Friday, 2 December 2016

Essay 6: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

This essay discusses the relevance of the novella 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' in Victorian England and in the 21st century. This text is particularly interesting, for it is an extended metaphor that is a beautiful analysis of human psychology. It deals with two faces of a human: the outwardly facade of sophistication, and the innate yet suppressed feral instincts. 

‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson can be called an evergreen classic for one key reason. The central theme of the good and evil that resides within man is highly pertinent, and is prevalent in every era. This novella explores the idea of the ‘facade’ one commonly puts up in order to be accepted in society and become well respected, however, this show of being sophisticated and civilised is a mere veneer. In Victorian England, this novel came to be of immense relevance under the light of the industrial revolution, wherein several immigrants travelled to England. On one hand where the society was advancing and becoming more modern, crime rates were soaring simultaneously. This revealed how civilization and savagery share an inextricable link, and the more one suppresses one’s desires, the stronger they emerge, and thus, their repercussions can be catastrophic.

Stevenson employs characters such as Lanyon, Enfield and Utterson to represent the quintessential Victorian man. They are all steadfast rationalists, who privilege reputation above all. The Victorian society in particular, considered prestigiousness to be paramount. Hence scandal and controversy were things one would prefer to avert at all times, for “no gentleman but wishes to avoid a scene”. Other characteristics of the ‘Ideal Victorian Man’ were to suppress their desires, and remain loyal to preserving the reputation of their friends, Utterson being an apparent representation of the same. Utterson was a man who “never marked a shade of change in his demeanour”. He too suppressed his desires, for even though he “enjoyed the theatre, (he) had not crossed the door of one in twenty years”. However, by virtue of the fact that he decides to investigate this case as an amateur detective, Stevenson reveals to us that he too possessed a furtive curiosity towards the more sordid aspects of life. This holds relevant in today’s day and age as well, for even though people appear to be well-mannered and sophisticated on the surface, everyone is governed by impulse, and is attracted to the supposedly ‘immoral’ side of life at some point or the other.

Jekyll on the other hand, is a man who has lived “nine-tenths a life of effort, virtue and control”. He too, like any other person, is forced to “conceal his pleasures” in order to establish himself in society. He manages to attain success too, for on the surface, he is a “smooth faced, well built” , ideal Victorian man. However eventually he comes to realise the fact that “man is not truly one, but truly two”, the second half being a side that craves to satiate desires and is governed by impulse, however if it were to surface, it would shatter one’s hard-earned social standing. In Jekyll’s desperation to attain freedom from moral restraint, he “managed to compound a drug “ that freed him from the “disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil”. This drug gave birth to the unscrupulous character of Hyde, who “alone in the ranks of mankind was pure evil”. Stevenson employs Hyde as a symbol, a manifestation of desire and irrationality, who only does things that please himself, and this is made so easy for him only due to the fact that there is no threat to his reputation whatsoever.

By virtue of delineating Hyde and his mindless indulgence in repugnant crimes, Stevenson taps into the Freudian psychodynamic concepts of the ID theory and the ego and super ego theories, that hold true even today. the ID theory is represented by Hyde, a character who seeks instant gratification and has an aggressive instinct with no particular motive behind his actions. The  Ego Theory is represented by Jekyll, who is conscious and rational, being dominated by social principles and dictates. Lastly the Super Ego theory is manifested by the morals of the Victorian society, which prided itself on its goodness and refinement, and hence is traumatised to see the nonchalance with which Hyde indulges in his debaucheries.

Stevenson uses this novella as an opportunity to criticise the Victorian society that held eminence so high in esteem, that it became oppressive and unbearable. Jekyll’s urge to separate his evil self completely, is engendered from his desperation to satisfy his impulses due to the overbearing importance placed on concealing one’s desires in this society. At first this prospect “braced and delighted (Jekyll) like wine”. However his evil self became uncontrollable, and “Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde”, and his “insensate readiness to evil”. Eventually, Jekyll was slowly “losing hold of his original and better self”. The powers of Hyde only grew with the “sickliness of Jekyll”, and Hyde subjugated him.

Stevenson uses this as an analogy to illuminate the repercussions of repressing one’s desires. He uses this to make his readers see the importance of remaining in touch with our true self, for the more it is repressed, the more boisterous will it become. This is reiterated by the appalling Carew murder, a crime of “singular ferocity”. The murder served to show how Hyde was overcome by a rather unnerving sense of fulfilling his impulses, due to which he behaves in a completely irrational manner, driven by no apparent purpose or motive. The point is hammered home by multiple references of Hyde to an “ape” or “troglodyte” which serves to increase the fear with which Victorian’s regard Jekyll tenfold, due to Darwin’s theory of evolution, which also offered the possibility of recidivism and engendered the fear of atavism in the minds of the Victorian readers. This proves to be a particularly potent tool in accentuating how grotesque and ugly one’s desires could become if they are suppressed. Hyde’s impact on Jekyll serves to show the disquietude this can result to, and the sense of remorse only creeps in once it is too late. Jekyll is “aghast” at what he commits in the form of Hyde, for it is nothing but a manifestation of his own desires. Hence, in this manner this story becomes germane to the present, for it serves to prove how repressing one’s desires excessively only serves to make them a more lethal force when they do finally surface.

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