The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novella written, and set, in Victorian London, during a unique era containing its own brand of hypocrisy and breeding a plethora of double-lives. The author, Robert Louis Stevenson, was no stranger to the double way of life himself. Therefore it is of no surprise that the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s main theme is good versus evil. Stevenson doesn’t only show evil through Mr. Hyde, but also, to an extent, through Jekyll as he is just as much to blame for his double life as Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll’s motivation to create his doppelganger way of life is not explored until the final chapter where Jekyll concedes that he is not as good a Victorian gentleman as he first seems, as the Victorian ideal was contradictory and impossible to conform to. This is why he began experimenting with drugs, so he could separate the sides of his personality and create a different body so he could conduct the misdeeds he so greatly desires without detection. “If each could be but housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable”.
Jekyll finally succeeded in concocting a drug that separated good and evil, and thus Hyde was born. Stevenson uses Hyde to explore the concept of good and evil in many ways including their physical appearance. The physical differences between the two are a metaphor for what happens when the Victorians took drugs; Hyde is mentioned to be comparatively younger than Jekyll, certainly wilder, and completely care free – “liberty, the comparative youth, the light step, leaping impulses and secret pleasures;” This quote implies a whimsical sense to Hyde; however, from other descriptions of Hyde, the audience know this is far from the truth.
Drugs were at the forefront of the Victorians’ minds, not only due to their recreational value, but also within the many medical breakthroughs of the time. Stevenson himself took drugs for medical reasons as he suffered from tuberculosis and experienced for himself some of their undesirable side effects. Thus the idea that the moral orientation changes or is influenced by drugs, was introduced into the story.
The strange case of dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not told by one person the whole way through, but through a number of different narratives. The plot is mainly followed through Mr. Utterson’s point of view which shows us a view of Hyde’s evil, through good, respectable eyes. The narrators are all ‘good’ characters; mostly Mr. Utterson, but also Dr. Lanyon; then finally Jekyll himself. Jekyll is arguably an evil character during certain phases in the story; which is why, I believe, that he only narrates at the end. His letter is written as his most ‘good’ and selfless time, where he plans to destroy himself; and Hyde along with it, to protect London and the greater community. Due to the way the story is written, through different narratives, means the suspense is increased throughout the book, as we never get the full, unbiased view, despite the fact it is supposed to be the traditional, omniscient narrator for the majority of stories.
Throughout the duration of the novella, Jekyll and Hyde are rarely seen as equals; as good and evil are supposed to be in balance, this upsets the delicate balance and un-eases the reader. As time passes through the story, Jekyll is seen to clearly deteriorate in his control and stature as Hyde surges through him. This degeneration does, however, come in phases, much like tides or a werewolf – at first Jekyll’s appearance is normal, whilst underneath it all is a hidden, dark and evil secret. Later Hyde seems to be under control, as he disappears for months, but then suddenly Hyde reappears, evidently in more control, with Jekyll left almost powerless.
Jekyll’s mood swings worried Mr. Utterson as Jekyll was for some months, ill and seemingly depressed, then suddenly became bright, cheerful and apparently well, returning to his usual way of life. Jekyll then sunk back into his depression, as fast as it had lifted, as if he were bipolar, except with his personality instead of mood swings. The narrator refers to these personality swings indirectly during a three month time of respite for Jekyll – “for nearly three months he was at peace”, implying beforehand he was not at peace, and then after did not return to the peace, hence, phases.
Throughout the story, however, it is obvious that Jekyll’s control is wavering, a fact he admitted in his full statement. “I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse.” The death of Sir Danvers Carew can bee seen as a turning point for Jekyll and his better self is being over come by Hyde’s evil with his only remaining power being death, “had it not been for his fear of death, he would have long ago ruined himself.”
Symbolism is very important in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Everyday objects frequently take on a more sinister and primitive function around Hyde, which is another representation of his evil. For example, Jekyll’s cane, a gentlemanly gift from Mr. Utterson, was used as a stick for beating Sir Danvers Carew to death. This example is a shadowy implication of Hyde’s sinister ability to twist and manipulate objects around; just as he himself is twisted and malformed. The twisted, malformed version of Jekyll, is Hyde, just as the malformed and twisted version of Jekyll’s elegant cane is later found lying damaged and broken (much like how Hyde is found at the end of the novella).
Another example of symbolism is Jekyll’s house itself. It is in two halves, similar to an existing famous surgeon, John Hunter’s house from the century before. It is in fact almost an exact replica of John Hunter’s house, with the door by which Hunter would have used ordinarily in his normal doctor’s faï¿½ade, just as Jekyll does in the novella, would have been the wide, welcoming, grand front door.
