The Existence Of Doppelganger in Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

The doppelganger has been defined as the alter ego, or other self, that resides within a person. It is this person’s double, a reflection of everything this person is not and of everything this person consciously or subconsciously represses and fears. For this reason, the doppelganger presents a threat to the self as it is an embodiment of negativity and of what the self-regards with disgust. The concept of the doppelganger can be applied in works of fiction (i.e. books as well as movies) to make a statement about a character. In the Harry Potter series for example, Voldemort could be seen as Potter’s doppelgänger in that he embodies everything Harry is not. Voldemort’s existence emphasizes that Harry is good but also suggests that there may be a repressed temptation for Harry to use his powers for evil. The Dark Lord could be a metaphor for the menacing self, the plausibility of the existence of an evil side to Harry that is being repressed. In Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the main character, Dr. Henry Jekyll, pursues research on the duality of man and in the process discovers that he has an evil alter ego, Mr. Edward Hyde. This “Other” is the opposite of Jekyll; he is physically deformed and small, disfigured, mysterious and inherently evil. He commits violent and sexual acts, “undignified pleasures” (Stevenson 81). By analysing the development of Stevenson’s story from Mr. Utterson’s perspective, the reader will note that there are several instances in which the author hints at the possibility of Hyde being Jekyll’s doppelgänger before actually revealing that this is the case through Jekyll’s confession. It is important for the reader to note what Hyde represents for Jekyll’s character as well as what he metaphorically represents outside of the story’s context. In deconstructing The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the reader will note that the story expresses many different things about the concept of the doppelgänger: the use of an alter ego as an outlet for fulfilling perversions without compromising the self; the idea that a second self is exciting to man, giving life more value and meaning than if man was to simply exist as one person; the idea that Jekyll and Hyde act as a metaphor for man’s constant struggle between choosing to be good or evil; and finally, the idea that the house (more specifically the red baize door) is a symbolic metaphor for the doppelgänger and the self – the door separates the house just like the mind separates the two personalities.

Throughout the story, there are several foreshadowing clues that lead the reader to believe Jekyll and Hyde are the same person well before Utterson reads Jekyll’s confession. For example, Jekyll and Hyde are never in the same place at the same time and they are never seen together; the handwriting of the two is similar if not nearly identical; and Jekyll’s initial will bequeaths all his possessions to Hyde without explanation. For the purposes of this paper, the focus will be on a certain interaction between Jekyll and Utterson at a dinner party hosted by the doctor during which his lawyer attempts to question him about his will. After Utterson mentions Hyde, Jekyll becomes defensive and insists that Utterson would not understand the situation if he were to explain it. He puts an end to the discussion by adding that “the moment he chooses, he can be rid of Mr. Hyde”. Although this passage is not particularly foreshadowing of his confession, it is his ironic tone of certainty that leads the reader to wonder how he can be so sure. In this instance, the reader may begin to question if Jekyll and Hyde are one person. Once this is confirmed to the reader in Jekyll’s confession to Utterson, the reader is able to piece together that the doctor was using Hyde as a sort of outlet for emotions, needs and desires that he felt he could not express as Jekyll without compromising his reputation as a trusted doctor and good friend. Thus, it can be argued that the existence of Hyde allows for the “normality” of Jekyll. In other words, “Stevenson creates in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, two eternally opposed components that make up a ‘normal’ individual”. The conversation between Utterson and Jekyll at the dinner occurs while the doctor still believes he has complete control over his doppelganger; the ability to make him appear and disappear whenever he pleases. At the end of the story, Jekyll admits he was guilty of projecting his repressed desires onto Hyde and that he did not feel responsible for “drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from any degree of torture to another,” because he was never blamed for it, “waking up with his good qualities seemingly unimpaired to undo the evil done by Hyde”. Therefore, while Jekyll’s doppelganger was under control, his lifestyle went unaffected and he thrived, knowing that if he felt the need to “spring headlong into the sea of liberty,” he could simply transform himself and have Hyde deal with his desires. The freedom to change personalities without consequences is essentially what ensured Jekyll’s “sanity.”

Of course, as explained in the doctor’s confession, taking on the persona of Hyde did not exactly come without consequences. Stevenson’s story supposes that the notion of the second self is exhilarating given that it allows for a man to live as two separate people rather than only as one. In this sense, life becomes infinitely more valuable to man. The double or “monster” demonstrates to the man that “specific repetition, morphological regularity, successful structure are not necessary”. In other words, the Other convinces the self to live outside of the norm and to disregard social conventions. This is terrifying to the self because the discovery of the “monster” or the alter ego means that the self must accept that “life is less sure of itself than he thought”. Put differently, the existence of the doppelganger throws the self’s conceptualization of life into question, emphasizing the destabilization of its security. Having said this, although the acceptance of this new uncertainty about life is frightening to the self, it is also alluring and captivating; it promises a freedom that the self has never before experienced. As so put by Georges Canguilhem, “the monstrous is the reverse of the marvelous, but it is marvelous just the same”. To accept the “monstrous” or the doppelganger into the self’s life is to open a new world of possibilities for him. The “monstrous” allows the self to conceive that he is capable of “spontaneous transgressions beyond his own custom,” and this is thrilling to him. This can be applied to Jekyll and Hyde, where Jekyll’s own experiments and beliefs about the duality of man lead him to uncover his evil alter ego, which terrifies him at first but is also curious to him. Jekyll realizes that he can now let go of every repressed emotion, thought and deed through Hyde without worry and this fascinates him. The freedom Jekyll finds in Hyde soon becomes overpowering however, results in the doctor’s downfall. In channeling his doppelganger so often, Jekyll provokes the taking over by Hyde. In other words, every time Jekyll transforms himself into Hyde, the latter becomes more prominent and exercises a greater influence on Jekyll’s being. After preventing himself from transforming into his second self for two months, the doctor lets his doppelgänger loose, which seals Jekyll’s fate and finalizes Hyde’s takeover.

