Tag Archives: characterisations

Characterisations in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

It is important to realise that the characters in the novel are not “real people” but invented creations. The author has invented them to engage our interest in their stories, to make us feel certain emotions towards them, to use them as a way to explore certain issues. A good literary critic must think about the techniques an author uses to make a character interesting, and the thoughts, feelings and images a character provokes in the reader’s mind.

Dr Jekyll

Dr Jekyll is a complex character. He is a rich man who lives what appears to be a very “respectable” life as a scientist, except that this appearance of respectability hides a darker side. In his confession, he talks about having a “dual” nature from an early age: he indulges in things that are not respectable in the society he lives in. We never really learn what these things are but we can guess: he probably likes having sex with people who were not deemed as suitable partners during that time.

Stevenson’s first description of him is informative:

 

Dr. Jekyll was no exception; and as he now sat on the opposite side of the fire—a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a stylish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness—you could see by his looks that he cherished for Mr. Utterson a sincere and warm affection.

 

It’s important to note that Jekyll is a kind man who does “good works”: he helps out the poor, various charities and religious causes. He is the embodiment of Victorian respectability and seems to take pleasure in helping people and being a good friend. Except, of course, this is, to a degree, a “sham”, a “façade”: he appears this way, but in reality he is not. Stevenson uses him as a way of exploring the hypocrisy of Victorian England: this is a world where appearances mean everything and, as a result, many rich people are being blackmailed because they are not as “squeaky clean” as they pretend to be. Jekyll believes that becoming Hyde is wonderful because it allows him to be the person he could never be if he was Jekyll: he can be violent, anti-social, and can go to places of “sin” and “vice” that might mean Jekyll’s disgrace if he were seen in them. In his confession, this passage is perhaps the most revealing of Jekyll:

 

Not that I dreamed of resuscitating Hyde; the bare idea of that would startle me to frenzy: no, it was in my own person that I was once more tempted to trifle with my conscience; and it was as an ordinary secret sinner that I at last fell before the assaults of temptation.

 

After deciding to stop being Hyde, Jekyll finds he can’t stop himself in indulging in Hyde’s pleasures as himself and, as a consequence, becomes an “ordinary secret sinner” who “fell before the assaults of temptation”. The language here is important: Jekyll sees “temptation” or desire as an “assault”; it is like being attacked. This shows how terrified Jekyll is of his secret desires. What are they though? We never really learn in the novel, but in various filmed versions of the book we see him acting like a paedophile, a sex maniac and a psycho-path. Part of the book’s power may be that we never learn what he has been doing, thus leaving us to imagine his depravity.

Jekyll is “vindictive” and settles old scores in the novel. This is particularly the case with Lanyon. Just before Hyde turns back into Jekyll in front of Lanyon, Jekyll speaking as Hyde says:

 

And now, you who have so long been bound to the most narrow and material views, you who have denied the virtue of transcendental medicine, you who have derided your superiors —behold!

 

Here we see Jekyll “tell off” Lanyon for holding “narrow and material views”, in other words for being blinkered and unimaginative. He calls himself a “superior” to Lanyon and makes it very clear that Lanyon was wrong to “deride” or mock him. This is a clear example of Jekyll settling an old score: although he pretended to be relaxed about Lanyon criticising his scientific methods earlier on in the novel, we learn here, through the voice of Hyde, that he definitely is not.

It important to note that Hyde is Jekyll; this seems like an obvious point but it is easy to forget. Jekyll is portrayed in a psychologically convincing fashion: he is a fully-fleshed out character who reveals a striking array of different emotions and personas. The portrayal is psychological because we see that when Jekyll represses his inner-most desires he causes serious problems for himself: Hyde has been created out of his repressed desires. This is most clearly seen with the murder of Carew in Jekyll’s confession: he tells us that before the murder he had been deliberately trying to avoid taking the potion and that when he did, the potion had a doubly strong effect; his repressed anger came out in a terrifying fashion.

Questions

Why and how is Jekyll a complex character?

Why is Stevenson’s characterisation of Jekyll a “psychological” portrayal?

 

POSSIBLE ANSWERS in brief & bold

 

Why and how is Jekyll a complex character? Jekyll is complex because we learn by the end of the story that there are many sides to him. There is the “good”, the side that helps charities and the poor and is a loyal friend; there is the “respectable”, the part of him that wants to be seen as “decent” and “upstanding”; and then there is the side that enjoys inflicting pain upon people, the sadistic side; and there is also the “undignified” side, the side that does things that no respectable person would condone.

