The Double in the Details

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the inevitable death brought on by the appearance of the double.

“…Good and evil are simply complementary opposites, each a necessary condition for the existence of the other… It [the double] acquires a demonic aspect only because one side of the personality is repressed and subordinated to a faultless and absolute good.” (Živković 126)

It is no secret that Robert Louis Stevenson was interested in the duality of human nature. From a young age it was documented that a three year old Stevenson asked his mother ‘I have drawed a man’s body, shall I do his soul now?’ foreshadowing Dr. Jekyll’s “war of the members.” (Damrosch 1778) Stevenson claims Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were inspired by a dream. “I had long been trying to write a story on this subject, to find a body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man’s double being which must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature,” leads the audience to believe that from its earliest conception, the character of Mr. Hyde was meant to be the malevolent double. (Damrosch 1779)

As Živković writes, “the double developed into an omen of death in the self-conscious individual of modern civilization,” Hyde’s ominous introduction is a sign that Stevenson’s intended use of the double in his work was that of a harbinger of death to Jekyll’s character, and he was set to become “a personification of the moralized double.” (Živković 124)

The first indication that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was an exploration of the duality of man is the introduction of the double, Mr. Hyde. “…A little man who was stumping along…It wasn’t like a man: it was like some damned Juggernaut…one look, so ugly that it brought out the sweat on me like running…the man in the middle, with a kind of black, sneering coolness—frightened to, I could see that—but carrying it off, sir, really like Satan.” (Damrosch 1781-1782) From the very beginning the audience is given a first-hand account of Hyde’s “otherness,” with an immediate tie to Dr. Jekyll by means of a cheque. Once Dr. Jekyll is formally introduced the reader is made aware that Hyde and Jekyll are, physically, radically different. Where Hyde was young, small, and otherworldly, Jekyll is “…a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness.” (Damrosch 1788) The physical distinctions between Hyde and Jekyll are to further the idea that there is disunity between the two halves of a whole. “It is this splitting of Dr. Jekyll into “separable selves” and even separable bodies that gives the tale its power and makes it such an unsettling a story.” (Danahy 24)

Stevenson’s focus was on “whether opposing forces coexist in the individual,” during his time, the prevailing school of thought was that good and evil did not exist simultaneously, rather a person was either one or the other. (D’Amato 94) Stevenson explores the duality of man, by allowing the possibility that the demons and devils may come from within the character of Jekyll himself. This would suggest that the character of Hyde is the violence and savagery underlying the personality of every human being, even the most outwardly civilized.

It’s Jekyll’s own repression of his “primitive” self that leads him to try and find a way to split his being in two, “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…and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path.” (Damrosch 1809) This marks the psychological split of Hyde from Jekyll and finally establishes Mr. Hyde as the ‘moralized double’. “Stevenson gave Hyde no apparent motive…to kill or maim for the sheer pleasure of it, to combine such mindless brutality, such gleeful sadism with a virile ugliness that is repellent and fascinating at the same time is truly a monumental achievement” (Dryden 15)

Jekyll’s first transformation shows how that the repression of one’s nature can have a physical as well as psychological affect. “I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of heady recklessness, a current of disorder sensual images running like a mill race in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the self,” Jekyll further describes how it felt inside of Hyde, “I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil.” (Damrosch 1810) Dr. Jekyll goes on to say that while everyone is “commingled out of good and evil,” Hyde is “alone in the ranks of mankind,” and “pure evil.”(Damrosch 1811) The shift in morality is what solidifies the purpose of Hyde within the work, that of death. As Hyde grows in strength, it takes Dr. Jekyll longer periods of time to fight him back. “But time began at last to obliterate the freshness of my alarm… I began to be tortured with throes and longing, as of Hyde struggling after freedom; and at last, in an hour of moral weakness, I once again compounded and swallowed the transforming drought.”(Damrosch 1814)

“It was no longer the fear of the gallows, it was the horror of being Hyde that racked me.” (Damrosch 1817) As Hyde grew stronger Jekyll grew weaker, and aware of his inevitable end, Jekyll writes his final words, “God knows; I am careless; this is my true hour of death, and what is to follow concerns another than myself. Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of the unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end,” and thus fulfilling the purpose of the double. (Damrosch 1818) The fact that both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are dead indicates that the two separate beings that were once a whole are in the end whole again.

Work Cited

Campbell, Charles. “Women And Sadism In Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde: “City In A Nightmare.” English Literature In Transition, 1880-1920 57.3 (2014): 309-323. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

D’Amato, Barbara. “Jekyll And Hyde: A Literary Forerunner To Freud’s Discovery Of The Unconscious.” Modern Psychoanalysis 30.1 (2005): 92-106. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

Damrosch, David, and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Vol. 2B. New York: Longman, 2010. Print.

Danahy, Martin. “Dr. Jekyll’s Two Bodies.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 35.1 (2013): 23-40. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

Dryden, Linda. “Robert Louis Stevenson And Popular Culture.” Nordic Journal Of English Studies 9.3 (2010): 11-24. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

Živković, Milica. “The Double as the “Unseen” of Culture: Toward a Definition of Doppelganger.” Facta Universitatis Linguistics and Literature 2 (2000): 121-28. Scientific Journal Facta Universitatis. 07 Nov. 2000. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

Jekyll/ Hyde Rorschach. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2014. <;.