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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In his laboratory Jekyll develops a chemical potion that was designed to accomplish the separation of his personality and drinks it. After a “grinding of the bones” and a horrible nausea, he begins to feel “incredibly sweet” and free. Looking in the mirror, Jekyll observes not himself but Edward Hyde, a smaller and younger person than himself. Jekyll delights in the division of himself and in his new liberty, but he soon begins to lose control of Hyde, who can assume Jekyll’s form at will. The novel follows Dr. Jekyll’s struggle with Mr. Hyde, who becomes increasingly evil and whom Jekyll refuses to acknowledge as a part of him. Stevenson presents to young readers an extreme case that nevertheless illustrates the dangers of refusing to accept duality as a fact of human nature. Jekyll declares that “man is not truly one, but truly two,” (Stevenson, 79) and he visualizes the human spirit as the front line for an “angel” as well as a “fiend,” each fighting for mastery.

The enormous popularity of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has aided the perpetuation of a persistent view that it is a simple fable of the division between good and evil that occurs in all human beings. The complexity of Robert Louis Stevenson’s imaginative story of an individual’s conflict with himself, however, is evident in its multiple narratives. Through the presentation of various points of view, Stevenson highlights knowledge of events from the peripheral to the more intimate and at the same time deepens the insight into the psychology of Jekyll.

An example of Stevenson’s symbolic representation of evil is the use of doors as illustrated by Stevenson in Jekyll and Hyde. In chapter 1 - 'The story of the door', the author portrays the door used by Hyde as 'The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained.' (Stevenson, 4). This right away provides with the representation of someone who doesnot worry about exterior or representation.

The first narrative, Richard Enfield’s horrified reaction to Edward Hyde’s trampling of a little girl, provides the first evidence of the existence of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. Enfield, a “well-known man about town,” finds Hyde unaccountably detestable.  The characters in the novel always respond with fright and repulsion to Mr. Hyde; this is due to the fact that he is appears to be hideous. The image petrified many people, and as Hyde is offensive and unfriendly nobody seems to like him or is willing to get into a conversation with him. 'I had taken a loathing to the man at first sight.' (Stevenson, 5)

The third narrator is Dr. Hastie Lanyon, who has written a letter to Utterson. A bold Scottish doctor, Lanyon has become estranged from Jekyll because of Jekyll’s “fanciful” theories. Dr. Lanyon is the first to ascertain that Jekyll is Hyde and that Jekyll is in Hyde’s control. His observation of Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde literally shocks Lanyon to death.

Jekyll’s narrative, a letter read after his death, is the one for which all others have been prepared. The most subjective account, the letter reveals his concerns that led to his experiments and the conclusions that he reached about them. Of great interest is his personal reaction to Hyde. Stevenson uses extensively the idea of the double, or Doppelganger — the theory that an individual’s character is composed of two parts, a reasonable self and evil twin or shadow, which are constantly at war — that forms the split center of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Yet, Jekyll and Hyde (Jekyll’s double), although split, are not two. Sharing one body and one brain, they do not separate but assume a change in form in which Jekyll is replaced by Hyde, who was within Jekyll. (Geduld, 5-200)

Hyde is slowly transformed from one who tramples a child impersonally and without conscience to a selfish, cruel creature that is consumed with malicious hatred of Jekyll. Meanwhile, Jekyll continues his dissociation from Hyde. He considers the possibility of destroying Hyde altogether, accelerates his performance of altruistic deeds, and refuses to acknowledge Hyde as a portion of him. Hyde is enraged at his treatment by the person to whom he owes his life, and he becomes increasingly evil. He assumes control at will, and Jekyll, failing to understand that what he had attempted was impossibility, continues to believe that the experiment could succeed if he could only obtain pure substance for the potion. In desperation, Hyde commits suicide, thus destroying both men. In the story, Jekyll is the only character who does not act in response with revulsion at Hyde. “And yet when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscious of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome. This, too, was myself.”(Stevenson, 58).

To strengthen his theme — the essential ambiguity and unknowable nature of the self — -Stevenson layers contrasts within the various points of view that form the narrative. The friendship of Enfield, the first narrator, and Utterson is mysterious, because they are almost polar opposites. The motif of the double, suggested by their regular and almost compulsive walks through the fog-shrouded streets of London, continues in their responses to Edward Hyde. The phrase “Jekyll-and-Hyde” does not merely denote a kind of split personality, but rather refers to Jekyll’s intense conflict within himself. Stevenson presents to young readers an extreme case that illustrates refusing to accept opposition as a fact of human nature.

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