Why is Stevenson’s characterisation of Jekyll a “psychological” portrayal? The portrait is psychological because Stevenson really tries to work out WHY Jekyll behaves in this way: we see in Jekyll’s ‘Full Statement’ an explanation of Jekyll’s decline; we learn how Jekyll felt he had Hyde under control to begin with, but then Hyde becomes “monstrous” as Jekyll takes more and more of the drug. This is a very psychological portrait of Jekyll because we see how he doesn’t suddenly turn into an evil monster: it happened by degrees.

Mr Hyde

Utterson’s first meeting with Hyde is revealing. Stevenson writes:

 

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.

 

Hyde is, in many ways, the opposite of Jekyll. Where Jekyll is tall and kind-looking, Hyde is “dwarfish” and has a “displeasing smile” that has a “murderous mixture of timidity and boldness”. He clearly smiles in a perverted or unpleasant fashion, and is both cowardly and bold. Many film versions of the book do not capture this aspect of Hyde, making him appear quite a brave but psychopathic character: he isn’t brave at all. When he is confronted with what he has done to the little girl, he backs down and pays the family compensation because he is frightened of what they might do to him. When he suddenly appears in Regent’s Park at the end of the novel, he is terrified of being caught and hung.

On the other hand, he is not afraid of getting away with what he can; he is not worried about what people think of him. He does not observe the normal rules of politeness: he hits people he doesn’t like, and appears to dislike people for irrational reasons – we see this particularly with Sir Danvers Carew. He is probably highly sexual. We are told that he is “troglodytic”; this means that he is like a cave man. In Stevenson’s time, this was probably code for being highly sexual (Mighall, 2003 & Luckhurst, 2006): it was thought by the Victorians that our ancestors behaved like apes and had no sexual inhibitions.

His true character comes out towards the end of the novel when we learn of his emotions towards Jekyll:

 

The hatred of Hyde for Jekyll was of a different order. His terror of the gallows drove him continually to commit temporary suicide, and return to his subordinate station of a part instead of a person; but he loathed the necessity, he loathed the despondency into which Jekyll was now fallen, and he resented the dislike with which he was himself regarded. Hence the ape-like tricks that he would play me, scrawling in my own hand blasphemies on the pages of my books, burning the letters and destroying the portrait of my father; and indeed, had it not been for his fear of death, he would long ago have ruined himself in order to involve me in the ruin. But his love of me is wonderful; I go further: I, who sicken and freeze at the mere thought of him, when I recall the abjection and passion of this attachment, and when I know how he fears my power to cut him off by suicide, I find it in my heart to pity him.

 

We learn here that Hyde temporarily “commits suicide” – in other words he drinks the potion that makes him Jekyll – only because he wants to avoid being hung, not because he wants to be Jekyll again. He hates Jekyll’s “despondency” or depression suggesting that Hyde is a high-spirited, bizarrely joyful person: he is described as being in a “transport of glee” as he murders Carew. Although it has to be said there is a problem here because Jekyll uses the pronoun “I” to describe Hyde’s feelings while he is killing Carew, thereby implying that Jekyll felt this way too. He is also a joker who loves to swear and desecrate things: he writes “blasphemies” in the pages of Jekyll’s books, he burns the portrait of Jekyll’s father. There is almost something pathetic about Hyde for all his horrible selfishness: he is like an unruly child.

It is important to note that Hyde, according to Jekyll’s ‘Full Statement’ is not immediately evil. We learn when first appeared what Hyde does is “undignified” but his pleasures become “monstrous” as he gains in power. In other words, Hyde seems to gain strength by being allowed to exist, and progressively becomes more and more violent. When Jekyll gives up taking the drug for two months after being shocked to find that he has woken up as Hyde, Hyde comes back even stronger and more uncontrolled after Jekyll takes the potion again, and murders Carew as a result. In fact he becomes so strong that he appears without Jekyll taking the potion: once Jekyll has decided to stop being Hyde altogether, Hyde springs back to life in Regent’s Park without Jekyll ingesting the drug. From then onwards, Jekyll has to swallow stronger and stronger doses of the drug to stop being Hyde. This suggests that Hyde rather than being a fully-rounded character is an “aspect” or element of Jekyll: a Freudian critic might argue that he is the “Id” or the inner-desires of Jekyll which becomes stronger the longer he is allowed to exist. A religious interpretation might be that Hyde is the “Devil”, the inner “evil” of mankind, who thrives when God is ignored or deliberately disobeyed. Some other critics, called “cultural theorists”, have examined the culture that allows someone like Hyde to thrive and have argued that Hyde is a product of the society that he lives in (see Katherine Linehan in Literary Criticism chapter); he is allowed to get away with his crimes because someone with money and anonymity can. It is only when he angers the upper-classes with the murder of Carew that he is actually stopped.

