The presentation of individuals and society in the novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Choose two extracts from the novel and use them as a basis for your discussion of one of the following topics:
1. The ways in which places and settings are used in the novel;
2. The presentation of individuals and society in the novel;
or any similar topic only for you
Stevenson’s methods of developing tension and a sense of horror in the novel.
For the purposes of my analysis, I have chosen option two: The presentation of individuals and society in the novel. The two extracts that I have chosen for the analysis are: Utterson’s first meeting with Mr. Hyde and his subsequent description of him (in the chapter The Search for Mr. Hyde) and an excerpt from the last chapter Henry Jekyll’s full statement of the case.
In this essay, I am going to discuss how Stevenson presents the individuals and the society in the novel. In order to make a clear interpretation, I am going to be using the novel as well as my background knowledge of the time and context in which the novel was set. I will also review Stevenson’s experiences, which might have led to the creation of the story.
Firstly, I will examine the society presented by Stevenson in this novel. The entire story revolves around the upper/middle class. There are only hints of other social classes in the form of workers and servants, employed by the rich people. The four main characters of the play have much in common; they are all rich, well-educated and professional men: Utterson is a lawyer; Enfield is a well known man around the town, showing his popularity. Lanyon and Jekyll are both doctors, which shows their high professional status. Another trait that all these men have in common is, they are all cold and distant yet likable. Also, they are all un-married. Below is an extract from the book, outlining Mr. Utterson’s personality:
Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold…backward in sentiment… and yet somehow lovable.
Another interesting fact regarding the novel is, not one of the main characters is a woman, this shows the nature of the society. The society at the time was a male-dominated one. Some have argued that this gives the novel an empty feel. Readers agree that, the severe lack of women from the settings creates unease in the novel, which can be felt slightly. This particular writing trait that Stevenson employs can be linked back to his own childhood, Stevenson had a strong father figure and thus, the imbalance in sexes is noticeable in the writing.
In the novel itself, each of the characters face a varying dilemma. Utterson seems at peace with the world and doesn’t want a wife whereas, Jekyll seems to change into Hyde because he is sexually frustrated. Jekyll is one character who would be content with a wife. Here, another flaw in the society seems visible; Stevenson’s subtle language sets up the male-only society in order to push Jekyll into becoming Hyde. Stevenson exasperates Jekyll and through his tactical writing, he also thoroughly entertains the readers.
The main character of the novel seems to be Mr. Utterson. Stevenson writes the novel from Utterson’s perspective, events of the novel and the story-line itself is viewed through Utterson’s eyes. For example, when the reader first learns about Hyde, it is from Utterson’s detailed description. Automatically, the reader then perceives Hyde as Utterson does. The readers are also inclined to feel the same emotions Utterson feels regarding Hyde:
…the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear in which Mr. Utterson regarded him (Hyde).
The interesting factor is that Utterson is never the narrator of the proceedings in the novel. However, he is always involved in some way, even in the scenes where he has no direct role. Another interesting factor is that even though Stevenson doesn’t employ Utterson as the narrator, he tailors him with narrator like features: he is calm, considerate and usually emotionless. Stevenson uses him to great effect towards the end, he surprises the readers by turning the passive character of Utterson, suddenly into an active member of the novel. The author reveals the other side of Utterson’s character as being decisive and strong, and this allows the reader to be further interested in the novel:
I must and shall see you… if not by fair means than by foul – if not of your consent, then by brute force!
Another key character in the novel is Dr. Lanyon. He is only thrust into action when Hyde goes to visit him. Stevenson heightens the drama of the story by not allowing Lanyon to confide his experiences to Utterson and the readers. The reader is made desperate to know what Lanyon refers to as: it could kill a man by its mere presence. The reader later gathers that he is referring to Hyde. After Lanyon watches Hyde transform to Jekyll, Lanyon’s whole demeanour changes to a dying man, but he never reveals the cause for his sudden ill-health:
I have had a shock and I shall never recover. It is a question of weeks…
There could be two possible reasons why Lanyon doesn’t reveal the truth; he may believe that by divulging the details he may tarnish the old friendship between himself and Dr. Jekyll. However, this reason doesn’t seem very likely because the friendship between the two was long lost. Below is a perfect example, showing that the friendship is long gone (Jekyll’s thoughts about Lanyon):
…that hide-bound pedant, Lanyon, at what he called my scientific heresies.
