Student Response to Jekyll and Hyde

What struck me immediately about the character of Edward Hyde was the inconclusive and metonymical nature of Stevenson’s various descriptions. Hyde kept appearing in the text as an indistinct “Figure” (Stevenson 40-41), a “dwarfish” (43) being, “walking swiftly” and “glid[ing] through dark streets (40). He is reduced to “odd, light footstep[s]” (41) at several scenes, and Enfield is unable to provide clear physical descriptions of the man, though he admits to having seen his face clearly (38). Hyde is equally a striking evil presence and an indistinct, partially shadowed figure of mystery. Both of these qualities present him as the opposite of the well-known, respectable and strong presence of Dr. Jekyll.

I knew that Hyde was the evil ‘alter ego’ of Jekyll before I started the book, but I was struck by the way that Hyde was described as somehow less than human, less than a whole person. Martin Danahay discusses this idea in his article “Dr. Jekyll’s Two Bodies,” stating that Hyde, as a “separable self” of Jekyll, is a class-based stereotypical embodiment of the “degenerate” type (24). Jekyll must put on the body of a lower class citizen in order to pursue his more instinctive desires (Danahay 24). This aligns with my observation that Hyde is somewhat less than human, only part or shadow of the respectable English gentleman. His evil and reckless actions point to that, but so do the many physical descriptions of his appearance. And most significantly for me were the descriptions that gave no conclusive, imaginable image.

Danahay goes on to discuss the character of Hyde as making “public the face of masculine desire” by embodying the antithesis of what an English gentleman is (27, 30). He compares the body of Hyde to a kind of mask which Jekyll can use whenever he wishes (Danahay 30). Jekyll does treat his ability as a disguise of sorts, a means to replace his own identity with a lighter, liberated one: “I had but to drink the cup, to doff at once the body” (Stevenson 80).

But to me, Hyde becomes more than a mask for Jekyll by the end. As Danahay notes, as Jekyll’s habit becomes more and more regular, his body becomes less and less stable (25). To me, this shows that Jekyll may be more Hyde than anything else. Because he has been exploring the darker sides of his own being, those parts become more and more outwardly noticeable; he cannot control his transformation any longer, and begins to find the change occurring unexpectedly: “I began to spy a danger that, if this were much prolonged, the balance of my nature might be permanently overthrown…the character of Edward Hyde become irrevocably mine” (Stevenson 82).

The shadowy, incomplete, and light stepping body of Hyde is analogous to the ease with which Jekyll’s darkest indulgences become uncontrollable. That ease reveals that the body of Hyde may be the ultimately true one. As Danahay notes, Dr. Jekyll’s respectable appearance and gentlemanly “conduct of the body” is a constructed facade, used to cover and restrain the deeper parts of the human psyche (24).

One thought on “Student Response to Jekyll and Hyde

  1. Dr. Jekyll is outwardly the perfect gentleman, yet Mr. Hyde is the dark secrets that Dr. Jekyll lives out through his transformation to Mr. Hyde. I think that is partially behind the vague description of Hyde. He is brutish and dwarfish yet difficult to describe beyond that brief description. Is his description by Jekyll’s friend purposely vague so that he does not recognize his own suppressed desire that is reflected in Hyde’s activities? Does he not look too close for fear of what he may see something of himself in the indulgences that Jekyll is only allowing himself through his transformation to Hyde? Social status appears to be the mask in this novel while Hyde’s personality the hidden truth. Does not Hyde live in a seedy part of London that is populated people who give in to their dark side?

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