Duality: Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde- A ‘Fine Line’ Doesn’t Exist
Humans have been debating and fighting over what is considered good and what is evil since before the early ages. In the early ages though, good was determined by religion and anything or anyone that questioned their religion’s beliefs were evil. Unlike the early ages, the Victorian era was very much curious about evil tendencies. Although the Victorian society still heavily believed in God; they were also exploring the duality in human nature. Specifically, a man named Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson had been interested in “the battle between flesh and spirit” since he was a child (Stevenson 1778). When Stevenson was in his late twenties (1879), the field of psychology was starting to become an actual field. It wasn’t uncommon for literature that was produced during the Victorian era to examine “the idea of a sinister alter ego” (Buzwell). In Stevenson’s story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Jekyll is a clear representation of Stevenson’s belief about human personalities. This story not only shows the duality of one man, but also of society itself. Throughout this essay I will examine the theme of dualism that is happening within Stevenson’s most famous work.
First, I will examine the physical differences between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Dr Jekyll is a well-respected reputable doctor. He is described as “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty” (Stevenson 1788) also, he has a “large handsome face” (Stevenson 1789). While Mr Hyde is described as “pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any namable malformation…” (Stevenson 1787). Throughout the story when Mr Utterson, Mr Lanyon, and Mr Enfield see Hyde it causes them to have disgust, but they aren’t sure why. Hyde pretty much just gives off this animalistic vibe that no one likes. After Mr Utterson confronts Hyde he calls him “…barely human! Something troglodytic…” (Stevenson 1787). So, Jekyll is a man that appears to be socially acceptable, while Hyde is a man who appears to be primitive. According to Greg Buzwell, “the comparison is not merely between good and evil but between evolution and degeneration”. In the late 1850’s Darwin had published his evolution thesis for the public to see. So, by the time Stevenson published Jekyll and Hyde, society was familiar with Darwin’s thoughts on humans’ origin. This is clearly shown between these two characters because Hyde is frequently described to have beast like qualities, even though Jekyll is the same as Hyde and Jekyll in no way, resembles a beast. I mean, look at Hyde’s name. It can most literally mean the skin from an animal or it can mean Hyde is hiding Jekyll’s face. Either way it’s shedding of the skin which is very much an animalistic quality.
Second, I will discuss the differences between their personalities. Dr Jekyll is a man who plays by the rules of society, but secretly he was experimenting on himself to see if he could separate his darkness from the light. Which he successfully did, but it had fatal consequences for both men. During Jekyll’s confession he makes it clear that he had been struggling with evil temptations long before he started the experiments, “…from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream, on thought of the separation of these elements” (Stevenson 1809). The doctor accepted that he was both good and evil, “I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both” (Stevenson 1809). Jekyll knew that society had certain morals, but he had found a way to be both good and evil without societal repercussions on his ‘good’ person. Jekyll could trample a little girl and cane a man to death and just be completely destructive because it didn’t matter. It technically wasn’t his face, it was Hyde’s. Jekyll had found a loophole for darkness. The good doctor was “freed from the restraints imposed by society” (Buzwell). Although Jekyll felt “younger, lighter, happier in body” he knew he would have to choose between his good life as Jekyll or the evil life of Hyde (Stevenson 1810). Jekyll felt and physically saw the strength that Hyde had over their body, and I think that ultimately scared him. He had created a part of himself that he thought he could control with a simple potion, but in the end human minds are a tricky thing.
Not only is this duality seen among men, but it is also seen in the locations of this story. London is no different from any other city. It has good sides and bad sides. According to Hugi Haroarson, “Stevenson describes certain places in London as dark and unpleasing and compares them with the posh sections of the city. Victorians would have liked to see these places hidden from view”. Victorian society would rather hide the unmoral behaviors than face the reality of it. Hyde commits his crimes at nighttime because the darkness shields his wrong doings. Readers can also dissect the entrance Jekyll went through and the entrance Hyde went through. Both lived in the same house, but the appearances were much different. Even though the laboratory was connected the main house the door Jekyll went through was on a completely different street than the door Hyde went through. The laboratory, where Hyde entered was described as, “nothing but a door on the lower storey and a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence” (Stevenson 1781). While Jekyll’s home was described as, “large, low-roofed, comfortable hall, paved with flags, warmed by a bright, open fire, and furnished with costly cabinets of oak” (Stevenson 1787). The homes can therefore be interpreted as the “embodiment” of Jekyll and then of Hyde (Haroarson). Separate, but one.
Overall, Victorian society very much took this story as a “cautionary tale of not repressing one’s true self for the sake of society” (Haroarson). The thought of leaning into dark temptations scared society, so they just pretended it didn’t exist. People during this time wanted to be respected, to be successful and in order to achieve that, they had to maintain societies morals. By writing Jekyll and Hyde, Stevenson highlighted that there is no fine line between good and evil. People are a little of both. Duality is part of being human and people needed to see and talk about that. Today, we still see adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde, the Hulk, Fight Club, etc. This shows that the idea of human duality, and good vs. evil is still cranking gears inside people’s heads. The thought of drawing from our dark side is enticing, but social morals usually win the battle.
Buzwell, Greg. Man is not truly one, but truly two’: duality in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 2015, http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://h10e.teacher.edutronic.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/77/2015/11/Wider-Reading-Duality-in-Jekyll-and-Hyde.pdf.
Haroarson, Hugi. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Duality in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Master of Ballantrae. 2016, https://skemman.is/bitstream/1946/25973/3/Hugi_BA%20essay_final.pdf.
Stevenson, R. L. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: 4th ed, vol. 2B, edited by David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar et. al., Pearson Education, Inc. 2010, pp. 1780-1818.
Lanzendorfer, Joy. 11 Strange Facts About Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 2015. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/67769/11-strange-facts-about-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde. Accessed December 2019.
Venus, Leigh. Silents in the Castle: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 2015. https://leighvenus.com/2015/12/16/dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/. Accessed December 2019.