The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

What would evil look like if it had a face? It seems that we often imagine beasts and monsters as being animalistic versions of humans, perhaps because a quasi-animal form of a human is a frightening image in spite of all its deformities. Naturally then, as a respond to the fear we hold for these kinds of creatures, we would imagine them to be evil. Playing with the quasi-animal form, Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: a work that used satire to suggest the dual nature of humans, where attempts of humans to be civil and virtuous are shadowed by the desires to pursue immoral pleasures and engage in less civil acts.

In the novel, a lawyer by the name of Mr. Utterson, is examining a strange will that his friend Dr. Jekyll has left behind for a mysterious Edward Hyde upon disappearing. At first, Mr. Utterson is almost offended that the entirety of Jekyll’s possessions have been left for Hyde, but his curiosity overtakes him as he begins to investigate this Mr. Hyde that suddenly seems to have appeared in town. Through the course of the book, Utterson discovers that Edward Hyde is actually Jekyll himself, though with a new appearance. Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that allows him to transform into Mr. Hyde, a quasi-animal being that has criminal urges to do evil rather than good. Dr. Jekyll’s purpose for creating such a potion is to be able to satisfy his evil desires without having to feel shame because as Stevenson writes, “Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, [is] pure evil” and therefore does not feel shame for doing evil. Jekyll takes this potion whenever he wants to satisfy his evil urges, but gradually begins to discover that he can no longer keep from turning into Edward Hyde. He struggles to find the ingredient he needs to permanently return to his state as Dr. Jekyll, and becomes Hyde more and more often, until he has permanently transformed into Hyde, thus concluding the reason for Jekyll’s disappearance.

Stevenson portrays Edward Hyde as a quasi-animal that is closer to a savage rather than a man in order to exaggerate the face of evil. Although none of the characters in the book think of Hyde particularly as an animal, Stevenson characterizes him as having a “deformity without nameable malformation.” Stevenson also fits Hyde with traits that one would see in an animal rather than a human. He is shown to “[shrink] back with a hissing intake of breath,” upon being touched by Mr. Utterson on the back; a behavior that no civilized human being would display, and is characterized with adjectives such as being “savage” and “snarling” to depict his animalistic nature. After his first meeting with Mr. Hyde, Mr. Utterson even mentions that “the man seems hardly human! Something troglodytic, shall we say?” In the quote, Mr. Utterson compares Hyde to a creature that has not yet evolved into a human being to draw a metaphor between savages and evil, showing that evil is a trait a not yet evolved human would have.

Stevenson’s depiction of Hyde as a quasi-animal being with animalistic urges to kill is a satire on the human nature as he saw it in the eighteen hundreds. By depicting Hyde as more animal than human, Stevenson is able to argue that this animalistic nature hides within everyone the same way that Hyde was hiding within Jekyll before he took over. Furthermore, as an introduction to the book, Jenny Davidson writes that it was “the desire to appear virtuous [that] led [Jekyll] to the…splitting into two separate physical and moral bodies” (Davidson, xxxviii) pointing out that without the push of society to appear virtuous, Jekyll may never had had the need to, in the first place, split off his animalistic nature into another body. Thus, through his satirization of Hyde being the hidden beast within us all, Stevenson is making the argument that our developed society causes us to feel that the animal within our nature must be suppressed and hidden away from the public’s eye.

 

 

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