Interpretations of Dr. Jekyll
How is Dr Jekyll presented in ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’?
Dr Henry Jekyll, a man of great intellect and status in Victorian London, has another side to his personality and nature, called Mr Edward Hyde; which fitting in with the novella’s general theme of duality, is almost in direct contrast with the poised and composed Dr Jekyll. We can deduce that Dr Jekyll is a middle aged man, with an affluent lifestyle. He has a title, meaning he has accomplished a great deal. He is nicely natured and well liked, and thus, the reader takes an initial liking to Dr Jekyll.
Dr Jekyll, is a disturbed character on a psychological level, as opposed to a phyiscal or mental one, making him an interesting character to study. It is interesting how he represses his Hyde-side, which may be due to the pressures of Victorian society, and lack of acceptance, as modern day psychology may suggest Jekyll to possess multiple personality disorder. This unacceptance represents the intolerance of Victorian society and provides motive for Stevenson’s presentation of restrained and reserved man.
Consequently, Dr Jekyll is expected to fulfill many of the Victorian Gentleman stereotypes, both positive and negative. This makes him seem normal, especially when compared to Mr Hyde, a further example of duality. He is very restrained and does not reveal much emotion, prevalent due to his secretive nature.
He appears, due to this restraint, to have a lack of emotional range: to be cold and distant, without revealing his true emotion. He does not appear to ever laugh, nor to even make any form of joke. He does not seem to ever lose his temper in rage, nor to ever cry. This makes him seem detached, somewhat like a cold-blooded killer or similair. This dark side, connects him to his alter-ego Hyde.
Dr Jekyll has a great deal of scientific curiosity, common through many of Stevenson’s characters in the book. It is this, that motivates him to conjur the potion to enable him to become Mr Hyde at will. This is connected to the time period: the rise of scientific curiosity and questioning of beliefs. Controversy surrounding scientific theories, such as Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’, where the scientist, where the theory that species evolve over time, through a process of natural selection, was first introduced; challenging the Bible and thus the word of God, of which the vast majority of the population based their lives upon, and lived accordingly. This period was responsive for growing an inquisitive population, more so amongst the learned.
This itself is a form of natural selection: the species, humans, gains more information regarding its creation, and the belief in another theory, slowly dies away. Within the novella, Jekyll’s decline is a supplementary example: he evolves into Hyde, and gradually passes on himself.
Science is connected with evil within the novel, being responsible for Jekyll’s terryfying change. This is seen, through the presentation of Jekyll’s laborotory, described as ‘a sinister block of a building’ and ‘the marks of profound and sordid negligence’, especially when contrasted with his house of ‘great air of wealth and comfort’, another example of duality. Furthermore, the building in question is hidden from view, implying its use is to be ashamed, representing further restraint in Victorian Society, that intrigue is shameable.
Dr Jekyll is highly secretive and restrained, much like many Victorian gentlemen, which is used to Stevenson’s advantage, in order to grow suspense and fascination towards the characters within the book. This is presented partially by our lack of knowledge regarding his background, and indeed many of the other characters’ pasts. For example, with the exception of the chapter entitled ‘Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case’, we know nothing of any character’s past, their family life, very little into what they like to do, rather their occupation and other such formalities. The exception to this rule, however, is how they are related, which the reader is informed about: either by blood; Enfield is described as ‘distant kinsman’ of Utterson, or by education and long-standing friendship: Utterson, Lanyon and Jekyll. A futher example is the time it takes the reader to discover the characters’ forenames, not until quite late into the book; highlighting the characters’ formality and uptightness.
His secretiveness is also connected to shame, which he possesses, another constant in Victorian Culture. As he is conscious of taking the potion, and must therefore be aware of its effects, he feels ashamed of his behaviour, and almost enjoyment of becoming Hyde.
His hidden lifestyle provokes many different interpretations, due to lack of knowledge, we must assume he does something, the Victorians would not consider appropriate, hence why it would have to be hidde. A common suggestion is that he is homosexual, which is perhaps presented by Stevenson, due to the four main characters: Lanyon, Utterson, Enfield and Jekyll, without spouse, nor are the women mentioned in the novella of any importance: a maid, a small girl, of which neither are named. This is perhaps his motive for becoming Hyde, in order to partake in a practice that society at the time would find perverse. By becoming Hyde, a more regressed character, his sexual urges are more prominent and less easily controlled. Perhaps this is a hidden theme within the novella and coupled with the rise of rebellious Science represents a change in society and somewhat a revolution present in this era.
Apart from the obvious contrast between Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde, within Stevenson’s novella; another more subtle change is visible in the behaviour of Dr. Jekyll alone, as a direct result of becoming Hyde, and consuming the potion neccesary for this change to occur. In the final chapter, entitled ‘Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case’ he takes an aggressive stance, defending his behaviour hostilely, scapegoating and acting childlishly, traits he has obtained from his periods as Hyde. The quote ‘If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also’ supports such an idea. The word ‘chief’ has primordial connotations of tribal behaviour, savagery and regression; this could also be used to portray his vanity, and pride at the notion of rebellion and his discovery. The two clauses, used to emphasise the point: ‘I am’ is repeated twice, is reminiscent of a spoilt child’s cries of ‘I want, I want’ – ironic due to his advanced language; the repetitive use of ‘I’ also shows selfishness and self-centred behaviours. The hypothetical ‘if’ implies Jekyll sees his behaviour as wholly justifiable. There are also biblical connotations, obtained from the words ‘sinners’ and ‘sufferers’ which seem to link the new Jekyll to the devil. This highlights the impact that contrasts between personalities has on the original person and that contrasts do indeed leed to corrupt behaviour.
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