However, just like Jekyll, Hunter had another side to him. By the back door Hunter would acquire bodies from grave robbers, and bring them to the dissecting-room for him and his students to use. Incidentally, the door by which Hyde always enters Jekyll’s house is called the “dissecting-room door”. It is also described as “blistered and distained” and it “bore every mark of prolonged and sordid negligence.” The door itself, therefore, represents the evil of Hyde in many ways. “Blistered and distained” could refer to the sense of extreme abnormality and deformity Hyde distils everyone he meets with, and the “sordid negligence” could be seen as the attitude Jekyll takes with Hyde’s deeds and sins.
Hyde’s representation of evil is omnipresent and frequently induces feelings of disgust and revulsion in all characters he stumbles across, representing evil through senses, rather than what is known about him. In the first chapter, he is already described to be “really like Satan”; a reaction to coming across a man who is so clearly not that, and yet resides in such a body. Similarly Jekyll describes his transformations into Hyde as “a horror of the sprit” with “grinding of the bones” “deadly nausea” and “racking pangs” – all strong, sickening words, to describe a clearly traumatic transformation. These “pangs of transformation grew daily less marked” possibly showing how Hyde is becoming ever more potent, more powerful, to the point where Hyde’s body is the more natural form for Jekyll’s mind.
When the transformation is reversed, Hyde is not described as feeling such pangs as he revert back into Jekyll, which could be an indication Hyde is an evil thing, and therefore turning into him should be painful and sickening, whilst Jekyll is, comparatively, better, so there is no pain in returning to this form. Jekyll’s body is, of course in its natural state, so the pains may simply be a result of being turned into something you weren’t intended to be. However, once Jekyll has tuned into Hyde, he describes the feeling as “an unknown but not an innocent freedom of soul” implying that being evil is, whilst obviously less moral, is certainly more liberating and even preferable.
These ideas were unusual at the time, especially because Robert Louis Stevenson was known for writing novels that were almost children’s stories, such as Treasure Island. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was much darker than his other books at the time, which is probably the reason his wife tried to discourage this novel and had the original, first edition burnt, to protect his reputation and sales of his books. Stevenson did, however, decide to re-write it, but making it much less dark and explicit that the first draft, with Hyde’s misdeeds a lot more vague; as shown by this quote “all the disreputable tales came out of the man’s cruelty […] his vile life, his strange associates […]” Hyde’s deeds are never specified, yet this, arguably, makes the evil far worse as it is left to the readers’ imagination of what the character Hyde is capable of.
Hyde’s obvious deformities seem to be impossible to pinpoint. “He must be deformed somewhere […] although I couldn’t specify the point.”, yet later, when Mr. Utterson still can’t find Hyde’s specific malformation, he puts it down to “the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace”. As the perspective of the story is always told through the eyes of a ‘good’ character, the evil is more prominent and their reactions seem more extreme. This is certainly the case when Mr. Enfield describes his first meeting of Hyde, and the impressions he was given. “I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight”. Loathing is an extremely strong word, especially coming from Mr. Enfield’s good lips, and clearly expresses his extreme reaction. “At first sight” shows his instantaneous reaction, and the severity of it.
The negative impressions Hyde consistently portrays link to the popular Victorian pseudo-science of phrenology and physiognomy, belief so strong at the time, that it could stand up in court as evidence. Phrenology was the science of studying the various bumps and imperfections on one’s head and body as in the Victorian era, ugly equalled evil. Victorian readers would have read the vague descriptions of Hyde and know instantaneously he was evil, yet interestingly when Hyde looked at himself in the mirror still, to some extent, thinking as Jekyll’s mind would (which was of course, gentlemanly) Hyde “seemed natural and human”. He feels this and still comes to know that Hyde “alone, amongst the ranks of mankind, is pure evil”. Jekyll must feel a natural triumph at his accomplishment, being the first man to separate good and evil, although he only unleashed the evil side of his humanity.
In conclusion, the concept of good and evil in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are represented in a variety of different ways, such as Hyde’s looks, the way Jekyll tries to repent his deeds as Hyde, the bitter ending of neither personality having dominion over the other. Because the central theme of the book is good and evil, the duplicity of life and Victorian hypocrisy (similar to The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde) it is expected that there are two sides to the book. However, it seems more like a Venn diagram with aspects of good and evil in both sides, with no clear line dividing the two. In this case, it is clear that Stevenson is saying in this novella that you cannot be just one thing, one part of you, but everything that you are.