Questions

What does Hyde look like? Why do people say that he seems “deformed”?

Why is he compared to being an “ape” or a cave man at times?

What does Hyde symbolise?

 

POSSIBLE ANSWERS in brief & bold

 

What does Hyde look like and how does he act? Hyde is small and muscular, and appears in some way “deformed”. He is described as “stumping”, that is, moving by violently putting his feet on the ground. When he speaks he seems to “whisper” in a “hoarse” fashion.

Why do people say that he seems “deformed”? Although he does not explicitly look ugly, everyone who meets him feels there is something abnormal about him. Just his presence makes people feel “icy”. It could be that he arouses a primitive feeling of fear in people, in the same way wild animals or snakes make people feel afraid.

Why is he compared to being an “ape” or a cave man at times? Stevenson, like many writers of the time, was very affected by the science of evolution developed by Charles Darwin. Hyde seems at times to be a “throwback” to when humans were “ape-like”: it almost as if Jekyll has accessed our evolutionary past when he takes the potion (Mighall, 2003).

What does Hyde symbolise? Hyde symbolises different things to different critics. For people interpreting the book as a Christian “allegory” (a long symbolic religious story) he represents the Devil, and all the temptations of the Devil and evil. There is a great deal of religious imagery in the book which suggests this interpretation has validity: Hyde is compared to the devil and he himself, when he is taking the potion before Lanyon, referencing the name of Satan.

 

 

Mr Utterson

One could argue that Utterson is the “protagonist” – the main character — of the novel in that he plays the detective figure searching out for the clues as to what is happening to Jekyll. In the first chapter Stevenson describes him in this way:

But he had an approved tolerance for others; sometimes wondering, almost with envy, at the high pressure of spirits involved in their misdeeds; and in any extremity inclined to help rather than to reprove. “I incline to Cain’s heresy,” he used to say quaintly: “I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.” In this character, it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men. And to such as these, so long as they came about his chamber, he never marked a shade of change in his demeanour.

 

Utterson is a boring man who does not seem to have the desires, dreams or contradictions of Jekyll. He does not judge people however — but helps them. He lets people do what they want without interfering. This is what makes him an excellent character to investigate the case of Jekyll because he is not easily shocked: he helps “downgoing” men, that is, people who are losing their reputations for respectability. In the novel, we see him being very persistent: he tracks down Hyde after much waiting around for him at his door. We see him being caring: he tries continually to help Jekyll. He is also non-judgemental, offering to listen to Jekyll if he has anything to confess. He is also decisive: he makes the decision to knock down the door to Jekyll’s room in order to see where Jekyll is. Ultimately, it is his desire to find out the truth about Jekyll which leads to Jekyll’s destruction.

In literary terms, Utterson serves as a good counter-point to the extremes of Jekyll and Hyde and provides the narrative with a good “anchor” in that his realistic, ordinary approach to life contrasts greatly with Jekyll and Hyde’s fantastical experiments and misdemeanours.

 

 

Questions

Why could you argue that Utterson is the main protagonist in the novel? How and why does he behave like a detective?

 

Answers in brief and bold

Why could you argue that Utterson is the main protagonist in the novel? For the first half of the novel, before Jekyll gives his ‘Full Statement’, Utterson is the main character in that the reader follows his journey as he gradually uncovers the truth about Jekyll. Some critics have argued that he ultimately destroys Jekyll in his quest for the truth because Jekyll/Hyde takes the poison that kills himself after Utterson says he will knock down the door.

How and why does he behave like a detective? Utterson operates like a detective because he is continually looking for clues as to what is going on with Hyde: he takes some time to search for Hyde, he thinks about the problem of Jekyll’s will, he questions Poole, Lanyon and Jekyll himself about what is happening with Jekyll, he finds clues such as the broken walking stick, and he confronts Jekyll/Hyde by breaking down the door to his laboratory. All of these things make him like your “classic detective”, except of course there were very few detective novels before this one was written. Some people have argued that Stevenson invented the form of the detective novel with this book.

Dr Lanyon

This is an early description of Lanyon:

Dr. Lanyon sat alone over his wine. This was a hearty, healthy, dapper, red-faced gentleman, with a shock of hair prematurely white, and a boisterous and decided manner.

