Student Response to Jekyll and Hyde

Jekyll & Hyde: two bodies vs. two minds

Victorian Obsession vs. Modern Obsession

During the Victorian period there was an obsession of sorts that followed the concept of the human body, externally and internally, which why stories such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll are so important. During the Victorian period, there was an emphasis put on the human body and how it works internally and externally. The fascinating thing is how people’s obsession with this phenomenon have changed and grown throughout the years. In the past there was an emphasis put on the grotesque and the unnatural while people still enjoy ogling these features there is a new obsession that focuses on mental health which can be seen in the more modern interpretations of stories such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

In Martin Danahay’s essay “Dr. Jekyll’s Two Bodies,” he discusses the term “mental clothes” and how Dr. Jekyll is able to act out his darkest thoughts by literally wearing the guise of anther person. ‘Mental clothes’ is described as a way to move “elegantly from a consideration of costume to a rumination on the many identities that could be concealed behind a human face.” Arguing that by transforming himself, Jekyll was able to bring out another side of himself that was still ultimately a part of him. In “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” we idea of another personality coming from on person –the idea of “two bodies” as described by Danahay is illustrated in a literal way by having Jekyll separate into two people.

However, this idea of ‘two bodies’ and ‘mental clothes’ is still heavily attached to an idea of mental health and how there are two sides to a person. Danahay argues that, “Mr. Hyde allows Dr. Jekyll to indulge his desires as if wearing a mask or costume.” Which is arguably the same as modern societies’ look on multiple personalities in media today. There are a number of instances in which writer’s create a story, using the same premise as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in order to tell a story about someone suffering from multiple personalities. As this kind of obsession with the human body has morphed into an obsession with the mind, the concept of “splitting into two selves” and being able to act as someone else has become popular in pop culture.

Instances such as this can be seen a variety of different mediums. Some such being that of television shows or films. Most recent would be the television show that recently started on CBS titled simply Jekyll and Hyde and while the setting and concept derives from the original work the change between Jekyll and Hyde happens and how they act as different people is the focal point rather than focusing on the two different bodies. While in the novel, Dr. Jekyll changes into a completely different person it is altered in the modern television show in the way that when angered Mr. Hyde’s personality appears and Dr. Jekyll’s self disappears. However instead of a seemingly different person taking the place of the doctor, it is a sudden shift in facial expression and mannerisms. Within the original story, there is an emphasis on the ugly appearance as well as ugly personality of Mr. Hyde however in the television show, while his personality changes, his appearance does not. This is due to the modern obsession with beauty and interest in mental illnesses. The idea of separating the self, rather than into two people such as in Stevenson’s original work, has become more relatable and palatable when in the form of mental health when presented in the form of a story.

This has also been seen in a Korean Drama Hyde, Jekyll and Me that aired last year in which the main male character suffers from having another personality –dissociative personality disorder- in which the main character changes when his heart rate increases. The relationship between the show and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ends with the title. While the new CBC show Jeykll and Hyde maintains some resemblance to the original work, the Korean show Hyde, Jekyll and Me completely deters from Stevenson’s novel both modern concepts take away the idea of “two bodies” and focus’ on multiple personalities and the way in which, as Danahay mentions, the character is able to act out their darker ‘self’ without necessarily being themselves.

The differences between these shows and the original work are the idea of Jekyll splitting into two bodies and “the conflict not just within the psyche of one person, but between two different bodies.” (Danahay) Throughout the novel, there is a sense of there being the same person who has simply changed into someone else but that is not the case. While it is true that Hyde came from Jekyll, they are still two different people. Many of the show’s that use Stevenson’s work as a model only focus on the idea of Hyde being another personality to Jekyll in order to justify the curiosity surrounding mental health.


Work Cited

Danahay, Martin. “Dr. Jekyll’s Two Bodies.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 35.1 (2013): 1-20. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror. London. Penguin Classics, 2002. 1-70. Print.

One thought on “Student Response to Jekyll and Hyde

  1. While you make interesting, and I think, valid, comments regarding modern interpretations of Jekyll and Hyde as more focussed on the exploration of multiple personality disorders rather than the body, the manner in which you discuss seems to suggest that the accompanying body has been completely abandoned by modern culture, which I would disagree with. As you note, our culture is gripped by an obsession with bodily health and fitness, an obsession that to me has grown out of, rather than is diametrically opposed to, Victorian fascinations with the grotesque. Sadly, our culture participates in the shaming of “unhealthy” bodies. Overweight bodies in particular have become the new “freaks” with shows such as “My 600 Pound Life” and “The Biggest Loser” becoming the new culturally-accepted freakshow. Moreover, our own paranoia regarding the political-correctness of how we refer to “other” types of bodies, such as little people, reveal that the judgement and categorization of bodies that do not meet statistical norms is still very much alive. We however, that is Western culture, are so afraid of our own prejudices and have developed such a sense of superiority that rather than confront these fears head-on we relegate them to the wings of the stage and cover it up with lofty excuses like, bodies are no longer the requisite focus of study, it is all about the mind. We pretend we are above displaying disfigured or abnormal bodies, but really we are just so afraid of our fascination and what it says about our so-called superiority that we exclude the truly “other” from art, and in doing so have created divisions within our own selves: we have the politically-correct Jeyklls that we show to the world, and the perverse Hydes we transform into in the privacy of our home where we can indulge our fascinations in safety of the anonymous internet.


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