The point at which Jekyll believes he must choose between himself and Hyde mirrors man’s struggle to choose between being good or evil. Ultimately, Jekyll is not able to resist evil as he releases his demons through Hyde after months of keeping him at bay, resulting in the murder of Sir Danvers. This inability for Jekyll to remain at peace with himself without the use of Hyde as an outlet proves that he cannot exist as he wants to (respected doctor, good friend and colleague) without ridding himself of his perversions – which he cannot do without his doppelganger. This could be a metaphor for man being constantly tempted to sin and feeling as though he is unable to live a “normal” life without ever sinning. In repressing Hyde (and his darkest desires), Jekyll is “tortured with throes and longings” (Stevenson 86). It may be of interest to note why Jekyll feels that he cannot act on these “throes and longings” as himself. During the time in which Stevenson’s story is set – 19th century Victorian era – there existed a “struggle between the normative and transgressive embodiments of English masculinity,”. In other words, society categorized English men as either “normal” (men who were respected and obeyed strict social conventions) or “wrongdoers.” If one considers this when reading Jekyll and Hyde, Jekyll’s need to conceal his urges becomes more understandable. As a respected doctor, Jekyll would never be expected to embark on late night adventures to satisfy his pleasures. Therefore, in order to “plod in the public eye with a load of genial respectability” (Stevenson 80) while also being able to appease his compulsions, he created Hyde out of necessity. Cohen emphasizes that this time period defined masculinity and the “proper male character” as a Bourgeois man who embodied the “appropriate class-defined, nationally inflected gender attributes” (Cohen 182). That is to say, an upper-class man (such as a doctor) would be perceived by society a certain way and expected to adhere to certain social conventions (i.e. maintaining a rational and collected character). A man like Hyde however, younger and without a name for himself, had much more liberty. Thus, in order for Jekyll to stay Jekyll in society, there was a need for a second entity to exist and express and do what he could not.

On a separate note, the concept of the doppelganger is further exemplified in Stevenson’s story through the relationship between the house (particularly the red baize door) and the characters. Jekyll and Hyde’s house is separated into two different main parts; the operating theatre and the cabinet/laboratory. Dividing these two sections is a baize door, which also metaphorically divides Jekyll and Hyde’s personalities. Hyde resides in the basement (the cabinet) while Jekyll lives in the upper part of the house. What is particularly interesting about the door is that it is made out of baize, a felt material that was used during this time to separate the work (servants, maids, etc.) from the parts of the home that were open to the public, and also to suppress noises like pots banging in the kitchen. In the story, the door is undoubtedly used to shield the public eye “from what is base, hidden, and bodily – the private, chemical/mental realm of Jekyll’s cabinet”. It also metaphorically represents a portal between the two different identities. Gourlay notes that in breaking down the door to the cabinet, Utterson and Poole expose Jekyll and Hyde to one another which essentially kills them. The door could symbolically represent what holds the doctor and his twin together (the division separating one mind from the other) and tearing it down incites the clash and inevitable destruction of the two.

The existence and prominence of the doppelganger is proven throughout The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and this concept is employed in the story in a variety of different ways. Jekyll uses the doppelganger as a means of channeling his repressed desires (through Hyde he can do whatever he wants without any harm coming to him). The story also expresses that the second, “monstrous” self is terrifying yet exhilarating to man, making it all the more attractive and adding a value like no other to life. Moreover, the Victorian idolization of the “cool and rational” man who represses emotion reinforces the idea that Jekyll and Hyde are a metaphor for man’s struggle with good and evil or simply his battle with choosing to either adhere to the norm or defy it. Finally, Stevenson’s story expresses the idea that the door which divides the house into two parts is a metaphor for the mind, which separates the doppelgänger from the self. Jekyll’s use of Hyde allows him to live his life unsuspectingly as a doctor and respected colleague of Utterson and Lanyon. Much like a journal or a confidant, Hyde is an outlet for the urges and needs that Jekyll cannot satisfy as himself, in light of his social status. The discovery, followed by the birth of his alter ego is both frightening and captivating to Jekyll. The doppelgänger triggers a realization in the self that there exists a world of possibilities outside of the norm of society and creates another who is not afraid of pursuing these possibilities. Furthermore, part of the reason Jekyll is so relieved that he can express repressed emotions and desires through Hyde is due to the fact that the story is set in 19th century Victorian England, a period during which respectable English men (like doctors) were perceived a certain way by society and expected to comply with the social norm. Enter Hyde, a no-name who holds no social standing and who can do as he pleases without repercussions. Lastly and unrelated to the previous, the doppelganger concept takes a new form in the house and the baize door dividing Jekyll’s operating room from Hyde’s private office – a metaphor for the mind that separately holds both Jekyll and Hyde.

09 March 2021
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