Discuss the ways in which Robert Louis Stevenson explores the theme of duality in the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ was written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886 and knowingly or not he entwined it with the theme of duality all through the book. Evidence of this can be found all through the book, such as Dr Jekyll being kind, respectable and intelligent while Mr Hyde is brutal, despised and pure evil.
Duality can be described as ‘two fundamental principles, often in opposition to each other’ and this is found frequently throughout the book. Another way of putting it is that duality is ‘a classification into two opposed parts or subclasses’. This is important as Jekyll and Hyde differed greatly in attitude and form, showing duality.
Stevenson’s childhood is a big factor in the theme of duality. He suffered from breathing problems, was undernourished and smaller than most, which was similar to Hyde leading many people to speculate that he based it on himself, though there is no evidence of that. Robert Louis Stevenson was brought up by a strictly religious nurse called ‘Cummy’ who made him believe that he could go to hell every night, resulting in him finishing most sentences with ‘if I am spared’ shows he thought he could be, like Hyde.
Stevenson’s father was a famous engineer and lived in the new part of Edinburgh; he was therefore born into a rich family and of higher class, which could be related to Jekyll. Apparently, he became curious of the old city and started exploring at night, walking through slums and even visiting brothels, this blurs the difference between higher and lower classes. He continued his education to university where he followed his father and studied engineering.
The story was set in Victorian London where there was a different type of society, a very class conscious society where people strived to promote a good name for themselves and try to separate themselves from anyone who could damage it. They also regarded their name as their rank of respect so fiercely protected it. For example Dr Jekyll represents good, respectable men, while Hyde lives in the slums and his name is rejected all round the city after his trampling of a small girl and the suspected murderer of Carew.
The theme of duality runs throughout the book and an example is the setting, though Stevenson was raised in Edinburgh and the film set in London, there are many similarities. For instance, he grew up in the 1950’s when Edinburgh was divided and the working class lived in the older part of the city, the slums where there was a lot of crime. Stevenson grew up in the new part of Edinburgh where the streets were mapped out to be well lit and expensive housing; this is alike to Jekyll who lives in posh part of London and Hyde in the older part.
Jekyll’s house expresses duality as well with the posh, open front door but has an old laboratory attached to the back with a side door and Hyde has the key, also Jekyll’s house looks nice and attractive but the laboratory is old and horrible. Another reason is that you cannot tell from the outside that they are the same house because of their two very different doors, the back one was ‘blistered and distained’ whereas the front ‘wore a great air of wealth and comfort’ this greatly reflects the difference between Jekyll and Hyde.
Yet Hyde’s house in Soho is also a reflection of duality as his house is in a ‘dingy street’, it is mainly empty apart from the maid, but then he has used a couple of rooms which he had ‘furnished with luxury and good taste’ a closet of good wine, ‘carpets of many plies and agreeable in colour’ this is clearly out of character and shows how Stevenson explores duality in the unlikeliest of places.
It was not only Jekyll and Hyde that have a theme of duality in, Stevenson’s other book ‘The Body Snatcher’ which has a respectable doctor, who wanted bodies to examine and the legal amount of convicted criminals did not measure up to their needs. Therefore, he went to the black market and got bodies, eventually ending up doing it himself. This showed that Stevenson had explored the theme of duality before his book on Jekyll and Hyde.
Even from the very beginning Stevenson is introducing duality with Mr Utterson being ‘Lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable’. He uses four adjectives to get the readers attention by using two similar pairs and then a contrasting finish. ‘Yet somehow lovable’ gives the image of a kind, matured man who has a multitude of views about him. This again echoes the theme of duality and starts to bring in the duality of a character.
The characters emphasise the duality in their appearance with Hyde being ugly and deformed, Utterson describes him with ‘he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation’ showing Hyde to be repulsive and his ‘long scrawny fingers’ which are associated with the lower class, whereas Dr Jekyll is described as being quite large showing that he has money to spend on food, he has a well-made smooth face of fifty which is ‘ large and handsome’ this means that he has looked after himself. The duality shows again as Jekyll is quite large and gives off a gentle aura compared to Hyde who is dwarfish and gives off a feeling of repulsiveness.
Mr Utterson was the very first example of duality with him as he is ‘never lighted by a smile’ yet ‘somehow lovable’ showing that he has two sides to his character. Another example is in his friends, he and Mr Enfield are very different characters, Mr Utterson is very popular around town. He is also involved with the town. On the other hand Mr Enfield was always quiet and didn’t do anything around the town, yet they were always together. This again shows duality in the characters and makes you think everything has duality and this may have been what Stevenson was aiming for.
Another example is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s personalities; Dr. Jekyll was a smart, polite, and kind person. While Mr. Hyde was a person who liked to have fun, he was a rude and an evil person. This shows duality as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was the same person. In the last chapter, that Jekyll wrote he says ‘Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures.’ He wrote saying that he was holding back his evil side which was the one that gave him enjoyment. Also in the same letter he says ‘…I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, I was both.’ In the same chapter he says he had gone to bed as Jekyll but woken up different ‘It was the hand of Edward Hyde.’
Duality appeared in all the characters, for instance Mr Hyde is pure evil yet Dr Jekyll is not completely good as he enjoyed being Mr Hyde and keeps turning back prompting the abuse of the potion and loss of control. Dr Lanyon is meant to be very mature of high respect and in a patient profession yet he and Mr Utterson talked about ‘growing curiosity’ and how even they find it hard to not want to know the truth on the spot, they became impatient. Mr Utterson not only became impatient but he was nosy, antisocial and completely went against his saying ‘I incline to Cain’s heresy’ showing that everyone has duality in some aspect.
Duality is even shown in character’s self-images with Jekyll losing control over Hyde seeing him clearly for the first time and his blood turns ‘exquisitely thin and icy’. ‘Exquisitely’ is usually used for something luxurious but Stevenson juxtaposed it with thin which is usually associated with poor living. Also blood is usually thick and strong so ‘thin’ must show some sort of weakness as he realises the loss of control. ‘Exquisitely could also have been used to describe Hyde and show some sort of attachment to the side that had given him enjoyment in life. All these show that the two extremes of his nature cannot remain separate for much longer and one side would have to fold, the stronger, evil side takes over and starts to reach freedom.
Jekyll also said that the potion ‘severed me in those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound a man’s dual nature’. Stevenson used ‘severed to show that it was a sharp, swift cut of his two sides, the evil one and the good. He also uses ‘provinces to describe the personalities showing that they are not straight black and white lines but that the difference of good and ill can be faded and hazy. Jekyll believes that man has a dual nature and Stevenson may have put this in to implant ideas in your mind. Therefore, duality is expressed by Jekyll in his last chapter.
In conclusion, Stevenson explores the theme of duality in many ways through the duality of the setting, the characters and Stevenson’s life which was as split in two as Jekyll and Hyde.