Jekyll and Hyde: Repression and Expression

by JeeHae Ahn

Written for Liberal Arts Freshman Seminar: The Doppelganger (LARTS 221, Fall 2010)

    Contrary aspects of self—conflicts between one’s public self and private self or one’s need to hide secrets and one’s desire to tell them—often act as catalysts that help people develop psychologically and become balanced and whole. However, when people try to deny that these oppositions exist, they can create major problems: “When a period of crisis challenges or shatters the very psychological or social structures designed to keep [one’s] fears and desires hidden, the doppelganger, a ghostly image of a person’s deepest fear or desires, arises and haunts the person, demanding acknowledgement if not complete acceptance” (Keppel). In Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll faces a conflict between his public persona and his need to express his essential self. Finally, this tension becomes so great that he creates his double, Mr. Hyde, to relieve the pressure. However, the fact that he still must keep his identity a secret makes the problem even worse. Stevenson, therefore, shows that psychological development depends on a full recognition and public admission of the whole self.

    From the point of view of Victorian society, which often placed an excessively high value on moral conduct, Jekyll is a perfect example of a successful man. Not only is he a man of great renown, a well-respected doctor around the community, but he also is known for his polite manners, generosity, and good conduct. According to societal standards in which one’s goodness, as it appears outwardly, becomes identical to one’s rightness in introspection, Jekyll’s civility is the one and only characteristic that wholly defines him as a human being. In order to meet societal expectations and to satisfy his own desire to gain fame, Jekyll exposes only his “good” qualities before the public, hiding his private “undignified” pleasures, probably involving drinking and philandering. In turn, the more he becomes accepted by the outside world, the more repressed he feels within himself: “Many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me, I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame” (103). While others express such pleasures without hesitation, Jekyll acts against the dispensation of a human being’s natural expression, considering it to be an absolute stumbling block that would prevent him from gaining worldly fame. He represses his private desires so much and wants the sordid things so badly that he finally faces a challenge: whether to keep his private figure hidden or to reveal it openly and thus be judged by his society. Jekyll stands at a crossroads, a decision point: if he continues to enjoy his pleasures secretly, he will be tormented by guilt; if he confesses them, he will feel better but must suffer societal rebuke.

    While conflicted within, Jekyll, the hypocrite, finds a solution to this dilemma: to express himself as Mr. Hyde, his doppelganger, by taking a potion he has devised. At first the expression seems a huge success in that he finally feels free: “I felt younger, lighter, happier in body . . . a solution of the bonds of obligation . . . I stretched out my hands, exulting in the freshness of these sensations” (106-107). Jekyll feels exhilarated transforming into Hyde because he can release all constraints simply by being a secret, hidden figure who mostly works during the night to avoid public gaze. Hyde is also so much smaller, slighter, and younger than Jekyll is that he becomes more “undignified” and guiltless by the benefit of these advantages. By separating his “good” and “bad” aspects, as society labels them, Jekyll experiences freedom from the prudish, sanctimonious aspects of Victorian society.

    However, Jekyll does want to remain tied to the worldly side of existence where he can receive widespread appreciation of his value. He takes the precaution of seeing that all of his property will transfer to Hyde in case of his “disappearance.” Further, he values his worldly success as a “transcendental” scientist to the point of vanity; he feels the “constellations [look] down upon [him] . . . with wonder, the first creature of that sort their unsleeping vigilance had yet disclosed to them” (107). Later, he taunts his “narrow and material” friend, Lanyon, as someone “who has derided [his] superiors” in transcendental science. Jekyll also feels he—the part of himself concerned with maintaining his superficial role in Victorian society—is in total control of his baser self, transforming into his creation whenever or wherever he desires: “ . . .the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde” (58).