The second simpler reason could be that, Lanyon believes even if he did divulge any details, people would not believe his claims. He is worried that he may be labelled a lunatic, and obviously wants to avoid that predicament.
Stevenson has used masterly language in order to construct the characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His language clearly conveys them as two separate people yet it also outlines the gigantic difference between them. Early on in the story, Jekyll informs the readers about his theory regarding Hyde:
Man is not truly one but truly two.
Throughout the novel, Stevenson conveys Hyde as the lower instinct and id form of Jekyll. The author wants the readers to believe that Hyde is a selfish, animal side of Jekyll. This strange phenomenon could be linked back to Stevenson’s childhood. In that circumstance Stevenson being the mischievous child representing Hyde and Stevenson’s father being upstanding and respected, representing Jekyll. Hyde also seems to rebel with Jekyll like Stevenson did with his father. Stevenson wanted to be an author, but his father was against such a career but Stevenson became one anyway:
Jekyll had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference.
To make the novel a success, the foundations must be strong; this relies on the fact that the reader perceives Jekyll and Hyde, as Stevenson wants him to. The author wants the characters to be completely different, yet be the same person, and to convey this Stevenson uses descriptive language:
(Jekyll) Every mark of capacity and kindness…
A large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty…
On the other hand, there is a stark appearance between Jekyll’s description and Hyde’s:
(Hyde) He had borne himself with a murderous mixture of timidity and boldness
There was something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable.
Now as we can understand from the above quotations, Stevenson uses alliteration to convey the descriptions of both the characters. Some examples are- downright detestable; murderous mixture. This vivid language leads the reader to believe in Jekyll and Hyde. The author conveys Hyde as being completely opposite of Jekyll, even through the name. Hyde is a monster hidden within Jekyll. The more dramatic interpretation would be conveyed as a struggle between good and evil.
It seems clear that Hyde is always present in Jekyll: at the start of the novel he just hasn’t been released and thus, Jekyll had complete control of the situation. The problem arises when Jekyll starts taking the metamorphic potion; at this point Hyde emerges and begins to take control. It’s clear that Hyde gains strength from the actions of Jekyll; this point is further enhanced if the reader concentrates on Hyde’s appearance. Hyde doesn’t seem to be a tall person, and thus his character is not strong enough to challenge Jekyll. However, Hyde’s continued nourishment through Jekyll’s weaknesses means that eventually Hyde becomes increasingly potent:
The balance of my nature might be permanently overthrown… and the character of Edward Hyde become irrevocably mine.
This revelation proves that, the metamorphic potion is truly a changing potion, it reverts Jekyll to a weaker character of Hyde. Once Jekyll starts taking the potion, the characters of Jekyll and Hyde become vague and unclear: it even seems that both the characters want to be separate. An example of that is when Jekyll refers to Hyde as him not I. From Jekyll’s language it seems that Hyde is no longer a part of Jekyll but someone else. Finally, Jekyll explains that the character of Hyde is completely different; in a sense Jekyll lets Hyde do whatever he pleases, without the fear of consequences or society:
… the liberty, the comparative youth, the light step, leaping pulses and secret pleasures that I had enjoyed in the disguises of Edward Hyde.
Thus, the position of Hyde in the novel is grotesque and mysterious. He stands apart from the rest of the society; he is ugly, disturbing and unlovable. So, Jekyll is able to enjoy two positions in the society, one being in the centre and the other being on the extreme edge.
In conclusion, Stevenson conveys both his own rebelling and then escaping aspects in the novel. Stevenson rebelled by roaming the streets of Edinburgh at night and then escaped to Samoa. Stevenson also constructs the society to an odd proportion, by placing no women in it; this seems to reflect a classical hypocritical Victorian society. However, throughout the novel the atmosphere seems to be perfect for the Jekyll/Hyde situation and thus, makes the novel a fantastic read.