Good And Evil In The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde By Robert Louis Stevenson

Sigmund Freud was a neurologist in the 19th century but is known to modern society as one of the fathers of psychology because of his considerable impact within the science. Freud distinguished two theories which are interpreted to be ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ as the behaviour and morality of the male protagonists resemble the ideology.

Stevenson was captivated by the concept of psychology and the duality of the mind, as well as his own vivid dreams in which he had a hard time distinguishing. The book based on his dream was published a few years prior to Freud’s ‘Personality Theory’ but bears a distinct resemblance to Freud’s explanation of behaviour in terms of Stevenson’s split character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Tom Hubbard states that Freud’s model of the three structures of the human psyche is “essential in understanding the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde”. The three constituent parts he is referring to is the id, ego and super-ego which are a part of Freud’s ‘Personality Theory’, which was theorized in 1923. The id is the primitive and instinctual part of the unconscious mind that contains sexual and aggressive tendencies and repressed memories, the super-ego operates the moral principles and the ego is the realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego. The significance of this is that it relates to Dr. Jekyll attempting to control his primal tendencies in conjunction with the expectations of society, as the temptation and instincts of subjective freedom engulf his personality. In accordance with the book, the super-ego is represented as the expectations of society and conventional morality and how primitive instinct can overcome it and what relief yet chaos it can cause.

Although the ‘unconscious’ is not palpable in ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, the act of conscious physical and psychological repression is. The book is narrated through a monotonous, pessimistic yet trust-worthy character who goes by the name of Gabriel Utterson. Utterson’s purpose is to represent the embodiment of Victorian ideals of the society in which the book is set and to provide a character of supposed mental stability to compare to Dr. Jekyll’s flawed psyche.

Masculinity was a vital factor in Victorian civilization and so consequently, great amounts of pressure were put up onto men to upkeep the ideals of how a man should behave and think. The Victorian expectation was for men to appear respectable and so they were advised to repress many passions and enjoyments to belong in the glorified role of virility. Utterson is a victim of this as he gives up certain luxuries to remain at a high societal standard, resulting in hiding few from the public eye (“He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone”).

An alternate form of suppression in the novella is homosexuality. In the year 1885, the year in which Stevenson was still writing this tale, British Parliament outlawed homosexuality through Section 11 of the criminal law amendment act under the term ‘gross indecency’ which was primarily to prosecute this sexuality. In an early draft of the book, Stevenson had Dr. Jekyll confess “from a very early age, however, I became in secret the slave of disgraceful pleasures”. The subtlety of this phrase hinted at Dr. Jekyll’s repressed homosexuality or the act of masturbation, but because of the ambiguity of the remark, a Victorian audience would have disapproved, concluding the worst scenario - which would have been the fact that Dr. Jekyll was homosexual. This being removed from the published version does not suggest that Dr. Jekyll was heterosexual, but more the fact Stevenson had to censor or mask his symbolism of sexuality more effectively. Stevenson was not believed to be homosexual as he had a loving relationship with his with Fanny, and had devoured into hiring female prostitutes, but Scottish poet Andrew Long once said Stevenson was “possessed, more than any man I ever met, the power of making other men fall in love with him”. Stevenson used the term in the quotation draft ‘early age’ defending that homosexuality is innate and so not culturally transmitted or taught, but his views were too heinous for a Victorian audience so instead removed the phrase from the novella and found other ways to express homosexuality in ways a modern audience would notice. Homosexuality was seen as a mental illness that went against the notions of masculinity and threatened the family structure, and so homosexuals were viewed as being possessed by the devil as they were going against the Bible (“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable”).

An assumption between the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that to the surrounding characters in the book, they seem to be suspiciously close, almost in a relationship (as the characters are unaware they are the same person). This is provided by the fact that Jekyll leaves Hyde the keys to his home and the entirety of his will to him. The analysis is that instead of Jekyll being completely separate from Hyde, Hyde is in-fact his freedom of sexuality wanting to break free from oppression but the monstrous appearance presents how unethical society thought it was to explore sexuality thus drove Jekyll to end his external feud with his sexuality in killing himself as he could no longer control who he was internally. Within the final chapter of the story, Stevenson reveals “It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were thus bound together”. The now-modern derogatory term ‘faggots’ in reference to homosexuals was first recorded in publishing in a new context very shortly after the novel was published.

Stevenson’s signifying language, Hyde’s criminal ambiguity, and the Gothic genre being used commonly to hide social issues in the 19th century, all point to the high probability of Jekyll’s duality actually being that of his sexuality and less so of what is truly good and evil. 

09 March 2021
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