    Although the initial purpose of his science was only to free himself from social pressure, to hide himself from society, Jekyll’s self-centered materialism and lavish pride in himself ultimately present a chance for the selfish aspects of his character to take over his “good” qualities. Ironically, the more Jekyll sets himself free as Hyde, the stronger and darker Hyde grows: “That child of Hell had nothing human; nothing lived in him but fear and hatred” (120). Hyde not only bears a detestable and horrifying outward appearance but also increasingly crosses social boundaries, trampling a girl and killing Sir Danvers Carew merely because he expressed himself with the outward civility and politeness characteristic of Jekyll himself. Hyde has become so excessively monstrous and self-centered that Jekyll comes to a stage where he finds himself unconsciously transformed into Hyde without taking the potion (112). Jekyll has intentionally maintained his goodness under Hyde, yet the doppelganger now dominates and destroys Jekyll: “It was on this side that my new power tempted me until I fell in slavery” (109). Jekyll had been certain that he would remain in control, not Hyde, but this very desire for control leads to Jekyll’s being under the absolute domination of his own creation because the conflict between the “dignified” ideal and the reality of Hyde’s behavior grows worse.

    Neither Jekyll nor Hyde succeeds in repressing the other. Ironically, although Jekyll wants to express his private desires by transforming into Hyde, it becomes increasingly impossible for Hyde to appear in public at all: Hyde represents a pure evil, a deviant that society neglects to praise. In other words, Hyde, who is a means for Jekyll to release what has been kept down, in fact, can now be expressed only in secret.

    In contrast to this ironic resolution, Stevenson offers the readers better advice as to how to resolve the tension between one’s public and private selves, by unfolding the story from Mr. Utterson’s point of view until the last two chapters. Describing Utterson early on as someone whose countenance was “cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment . . . yet somehow lovable . . . something eminently human beaconed from his eye . . .” (37), Stevenson suggests that readers, who are also at this point neutral and unbiased witnesses, might share in Utterson’s rational impressions. Therefore, when the narration is solely focused on Utterson, it also seems to be from the reader’s point of view. When the normally repressed, solitary figure of Utterson starts to get interested in the relation between Jekyll and Hyde, and begins to look for Hyde, he now becomes a person who asks questions of people he is not even close with. He begins “digging at the problem” until not only his intellect but also “his imagination [becomes] engaged, or rather enslaved” (48). He even dreams about Hyde, waking with “a singularly strong, almost inordinate, curiosity to behold the features of the real Mr. Hyde. … ‘If he be Mr. Hyde,’ he had thought, ‘I shall be Mr. Seek.’” (49).

    In this way, readers, too, are invited to explore the same emotional feelings and curiosity in regards to Jekyll and Hyde. This feeling of unity between the character inside the fictionalized story and the readers outside that world suggests a way of becoming whole: explore the inner self honestly and tell the story. Throughout the narrative, Utterson has advised Jekyll to “make a clean breast of [Jekyll’s case] in confidence” (57), but Jekyll remains silent and hidden, even saying that “it is one of those affairs that cannot be mended by talking” (57). Finally he does reveal his private, mysterious secrets in the last chapter, “Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case.” In this letter to Utterson, Jekyll reveals the conflict between his public and private selves that caused him to create his double, as well as how his vanity and materialism in the end transferred more and more power to Hyde, who even as Jekyll writes is taking final control. Thus, although Jekyll eventually brings out what has been concealed underneath his public persona—the dark, violent, and evil soul—the point is that it comes too late; at the end of his full statement, he “bring[s] the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end” (124).

    However, the readers and Utterson, who are both holding the letter in their hands at the end of the story—staring at the blank space from which the face of Hyde stares back—can take this conflict as advice to bring one’s inner conflicts to a crisis and to find a way to express them. Unlike Jekyll, who is aware of the conflict within himself (his repressed “undignified” nature) but cannot do anything about it, it is never too late for Utterson and the readers to learn from Jekyll’s case. We may have desires to repress and to express at the same time; however, it is a question of how well and how honestly we understand and acknowledge the duality of our public and private selves, and how openly we are willing to speak about it. In order to avoid letting Hyde-like doppelgangers arise and take control, we must strive to understand the nature of the qualities we repress and how we can best express them in reality.

Works Cited

Keppel, Patrick. “Course Syllabus: Liberal Arts 221: Freshman Seminar—The Doppelganger”. Fall 2010. Print.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York: Signet Classic, 2003. Print.


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