Story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The idea of being able to separate the very nature of oneself is an idea that has long fascinated people, and Robert Louis Stevenson distilled that desire perfectly with The Strange Case ofDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, John Addington Symonds and Frederic W. H. Meyers present us with some interesting lenses to view the story through; Symonds gives us a viewpoint of closeted homosexuality, while Meyers gives us the viewpoint of multiplex personality, now commonly known as multiple personality disorder, Interpreting the text through these concepts can give one a richer understanding of the story — although there is the potential for these interpretations to be too narrow, as well. I will explore the ideas presented by Meyers and Symonds and how those ideas relate to the text, and if they open up the text to different ways of reading it 7 and if so, how thoroughlyt Myers uses his understanding of “multiplex personality” to explain the case of a young boy, Louis V., and his descent into a split personality.
Having been brought about by mental illness and then given electro-shock therapy in an asylum, Myers explains that the child seemed from then on to be two people; one inhibiting the right side of the brain, and the other inhibiting the left side, The left side was the baser of the two — the Hyde, if you will. The right side was, in essence, the “right” side, although his personality was severely handicapped after having been “thus cloven in twain,” His separate selves had abridged memories and entirely different natures 7 one baser and less evolved, the other retaining “the qualities which man has developed as he has risen from the savage level,” Thinking about Jekyll and Hyde in this way is actually very applicable, because Jekyll literally splits his personality into two separate entities that share one body.
To think that the concoction that Jekyll creates in his lab is an artificial catalyst into something that might be described as the apex of multiple personality disorder is in direct parallel with the way the doctors of the patient Myers speaks of used electroshock therapy. The inhibition of normal brain function, and the splitting effect it had on that patient’s personality, is the scientific fact that the science fiction of the story is rooted in. Jekyll’s concoction, and the fact that it was made possible by some “unknown impurity which lent efficacy to the draught” could be seen as a metaphor for the unnatural and even cruel medical experiments that were legally being practiced at the time, like the several forms of “treatment” practiced upon Myers‘ patient. This story serves a purpose, like most gothic science fiction, to highlight the moral dilemma in science — that just because you can do something, that does not mean you should.
Jekyll’s “unknown impurity” could be seen as the impurity within the scientific community‘s morals when it came to treating mentally ill patients With these parallels, we can safely say that Myers’ article offers the reader an interesting and altogether conventional way with which to view the text. The Strange Case ofDn Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic when it comes to interpretation about “multiplex” personalities, But this can be a narrow viewpoint to look at the text through. One can only look at Jekyll and Hyde through this vantage point — this does not take into account any of the other characters, namely the narrator, Mr. Utterson. We are given such rich detail about him as well, but you could not make a strong case for his being a candidate for multiplex personality disorder. Although this article offers us a valid psychological explanation for the base of what happens to Dr. Jekyll, it is a narrow way with which to view the text.
But, one could also argue that interpreting Jekyll and Hyde is the only important interpretations that can and should be made, for Mr. Utterson is not the reason the story is retold again and again in different forms Either way, interpreting Jekyll and Hyde through Myers’ article is a very straightforward psychoanalysis of the story. On the other hand, Symonds explains his view on the “aberrant” desires of the homosexual male in a society that doesn’t tolerate homosexuality. He talks about the idea that “a man, gifted with strong intellectual capacity, and exercised in all the sleights of criticism, should sit down soberly to contemplate his own besetting vice.” Symonds addresses the nature of homosexuality within the educated man by ultimately saying that “The agony of this struggle between self-yielding to desire and love, and self-scourging by a trained discipline of analytic reflection, breaks his nervei” While Myers presents us with a straightforward psychological “issue”.
Symonds gives us one that s more nuanced — the idea of a mental and emotion battle within oneself over a very core part of ones‘ being We could definitely apply this idea to Jekyll/Hyde, and to a degree, to Mr, Utterson as well, After the transformations had been going on for some time and Hyde had been over- indulged with a murder, Jekyll became the very picture of reluctant self-control: “I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past; and I can say with honesty hat my resolve was fruitful of some good, You know yourself how earnestly in the last months of last year I labored to relieve suffering; you know that much was done for others, and that the days passed quietly, almost happily for myself, Nor can I truly say that I wearied of this beneficent and innocent life; I think instead that I daily enjoyed it more completely; but I was still cursed with my duality of purpose; and as the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for license”.
Here we see that Jekyll, once he has had a surfeit of his baser desires, becomes disgusted and locks that part of himself away with much controlt But Drt Jekyll is only human, and once time had passed Hyde started to desire freedom again — and Jekyll may have even desired to let him free. If we take this in a homosexual context, we can see Hyde as a metaphor for Jekyll’s sexual and romantic desires towards men. Symonds goes on to say that “The agony of this struggle between self-yielding to desire and love, and self-scourging by a trained discipline of analytic reflection, breaks his nerve. The only exit for a soul thus plagued is suicide.” Seeing as Hyde eventually does commit suicide, this is an excellent parallel between Symonds and Stevenson — how a man s aberrant inclinations” must finally result in death, for there is no other place for him. To a slight degree, we may see this in Utterson as well.
The opening descriptions of his austerity with himself and his tastes brings very much to mind the sort of man that Symonds is describing; one who recognizes his own indulgent desires and tries to quiet them. This idea of self»mortification, of telling oneself that what one desires is uncouth or unacceptable, is an example of internalized social morality Especially in a society that condemned homosexuality, the demonized nature people approach desire with makes sense. But to try and read any of the other characters in the book as homosexual may be problematic — and even with Jekyll, there is not a lot to go on, other than the abhorrent desires and very being of Hyde. In this, approaching the text from Symonds essay may almost be too broad — we cannot focus on the details of the text, only the more general ideas.
And although reading any classic text through a queer reading lens is a very interesting exercise, and one that may even prove fruitful, depending on the author, it can also be difficult when it comes to close reading Jekyll and Hyde, One could possibly make the parallel between Hyde murdering and man and a full consummation of a homosexual relationship, or the obvious parallel of the suppression of Hyde as the suppression of one’s own desires, but looking at anything else in the text may prove more difficult, Using psychological discourses from the time period in which the book was written is an interesting way to look at the values that are not only reflected in the text, but in other parts of the society during that time as welL Symonds essay is something that we, living in a post- Stonewail gay rights era, might look at sadly 7 to live inside the closet and hate yourself for your desires is still common, but we have mostly advanced past that system of thought.
Myers article is a very rudimentary understanding of what we now call Multiple Personality Disorder, which is treatable and something that we understand more thoroughly With the more detailed and nuanced comprehension of this mental illness, it would be a very interesting look at an antiquated text. This applies to both articles, really — using modern information to interpret older texts is a very common way to look at pieces of literature From our modern standpoint, we may understand things better, or at least have what we consider to be a more evolved view of the issues at hand, Being forced to look at the material through more antiquated documents, on the other hand, forces one to consider the more limited views people used to deal with. It allows people to transport their mindsets to that time, and to try to think like people who would have read the story when it came out In that manner, it allows our minds to time travel, in a way, back to a different era with a different set of social and moral values, and view it as they viewed it. Using this mindset is another effective way to interpret such a nuanced and rich text.