With a close focus on the final section of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde examine how R.L. Stevenson explores the question of the duality in human nature in the novel.
The key term in the title is the duality of human nature, this phrase is relating to the double sidedness of mans’ nature such as the potential for good and evil. The character Henry Jekyll is personification of good versus evil because when he is Henry Jekyll he shows the good respected doctor in society but when he changes into Hyde – his alternative self – he becomes evil and sadistic. This means that it is good Jekyll versus evil Hyde. We see R.L. Stevenson refer to “dual nature” many times throughout Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case e.g. “Though so profound a double-dealer, I was in no sense a hypocrite; both sides of me were dead…”. The first person narrative shows the reader the character’s viewpoint e.g. “severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature.” This quote shows how R.L. Stevenson refers to the dual nature of Henry Jekyll as “good and ill”.
We can see how the narrative viewpoint shows Henry Jekyll’s character and experiences. The reader can tell that Jekyll was a scientific man as he justifies this by using authentic vocabulary such as “I will not enter deeply into this scientific branch of my confession.” This shows us there is deep scientific knowledge that he does not choose to share – this could possibly because the reader would not understand.
The reader can see that Jekyll is a groundbreaking experiencer, as he knows that he is risking his life by taking the potion but he is more intrigued than scared so he goes ahead and swallows it anyway. He recognises that taking the potion gave him an amazing burst of freedom – “the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine… it seemed natural and human… it seemed more express and single, than the imperfect and divided countenance I had been hitherto accustomed to call mine… Edward Hyde… was pure evil”. Jekyll then goes on to clearly explain the experience of his transformation into Edward Hyde.
Jekyll describes to the reader the process of his transformation very clearly, and very in detail, he uses horrific imagery such as “a grinding in the bones, a deadly nausea” to describe the early painful stages of his transformation into Hyde. This imagery could link with Hyde’s characteristics of an evil sadist. Jekyll then goes onto describe the secondary feelings of happiness, he explains how the appearance of Edward Hyde is everything he wished he looked like when he was Henry Jekyll, he uses light happy words to describe these e.g. “I felt younger, lighter and happier in body”. When Hyde looks into the mirror he comments on the differences between himself and Jekyll. Then he continues onto observe that although Hyde was younger and smaller than Jekyll, you could still tell somehow that Hyde was evil, “Even as good shone upon the countenance of the one, evil was written broadly and plainly on the face of the other.”.
The two characters become to merge, as the transformations become more and more frequent, we start to recognise Jekyll saying things that he would normally not say. A good example of this is when Jekyll is sitting on a park bench and he says, “I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within my licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed”. This use of language lets the reader distinguish the emphasis of Jekyll’s dualistic theory of human nature, where his animal side is contrasted with his spiritual side.
We can compare Hyde with Charles Darwin’s ideas of human development when Jekyll uses phrases like “ape-like fury” and “something troglodytic”. With these constant connections to the evolution of mankind, Hyde can be seen as the primate side of Jekyll, and several descriptions of him throughout the book can verify this idea e.g. his hands are described as being “corded and hairy”. Due to this, Hyde could be seen as the original, true nature of man, which has been repressed, but not destroyed. The reader also sees how Hyde’s actions show an amoral lack of constraint e.g. the trampling of the child, killing of Carew. Hyde’s actions suggest links with the primates’ actions; this would not be how we expect a human to act however these are characteristics of an early ancestor such as an ape.
Stevenson’s idea of self-divide prefigures Sigmund Freud’s notion of the human personality. Freud’s theory was that the human mind had both a conscious and unconscious side to it. The mental devices of repression and resistance controlled both these. Repression is an unconscious method that made the memory of painful or threatening events unreachable by the conscious mind. Resistance is the unconscious defence against the awareness of repressed memories to avoid the resulting anguish. Jekyll can be linked to Freud’s theory, because he repressed his evil self (Hyde), until he found out how he could unleash it, and after he did unleash Hyde, he regretted his actions.