The double nature or duality of man’s personality is explored in great detail in “The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Robert Louis Stevenson (the author) wrote “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in 1886. All of the 19th century was troubled with the idea of a “double self” often referred to as a “doppelganger.” It was a time when authors wrote stories of death, re-birth, urbanism, imperial decline, sexual revolution and sexual epidemics. The concerns of this time period are reflected on Stevenson’s novel as he raises such issues as split personality (schizophrenia), animal instincts, sexuality, violence and good against evil. These concerns all help to portray the dual nature of mans personality in “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”.
The novel is set in Victorian London where expectations are high and reputations are valued. The book is about a man called Dr. Jekyll. He believes that “man is not truly one, but truly two.” This means that he thinks there are two sides to every person; a good side constantly battling with an evil side. He thinks that if these two personalities can be separated, then the world will be delivered from suffering. So he begins a series of experiments to separate the two different sides of himself; Jekyll, his good personality, and Hyde, his evil personality. He has to keep all his experiments and findings to himself as to avoid humiliation but in the end he cannot keep it a secret.
Dr. Jekyll is described as “a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty. He is accepted by society and considered a responsible gentleman; He is respected and trusted by many people. But Jekyll is curious, and he begins to wonder whether there is more to man than meets the eye. As a result, he starts experiments into separating the two personalities of man.
In contrast, Mr. Hyde is an ugly man of very small stature. He represents the evil side of man’s nature and is everything Victorian society does not want. People do not know this stranger, so he is judged on his ugly looks and therefore he is disliked and sometimes feared: “he gave me one look, so ugly that it brought out the sweat on me”. Hyde may also be feared because people subconsciously know that there is a part of them that is like Hyde – evil. People may also be able to relate to Hyde in some way, this can cause them to be afraid as they do not want to be anything like Hyde. Jekyll overlooks all this as he has come to terms with Hyde; however, he does not accept it as a part of himself.
Stevenson often likens Hyde to several animals. In chapter 4 – “The Carew Murder Case”, Hyde is referred to as having an “ape-like fury”. Stevenson perhaps uses an ape to describe Hyde, as apes are the animal from which man descended from and therefore, look like a distorted version of man. This could emphasis the fact that Hyde looked different to other men; he may have looked slightly deformed.
Jekyll has two doors leading into his house; one is used by himself and the other is used by Mr. Hyde. Stevenson describes these two doors in great detail as they both reflect the personality and attitude of their owners. The two doors also reflect the duality or double nature of man issued in this novel. The first door, used by Dr. Jekyll is described as wearing “a great air of wealth and comfort.” Stevenson has described this door as looking very grand and proper. We can tell that this door is well looked after and the owner cares about the appearances of himself and his property; Jekyll’s door is an outward display of the wealth and care of the owner within. This door is similar to other doors in the street. This shows us that Dr. Jekyll likes to conform to the rules of society in which he lives.
However the second door, used by Mr. Hyde, is described very differently, “A certain sinister block of building… marks prolonged and sordid negligence.” Even though the second door is described as being neglected and unimportant, we feel that this door plays a large part in the story, by the way that Stevenson has described it in such length. Hyde’s door is different to the other doors in the street; his door is vandalised and neglected, whereas the other doors in the London road are cared for and pristine. This shows us that Hyde does not care about appearances and expectations of Victorian society. Other doors in the street are lit up during the hours of darkness; Hyde’s door has no outside light and the doorway sits in the shadows. The lack of light, together with the absence of a bell or door knocker, clearly demonstrates that Hyde neither expects nor welcomes visitors.
Although the doors are a complete contrast of each other, they both lead into the same house. Jekyll’s door is at the front of the house for the public to see and use, while Hyde’s door is at the rear of the house for only private usage. The arrangement of the two doors greatly reflects the double nature of man; Jekyll is the front that is put on show for Victorian society to accept whilst Hyde is the evil within that is trying to be hidden and kept at the back.
Jekyll can often be very hypocritical because, even though he is constantly trying to separate himself from Hyde, at times he does enjoy being his other personality, “There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and, from it’s very novelty, indescribably sweet. I felt younger, lighter, happier in body.” This quote shows us that Dr. Jekyll enjoyed being Hyde. He felt better in body and consequently, better in mind. Jekyll could feed his animal passions with Hyde and it was a new start for the doctor; Jekyll did not have to carry the everyday pressures and responsibility when he was Hyde as nobody recognised him.
This meant he could be free to do what he wanted without society judging him on his behaviour. However, Jekyll is sometimes horrified and regrets the actions that he undertook as Hyde. He is also frightened at what he is capable of. Although, in the case of the Sir Danvers Carew murder, Jekyll brought it on himself as he tried to repress Hyde within himself. Jekyll tries to suppress Hyde from the public by keeping him “caged” up within himself and when Hyde eventually manages to break free, he “came out roaring” in a “great flame of anger”. These last two quotes show us the wildness of Hyde after being chained up inside Jekyll – he constantly desires to be free. But Jekyll cannot release Hyde in fear of almost certain unapproval by society and has to keep Hyde imprisoned. This eventually leads to their destruction.
Dr. Jekyll has to persistently “conceal his pleasures” from his friends, servants and the public in order to maintain his dignity and reputation. This can often be very hard for the elderly gentleman as, towards the end of the story, Jekyll begins to transform into Hyde without the aid of potions. This means that he has to secrete himself in his laboratory so not to be seen changing into Hyde. Maybe if Victorian society had not been so uptight, Jekyll could have spoken out and received help before it was too late.
Later on in the novel, Jekyll tells his old, responsible and trusted friend Dr. Lanyon of the experiments. Lanyon is shocked and disturbed by what he hears but, as a respected member of authority, keeps the business to himself. He did what he felt was expected of him, although I am sure that he would have liked to have told someone what he knew so that he was not in this on his own. This implies that Dr. Lanyon may also have a double nature but he does not know this yet. This great secret was unbearable for Lanyon to keep and it began to eat away inside him. This led to the destruction of Dr. Lanyon mentally, and very soon, physically.
Stevenson has used personification in his novel. One example of this is, “The fog still slept on the wing above the drowned city.” Stevenson has used the fog to create a mysterious atmosphere. It has been given a character as it “sleeps”. The fog is thick, like a blanket, and hides all the secrets around; it generates a slow and heavy feeling that cannot be lifted to reveal these secrets. Fog can also muffle sounds which would perhaps muffle the secrets. “…for even in the houses the fog began to lie quickly.” This implies that the hidden secrets are everywhere and you cannot get away from them, like you cannot get away from the fog. This shows me that, although people may try to deny the fact that they have an evil side to them, they cannot get away from the truth that they do.
Another technique that Stevenson has used effectively, is telling the tale through multiple perspectives. He has told the story mostly through the perspective of Mr. Utterson. However, in chapter nine – Doctor Lanyon’s Narrative, the story is told in Lanyon’s perspective and in chapter 10 – “Henry Jekyll’s full statement of the case” the whole story is told through Jekyll’s perspective. This gives the reader variety and portrays different views on the same event which can provide a clearer understanding of the book.
In conclusion, the double nature of man’s personality is explored in “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. On it’s own, the great contrast between Jekyll and Hyde shows us this in a large way but also the use of personification, hypocrisy and multiple perspective.
In society today, we have adapted the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde”. We use the term to imply that someone has two sides or characters to them. In my opinion, duality is still in the world today. Sometimes we are forced to put on a front in order to impress or appear confident to someone and be accepted.