Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) shows that both the respectable Dr. Jekyll and the sadistic Mr. Hyde accept responsibilities for their problems in many different ways, but none of which the text reveals to be the correct way.
During the age of the Victorian period, money, reputation, and emotion had great impact on judgment, rationality, and cognition. Therefore, people during that time period were easily swayed to committing the wrong act. Coincidentally, little is known about Jekyll and Hyde’s family and their childhoods, which could be the reason why they are unsure of how to apologize because after all, parents teach their children how to distinguish between right and wrong and how to amend mistakes.
A close analysis of three distinct problems caused by Mr. Hyde and Dr.
Jekyll — the recall of the trampling of the girl, the account of the Carew murder case, and the full statement of the suicide as Dr.
Jekyll — reveals the text’s ideal view of taking complete responsibility by critiquing Jekyll and Hyde’s attitude, conscience, and actions during these situations.
Parents teach their children to be responsible for their words and actions and that the damage done from impulses are irreversible. By extension, the text, which gives an account of Jekyll’s upbring, also points out that society can also be easily manipulated by money, reputation, and emotion, causing the general public to easily fail at showing pure sincerity and conscience. At about “three o’clock of a black winter morning,” Mr.
Enfield witnesses Mr. Hyde trample “calmly” over a girl (Stevenson 6-7). As Mr. Enfield recalls, “it wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut” (7). Enfield describes Hyde as a “Juggernaut” to serve as a binary function. Metaphorically, he sees Hyde as an overpowering, destructive, and unstoppable force (Wikipedia). However, his only vulnerability that threatens his existence and his seemingly unstoppable force is Jekyll, his other half.
Allegorically however, Mr. Enfield could be referencing the Jagannath Temple in Puri, India which is an original pilgrimage site for Hindus and thus implying an incredible force exerted by the Hindu god to trample on those who throw themselves before a chariot (Wikipedia). Yet even after committing such an immoral act, Hyde shows no remorse, leaving the girl crying on the road until Mr. Enfield collars him and brings him back to the “hellish” scene (7). Hyde makes no voluntary gestures to amend his wrongdoing until the disgusted crowd threatens to sully his reputation. Hyde’s evil appearance brings out the worse behaviors from the crowd: a “desire” to murder Hyde, the need to make a scandal, the duty to have his friends abandon Hyde, and the “longing for the sight of a policeman” (7). With all these hateful threats, Hyde compensates the girl with ten pounds in gold and a check for ninety pounds.
However, the text argues that there lies a major flaw in the person giving the apology and the person receiving it. Monetary compensation is definitely necessary for the girl to receive proper medical treatment, but this is a forceful act of apology in order to protect reputation and image. Driven by greed, the girl accepts the money without asking Hyde to meaningfully say “I’m sorry.” Here, the text implies that the act of amending a situation is a dual task that depends on the morality and the sincerity from both parties. Hyde should have first genuinely apologized before compensating rightfully and the girl should have only accepted the apology when she feels his genuinity. As shown, Hyde takes responsibility in the wrong way and for the wrong reason.
Almost a year later, Mr. Hyde commits more crime for pleasure. During a foggy October night, the maid narrates that she has never felt more at peace” or “thought more kindly of the world” (20). The streets are “brilliantly lit by the full moon,” allowing the maid to recognize Hyde from her master’s home. Like the first incidence, Hyde’s reappearance disrupts the peace and order. Here, the full moon serves dual purpose in a practical sense and in a superstitious sense. The moonlight pierces through the fog, and against all odds, allows the maid to clearly witness Hyde club the polite Sir Danvers Carew with his heavy cane “like a madman” (20).
Hyde acts like a prehistoric cave dweller, gripping his cane like a bat to mercilessly club another person (IAC Cooperation). Hyde disregards any sentimental value behind the cane which was a gift from Mr. Utterson and reinforces his “troglodytic” behavior (16).
In terms of superstition, however, the night of the full moon is the night when deformed human beings like werewolves would commit their most sinister act. Coincidentally, Hyde gives off “an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation” and commits his most heinous crime thus far into the novella (15). With “ape-like fury,” Hyde tramples the man the way he trampled the girl in the beginning, and does not stop until “the bones were audibly shattered” (20-21). During the crime with the girl, “it sounds nothing to hear” (7). The contrast of the sounds shows that the brutality and ferocity intensified. Again, Hyde flees as if he did not do anything unlawful, but this time no one stops him. And he stays hidden from the society as his way of temporarily erasing his evil, omnipresent existence from the world that despises his “unknown disgust” (15). However, the text implies that disappearance does not fix the damage that has already been done. Instead, Hyde should have voluntarily confessed to the police and willingly accept the punishment imposed by the judge and the justice system. Since he does not repent on his mistakes, his capacity for evil and mercilessness increase as he tramples person after person.
