Jekyll and Hyde - Stevenson's Purpose?Watch
But yeah, the duplicity of man, brutality lurking beneath apparent respectibility, that kind of thing.
Just out of interest, what do people think Stevenson's purpose for 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' was? To attack duplicity in Victorian London? To comment on the intrinsic façade of the human personality? What do you all think?
There are some more obvious issues that have not been mentioned yet: London as a setting, and in particular the city's affect on human behaviour (notice how much of Mr Hyde's actions are done by night, and how London now has street lights and how they are described, for example); the role of science in modernity, and in particular its inability to account for the transcendental (notice how soon Dr Lanyon dies soon after finding about Dr Jekyll's experiments, and also his first name gives you a clue about his personality); and, more broadly, issues of 'psychology' which was an emerging field at this point in time - this is where issues on the double and moral issues come in. It is not enough to suggest that Stevenson criticised duplicity in nineteenth-century British society; lots of writers did this and far more effectively than Stevenson, and it is an issue which has existed since the Renaissance and continues to be a problem for us even now.
A really good text to read alongside Stevenson's is Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Double (1846). You may want to contrast Dostoevsky's schizophrenic character with Dr Jekyll', and draw conclusions about psychological issues (i.e. Dostoevsky) and systematic ones (i.e. Stevenson), remembering that Dr Jekyll wanted to polarise his identities into good and bad.
This is further complicated by the point that duality is actually singularity. There is no distinctive Mr. Hyde and distinctive Dr. Jekyll: Dr. Jekyll is both and both are Dr. Jekyll.Put simply when we meet Mr. Hyde in the novel who we are meeting is Dr. Jekyll in the form and psyche of Mr. Hyde. The real murder of Sir Danvers Carew is Dr. Jekyll in the form and psyche of Mr. Hyde.
Stevenson once observed that the true theme of the novella is "that damned old business of the war in the members.” That conflict is one of good vs evil within each human being. When Jekyll began his experiment that was his purpose: to separate these two elements of the human condition and destroy man’s inherent evilness. Although Lanyon was outraged by such an endeavour, it was still a noble endeavour. However Jekyll’s selfishness destroyed that endeavour. Once the experiment succeeded Jekyll gave up his intention and instead used the Hyde psyche to disguise himself and room the streets of Soho for his own pleasure without being able to be identified and detected.
Another theme is that of the pleasures of sex. Through voyerism Jekyll is able to observe the sexual acts of others. There is no evidence whether he partakes in any acts himself. What is true - and likely to be the influence of Fanny his wife, early drafts were much more explicit. Sir Danvers Carew was originally a young homosexual called Lensome. It is understood in the early draft Lensome propositioned Jekyll/Hyde and that is why he was attacked and killed. Part of that theme still exits in the present draft. Read closely Jekyll/Hydes’s reactions as Carew is speaking to him. Even though this theme has been toned down Jekyll/Hydes’s voyerism makes clear that sex is still an important issue in the novella.
Psychoanalysis and psychology are at the heart of this novella. Not everyone is aware of how well read RLS was on the subject. There was hardly a book on the subject he had not read before writing the novella. Through the split personality of Jekyll/Hyde Stevenson was exploring the mind and the various urges that are part of a person’s life. When Jekyll first drinks the potion he comments “that night I had come to the fatal crossroads.” This “crossroads” was that the “no-man’s land” between a human beings 'good' and 'evil' selves. Through his novella Stevenson gave fictional form to an emerging crisis of the late-nineteenth century: the perception that the race itself was succumbing to degenerative tendencies that threatened the very fabric of society. Jekyll’s initial endeavour had been to establish a solution to that dilemma. However by undertaking this experiment Jekyll explored within society, Jekyll was also establishing the means to identify - and later if wished - to pursue what could then be defined as the “abnormal” and “criminal type” within any society. Through the novella Stevenson makes clear that to meddle with and shape the mind of a human being was dangerous. What Jekyll learns towards the end - and at a point that is too late - you cannot control such experimentation. Too late Jekyll realises that not only is the Hyde psyche becoming stronger than his own psyche it is now destroying things that Jekyll treasures. The writing of his “Full Statement” is an effort to describe what had been his purpose. Jekyll was aware that the Hyde psyche had to be destroyed and to do so Jekyll knew he had to destroy himself also.Put simple RLS creates a theme whose meaning is a warning that to meddle with the mind is dangerous and can permanently changed a person’s identity. A lesson Jekyll did not understand until it was too late.
I have always understood Lanyon’s opposition to Jekyll’s experiment was about the dangerous illogic about such an experiment. However it is possible that what also alarmed Lanyon was that through such research it might be possible to classify one type of human being from that of another. We only need to look at the history of the early twentieth century to see where these kinds of ideas led. I am not suggesting Stevenson foresaw early twentieth century history, he did not. However the themes explored in the novel were indeed put to practical purpose in the early twentieth century.