Throughout the novella ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ Robert Louis Stevenson explores the duality of human nature. Duality is shown not only through the various characters, but also in the setting to portray facets of the duality within the novella. The title and front cover of the book itself creates duality the word ‘case’ suggesting the genre to be that of a detective novella, whereas the gothic cover points towards the genre being horror. The novella itself is constructed on binary oppositions, with a very clear theme of Good versus Evil, in which ‘good’ is initially portrayed by Dr. Jekyll.
Where he is described as a “well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty” who was well respected as a person an eminent and respected member of his profession due to his many qualifications ‘M. D, D. C. L, LL. D,F. R. S’ etc. Jekyll himself has duality within his character, even when just looking at the Jekyll side of the personality, duality is still shown even in the part of the personality seen as ‘good’. As he is a well respected doctor of science and is well known for his great hospitality and compassion ‘every mark of capacity and kindness’ where he is obviously seen as the human form of all things good.
However aspects of evil are quickly shown in his personality where examples of selfishness are shown ‘I cannot say I care what becomes of him’ and when he begins to look ‘deadly sick’ - Sickness here, denotes criminality as to the Victorian audience criminals were thought to be ill of mind or body. However, even as Hyde becomes a more significant character, Jekyll’s character still remains honourable until the final chapter. Jekyll is aware of his dual personality, but he represents the many members of Victorian society leading two different lives without acknowledgment of it.
This dual life relates directly to Stevenson himself as a well respected writer by day and ‘party goer’ by night. One could argue that Stevenson inserted his own personality into the dual character of Henry Jekyll. By inserting Hyde into Jekyll’s already apparent duality, he successfully creates a duel character from which he proceeds to explore duality in human nature in depth while addressing many issues relevant to the Victorian reader such as religion, hypocrisy and criminology. He created great controversy by contradicting religion and alluding to the newly found theory of evolution by Charles Darwin.
Hyde, is described as ‘ape-like’ and ‘troglodytic’ and is likened to the devil ‘but carrying it off sir, really like satan’. He’s portrayed as being almost subhuman which connotes to the victorian attitudes to criminals at the time, criminals being viewed as those who had chosen not to rein in their more primitive desires as shown in Henry Maudsley’s “remarks on crime and criminals” “just as they were in the pre moral ages of animal and human life on earth”. Criminals were mainly lower class and were scruffy looking and in rags.
Lombroso’s description of criminal features added that they looked like apes and in the victorian era de-evolution was though of as a possibility. Further into the novel, Hyde’s character becomes strengthened and more dominant as Jekyll struggles to maintain sanity. Although he begins to struggle to keep control of his duality he renounces responsibility of his duality when he begins referring to Hyde in third person completely distancing himself from the uncontrollable part of his personality he created.
In the ultimate chapter Jekyll claims when transforming into Hyde he had ‘lost in stature’ suggesting he became physically smaller which abides well with the theory of de-evolution in the dual character. The characters names alone create duality Jekyll when broken into ‘Je’ and ‘Kyll’ -Je meaning ‘I’ in french and ‘Kyll’ phonetically sounding like the verb ‘to kill’- even in the respectable righteous personality Jekyll an uncontrollable aspect of evil is present.
One could argue the description ‘damned juggernaut’, as Hyde is described when he tramples the girl in the opening chapter, is a fit description for the uncontrollability portrayed in his name. The antagonistic relationship between Jekyll and Hyde would have aroused suspicions of a Victorian reader. They suspect a homoerotic attachment between them as during the late 18th/ early 19th century homosexuality was an extremely potent issue due to the Labouchere Amendment (1885) which made gross indecency’ a crime in the United Kingdom.
The law was broadly used to prosecute male homosexuals where actual sodomy could not be proven. While victorian society forbade the discussion of many issues, sexuality stood at the top of the blacklist. Based on indications in the novel a Victorian reader would reasonably infer that the misdeeds of Jekyll and Hyde are sexual in nature. Blackmail attempts in victorian society often involved a threat to expose a man as a homosexual, whether or not he were in fact gay.
Child prostitution was rampant in Victorian London, and there may have been a suggestion of it in the novella where Hyde is first introduced when he tramples a young girl underfoot and then pays off her family. Late Victorian literature contains many subtle allusions to covert acts of socially unaccepted behaviour often referring to or symbolising homosexual activity. The novella is largely about hypocrisy linked with religion and Christianity. There are many links made to the almost satan like nature of Mr Hyde and the faults and weaknesses of Dr. Jekyll.
He does attempt to be the respectable good natured character he is perceived to be but is drawn in by temptation. At times he is tempted to change into Hyde knowingly of the consequences “Dr Jekyll grew pale to the very lips, and there came a blackness about his eyes”. Here you can see the beginning of the transformation from Jekyll to Hyde. The temptation Jekyll gives into can be linked directly to the original biblical sin, Eve being tempted by a forbidden fruit. Stevenson aimed to educate the Victorian reader, the presentation of religion in the text was a way of preaching the warning of temptation and sin.
Stevenson warns of the human belief of superiority and belief of the ability to play God. Jekyll plays creator when making the potion and subsequently creates another being with disastrous consequences. This hypocrisy is not demonstrated only in Jekyll, but appears in many other characters, and example of which is Dr. Lanyon where Stevenson demonstrated even the most laudable person can fall weak when presented with temptation. The genre and setting of the novella is also used in order to explore duality. Throughout the novella, there are not one, but two consistent genres; Gothic and Detective.
Mr Utterson turning himself into the detective for this strange case ‘If he be mr Hyde, I shall be Mr seek” however nightmares soon begin to haunt him “the figure in these two phases haunted the lawyer all night”. The word ‘haunt’ is a direct connotation to the novella being of gothic genre, while the context and the character also supports the genre being detective. Dr Lanyon’s sudden unexplained death, with the “terror” that he experienced denotes the gothic genre once more. The contrasting genres of the novella again, create duality.
The Gothic scenery is manly shown through vivid descriptions of dilapidated buildings of ‘dingy windowless structure’ Stevenson ensures that the home of Dr Jekyll is presented as well kept and tasteful ‘When veiled its more flourid charms.. the street shone in its contrast to the dingy neighborhood’ and as the novella is set in 19th Century London, this again complies with the gothic setting and genre. Gothic settings are typically rural however Stevenson chose for the novella to be set in london in order for the majority of his audience to be able to relate to.
Stevenson when exploring the human mind almost pre-empts Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist who proposed the theory of subconsciousness of the mind as being split into 3 parts the ID, EGO and SUPEREGO. Stevenson explores the duality of the character - or indeed characters - by using these three separate parts as Jekyll and Hyde’s personalities develop. ID is the primitive part of the mind, the inhumane part that exists for pleasure and is the part that will often succumb to temptation. The ID in the novella is portrayed by Hyde as ‘something troglodytic’.
The ID is the opposing part of the mind to the EGO, which is the rational part of a mind which has the self awareness and looks to find pleasure in other ways. The EGO is largely portrayed by Dr Jekll and the beginning of the Novella, before the readers learn of his fall to temptation. The SUPEREGO provides the balance between good and evil, however that balance can easily become unbalanced, which in many ways is what happens to Jekyll, in the creation of Hyde. Stevenson explores duality of human nature in depth in the duration of the novella.
He uses his cynicism towards the new scientific advancements during the Victorian era as a focal point in the novella and warns the Victorian reader to be wary and not to experiment with the new founded knowledge, the novella primarily acting as an education source. He warns to stay devoted to religion and the importance of resisting temptation. The novella to the 21st century reader explores what it means to be human, and the duality within each individual person, encouraging one question the extent of their own duality.