This lesson explores the characteristics of Jekyll and Hyde as described by witnesses and observers in Stevenson’s novella. We’ll dissect quotes within the novel and unravel some of Stevenson’s more arcane descriptions.
A Strange Case
One of the most recognizable metaphors for polarity has historically been Jekyll and Hyde, the titular characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th-century novella. In Stevenson’s infamous novella The Strange Case of Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we only come to know about the title characters second hand. They may not be the main characters, but they are certainly persons of interest. The story is told from the perspective of several observers of Mr. Hyde’s crimes. That’s how readers come to know the awful, hideous Mr.
Hyde and the peculiar, reclusive Dr. Jekyll.
Throughout the novella, characters have difficulty describing Mr. Hyde, as if he were a phantom. Witnesses generally tend to include a vague description of some sort of deformity. Hyde is often described as small and grotesque with a deformed figure and an evil disposition.
The maid, a witness to the Carew murder, describes the suspect, Hyde, merely as ”particularly small and particularly wicked-looking.” Granted, it was late at night and she was far away, but observers seem to present the same vague information about Hyde’s general appearance: merely an impression of his horrible appearance rather than facts about what he looks like.Mr. Enfield offers: ”It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut.” A juggernaut is a strong or powerful force. It can be used to describe people as well as things.
Later, he struggles again to describe the appearance of Mr. Hyde: ”He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point.
He’s an extraordinary looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way.”When Utterson meets Hyde and gets a good look at his face, the lawyer is finally able to provide a proper description, though still with some difficulty: ”Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him;. Something troglodytic, shall we say?”This last phrase requires some dismantling. The lawyer refers to the figure of a troglodyte, a fancy name for a caveman.
”Troglodytic” can also imply a person’s reclusive behavior, such as a person like Jekyll who prefers to hide in his rooms alone for much of the day and night.
The first bit of information we learn about Dr. Jekyll comes from his old friend Dr.
Lanyon. Lanyon recalls that something changed in Jekyll about ten years ago. Doctor Jekyll became reclusive and manic. This fact helps to explain why Jekyll is so hard to track down. ”’I have seen devilish little of the man. Such unscientific balderdash,’ added the doctor, flushing suddenly purple, ‘would have estranged Damon and Pythias.
”’ Here, Lanyon makes reference to the ancient Greek legend of two great friends. Nothing could tear them apart.We finally get a proper description of Dr. Jekyll in Chapter 3. Mr. Utterson describes ”a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a stylish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness.
” Jekyll has a ”large handsome face.”Dr. Jekyll remains in seclusion for the better part of the novella. When he does show his face, his friends describe him to be alternating between rosy-cheeked youth and pallid complexion.
In Chapter 5, Jekyll appears deathly ill. Then, in Chapter 6, Hyde disappears and Jekyll comes out of seclusion: ”He was busy, he was much in the open air, he did good; his face seemed to open and brighten, as if with an inward consciousness of service; and for more than two months, the doctor was at peace.”
Let’s recap. Mr. Hyde represents the dark side of Jekyll, the brilliant, though tormented, doctor.
They’re two halves of a whole. One cannot exist without another, but they have to exist in a balance.Jekyll is tall, handsome, and reclusive. Transformed into Hyde, he is smaller, deformed, hideous, and maniacal. Despite his small stature, Hyde is a juggernaut. Both could be described as troglodytic, but Hyde is more of a caveman and Jekyll is more a hermit.