In Dr. Jekyll’s full statement of the case, Jekyll reveals his diminishing ability to prevent his repressed, evil side from making an appearance. After Jekyll realizes that Hyde is actually a “child of Hell” and “had nothing human,” Jekyll commits suicide, thereby killing both himself and Hyde (63). In the end, Jekyll sees the same image that the general public perceives Hyde as.
Here lies the juxtaposition, comparing how Jekyll and the public views Hyde with how Victorians view people with disabilities (Disabilities Study Quarterly). Victorians did not fear disabled people the way the general public fear Hyde because there were laws that exerted legal and social control to lock up people with disabilities. The doors of the jailhouse created a boundary between the “normal” and the “abnormal,” subduing the natural instinct to fear disabled people.
In the novella, Hyde’s door serves multiple functions and appears countless times throughout. In one stance, Hyde makes “straight for the door” and draws “his keys from his pocket like one was approaching home” (14). An opened door invites the reader to explore Hyde’s character through the spatial description of his home, functioning as the obvious purpose of an entrance to another world. Hyde also invites the reader to cross the threshold and scrutinize the boundary between the public life and the private life. On the other hand, a closed door entices the reader to imagine the unseen and unknown possibilities of a dead end or imprisonment, functioning as the purpose of an exit. In addition, his house door is symbolic to the jailhouse door, where if Hyde is inside, the evil is contained inside, but the moment he steps out, the evil monstrosity is unleashed. Like a Pandora’s box, Hyde is the source of the dreadful troubles that occur in the world, so that should be desperately contained within a box. And Jekyll is the controller of the release of this evil as long as his curiosity does not manipulate his rationale. Therefore, the exiting outside his dwelling allows the readers to explore Hyde’s curiosity, secrecy, and morality.
Although Jekyll sees his other half inhumane, committing suicide questions his ethical and moral decision making. Suicide is the wrong form of taking responsibility because one simply cannot exit the world without any remorse or repent. Jekyll acknowledges Hyde’s heinous mistakes and takes consequences for Hyde’s mistakes. However, Jekyll does not acknowledge his own mistake, which is his constant desire to unleash his young, wild, and high spirited other half. He is willing to accept the consequences, but for the incorrect reason and through the incorrect method. Therefore, the text shows that Jekyll should first decipher his real sin and then prudently repent. The moment he can differentiate right from wrong is the moment that distinguishes him from any other criminals. After repenting, Jekyll should then explore other practical ways of accepting consequences. Although suicide removes his existence from the world, and ultimately the evil in the world, it does not erase his mistake. His suicide can be seen as his easy way out of the problematic situation.
There are many reasons why readers are still drawn to the novella after many years since publication. The readers are captivated by the dark, gothic enchanted nature and the psychic reality that takes place during the Victorian period. It takes us outside the realm of the scientific reality. This is also a psychological thriller that addresses central questions about psychology in a fictional manner drawn from Victorian scientific beliefs. The novella is also written with a with a particular Victorian readership in mind with their own nineteenth-century “horizon of expectations” (Wikepedia). As readers, we have already established expectations based on reality, experience, and prior knowledge. Therefore, we interpret the text based on the current cultures, politics, and ideas, resulting in different, but flexible interpretations of the text. In addition to that, the text also warns us that we are all naturally Jekyll-like, desperately trying to keep our Hyde-like nature under control. We are all secretly fascinated by what we can do if the law does not restrain us and we are all envious of the frightening freedom from moral constraints. And lastly, the text implies the ideal way of taking complete responsibility and qualifies what responsibility is. Before committing wrongdoings, we should first be open to different moral and ethical approaches rather than acting rampantly based on our mood when it is the most irrational. Most importantly, if we do make a mistake, we should willingly own up to our mistakes, fully acknowledge our wrongdoings, seriously repent on ourselves, and then take proper actions to attempt to amend the situation. A full reflection of our mistakes also allows us to mature and lowers the likelihood of erring the same way again, which puts an end to the blame culture.