dorian Gray is separated from his morally bankrupt other side by trapping it into a portrait and keeping said portrait hidden away. In chapter XIII of The Picture of Dorian Gray the artist of Dorian’s portrait is first introduced to the physical and moral degradation of Dorian as revealed by the painting. “An exclamation of horror broke from the painter’s lips as he saw in the dim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning at him.”(Wilde 160). Throughout the book, the artist Basil Hallward has expressed his love for the beauty of both Dorian and his portrait of him. For him to be horrified at the image is a diametrical opposition to his earlier position. The source of the malignant transformation in the painting is expressed by Dorian:” It is the face of my soul…Each of us has Heaven and Hell in him, Basil!”(Wilde 161). Here Dorian is announcing to Basil that the ugliness of the face in the portrait is in fact the ugliness of his soul and the second half of the quote harkens back to the duality of man expressed in the conflict between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Bothe characters show a moral degradation, which parallels a physical aesthetic degradation.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. “The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th. 1. London: Pearson, 2010. Print.
Wilde, Oscar, and Camille Cauti. The Picture Of Dorian Gray. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2003. Print.