The Psychoanalysis and Symbolism of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson, one of the most popular prose writers of his time, opened a gateway into the combination of the mystery novel and the psychiatric case-study. While the author constantly uses the effects of criticism and psychoanalysis by efforts of symbolism, he relates the novella to a multitude of subjects surrounding the individual in Victorian society. The late Victorian years gave rise to a fictitious psychological representation known as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which the various aspects of psychopathology, morality and sociology each shares representation through the uses of direct and indirect symbolism and dramatic metaphor. Through these symbols, the author portrays the duality of man that hides behind moral standard, and as Henry Jekyll so insightfully claims, “all human beings… are commingled out of good and evil (Stevenson 1678).
Through the visual representation of the opposing identities of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and by the certain prior knowledge of the story from the reader, the novella identifies as first and foremost a psychological metaphor, rather than a mystery case. Though the aspects of uncertainty flow throughout the story, popular culture tells readers the basic premise of the novelist’s tale, eliminating such mystery to all but innocent readers. It remains accurate to suggest that Stevenson intended this strange case to come slightly short of a detective story, if even at first. During its time in the Victorian Era, this novella incorporates everything a mystery story conceals. The mystery, of course, concerns the identity and history of Mr. Hyde, while Mr. Utterson is utilized by the author as a representative detective noted as such by the characters own remark: If he be Mr. Hyde shall be Mr. Seek (1651). According to Richard scholar, the primary difference between a psychological case-study and a detective case involves the element of suspense (Scholar 47).
As this particular story shows, suspense engulfs its entirety, leading analysts, such as Scholar, to suggest the initial intent of Stevenson’s novella to pertain to that of a detective’s case of fantastic elements (47). However, as the story’s popularity showed massive growth over the centuries, the tale evolved into the psychological thriller genre, giving the reader a representation of how personality disorders appeared to the public in the Victorian Era. Stevenson’s novella closely resembles the Freudian deduction technique, combining both the sleuth and the analyst to form the psychological thriller aspect of the tale (47). Hyde’s deformities do not appear specifically to the people of London, though he seems to derive from an unnatural construction, according to the people’s reactions to seeing him in the city. This view of Hyde embodies a direct metaphor for the confusion and judgment by Victorians of those with severe personality disorders, and as Scholar relates, Stevenson’s story tells the tale of a psychopath (43).
Apart from a mere personality disorder, Hyde also represents a direct metaphor for the effects of sin on a person’s mental state. According to Sigmund Freud, the human mind constitutes three basic structures. The first of these, the id, groups basic human instincts together, such as hunger or sex drive. Then comes the ego, which structures around the aspects of desire and fulfillment, and the third is the superego, which categorizes how the mind copes with the combining the id and ego through moral ethics. As Tom Hubbard relates, Freud’s model of the three structures of the human psyche is essential in understanding the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Hubbard 60). In the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the latter of the two exists without the use of the superego, a characterization trait associated with modern psychopath classification, and therefore lets instincts of freedom and temptation engulf his personality.
Mr. Hyde lives without conscience and, as Theodore Dalrymple asserts, is the epidemiology of evil (Dalrymple 24). Dalrymple elaborates further in his analysis of the novella and discusses the very nature of Jekyll’s transformations. As it would appear, with each metamorphosis of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, the alteration back becomes increasingly difficult. Further, as Dr. Jekyll remains Mr. Hyde for extended periods of time, the chemicals that transformed him begin to lose stamina and require larger doses to change the men back into his normal state. This change directly reflects the very nature of sin. Dalrymple asserts the idea if a person practices evil, they will become evil because character is habit (27).
Society receives a metaphorical stabbing as well in Stevenson’s novella, as the views of the gentleman indirectly refer to a figurative mask that every fine man wears to hide his Hyde. Kevin Mills asserts that the story reflects upon the self as an unrecognizable stranger used as a masquerade of sorts (Mills 339). As the story shows, even Henry Jekyll, respected man and practiced medical doctor, secretly holds desires of murder and chaos within the depths of his soul. Jekyll represents the every man of the Victorian Era, who holds the chemicals of desire and temptation within himself but conforms to the gentlemanly perspective of society.
Hyde shows to be an extensive metaphor of the hidden sins of man, while Jekyll symbolizes the mental mask that each man uses to hold each sin in an invisible state from the views of society. As Steven Arata discusses, Jekyll and Hyde appeared to be written in part to critique its very readers for the conformity and secrecy each person engulfs himself in (Arata 195). This critique does not fail to include each individual. In fact, the author mocks his own profession with the embodiment of the criticism of English gentlemen. Ridiculed by the author for its further meeting between separate aspects of society, another intention for criticism by the novella resides in the founding of the Society of Authors in the 1830s (196). Most of Victorian society remains included in the critiques embodied by the writer’s use of symbolism.
While The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde contains vast amounts of symbolism of the critiques of mankind, further examination of the story may drive one to characterize Dr. Jekyll as one would in modern society: a victim of bipolar disorder. In current days, the drastic and constant alteration of personality and morals may conclude to the analyst that the victim in fact suffers from a form of this condition. Dr. Jekyll’s intoxication of the evil and disfigured Hyde directly identifies with modern society’s views of how any occupant of society may lash out in a psychological dysfunction by cause of a medical condition. The novella relates to immense numbers of psychological conditions over the centuries of its publication that still remain in today’s world.
Arata, Stephen. Atavism, Professionalism, and Stevenson’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde.’ Ed. Harold Bloom. Robert Louis Stevenson. New York: Chelsea, 2005.
Dalrymple, Theodore. Mr. Hyde & the Epidemiology of Evil. New Criterion 23.1 (2004): 24-28.
Hubbard, Tom. Seeking Mr Hyde. New York: P. Lang. 1995.
Mills, Kevin. The Stain on the Mirror: Pauline Reflections in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Christianity and Literature 53 (2004): 337-48.
Scholar, Richard. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A Case-Study in Translation? Translation & Literature 7.1 (1998): 42-55.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Norton Anthology: English Literature. Ed. J. Reidhead. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2006. 1645-85.