 

In many ways, Lanyon is very similar to Jekyll in that he is a respectable, wealthy scientist who has a happy life. However, he has disassociated himself with Jekyll because of Jekyll’s scientific experiments which Lanyon believes are “unscientific balderdash”. Lanyon is a “smug” and patronising man who believes he knows best. He learns a terrible lesson when he sees Jekyll turn into Hyde. After this time, all his certainties about life are shattered and he becomes a broken man:

 

He had his death-warrant written legibly upon his face. The rosy man had grown pale; his flesh had fallen away; he was visibly balder and older; and yet it was not so much these tokens of a swift physical decay that arrested the lawyer’s notice, as a look in the eye and quality of manner that seemed to testify to some deep-seated terror of the mind.

 

Lanyon seems to represent the self-satisfied certainties of Victorian England: he appears to be someone who thinks he knows it all and then learns to his cost that he does not. There is a suggestion too that he too may have tried the potion or may be tempted to use it: the “terror of the mind” is his horror that he is just like Jekyll and harbours secret, terrifying desires.

Lanyon serves an important role in the novel in that he witnesses Hyde’s transformation into Jekyll; Stevenson deliberately engineers the narrative so that it is a scientist who witnesses this transformation because a scientist is a more trustworthy observer than someone who already believes in “supernatural” transformations.

 

Questions

How does Stevenson present Dr Lanyon?

Why is it Lanyon who observes Hyde’s transformation into Hyde?

 

POSSIBLE ANSWERS in brief & bold

 

How does Stevenson present Dr Lanyon? Stevenson presents Lanyon as a self-satisfied scientist who is a “materialist”, i.e. he doesn’t believe in mystical transformations or magic. He has a very happy and successful life in Cavendish Square, one of the wealthiest areas of London. His confidence in his scientific views is shattered when he witnesses Hyde’s transformation into Jekyll. Stevenson uses a mixture of description, dialogue and first-hand testimony to make Lanyon a plausible and interesting character. Initially, we hear about Lanyon’s beliefs that Jekyll’s scientific methods are “balderdash”, thus setting him up in what seems to be a minor conflict of opinion with Jekyll. However, we learn later that Jekyll has been greatly angered by Lanyon’s dismissal of his science and that he achieves a kind of revenge upon him when he shows how Hyde can change into Jekyll.  Lanyon’s shock and horror at having his logical, scientific beliefs shattered ultimately kill him.

Why is it Lanyon who observes Hyde’s transformation into Hyde?

Stevenson gives the narrative more “credibility” or makes it more believable by having Lanyon observe Hyde’s transformation because Lanyon is a skeptical, rational scientist who is a “truthful” observer. If a mystical person had seen the change, then we might have doubted his word because he would merely be endorsing what he already believes. However, Lanyon has to deny all his previous beliefs in order to say that the transformation really happened.

 

 

 

 

 

Poole

Poole is Jekyll’s elderly butler who shows surprising strength in knocking down Jekyll’s stout door. He is the embodiment of the Victorian servant: he is loyal and obedient even when his master’s demands are outrageous. Like Lanyon he has all his certainties about life shattered: he comes to believe that his master’s supposed friend, Hyde, has murdered him. He cannot act though without the support of his social superiors. This is why he asks Utterson to visit in the chapter ‘The Last Night’: although he would like to break down the door to Jekyll’s room he knows he doesn’t have the authority, but Utterson his social superior does.

Poole serves an important literary function in the novel in that he is used to heighten the sense of mystery and suspense. We see this in ‘Search for Mr Hyde’ when he tells Utterson that the servants have to obey Hyde and that Hyde is a familiar figure in the household. Most strikingly, he generates a huge amount of suspense in ‘The Last Night’ by the way he suddenly appears and says that there has been “foul play” to Utterson: the fact that he, of all people, is so upset shows how terrible the situation is. Thus we can see how Stevenson uses his character to convey a sense of horror at Jekyll’s predicament: if Poole can be upset then we all should be. The way Poole calls Hyde “it” is particularly chilling: Poole dehumanises Hyde in a way that no one else has been willing to do. He seems to realise that Hyde is not the same as the human race. Other people like Lanyon, Utterson and Enfield are more easily fooled by the social codes of the day and view Hyde as a gentleman, if a bad one. Poole though knows that Hyde is different. His theory that his master has been “made away with” turns out to be the closest guess of all. In such a way, we could argue that despite the fact that Poole speaks in “slang”, he is actually one of the more intelligent characters.

His character also illustrates how Hyde has managed not only to destroy and abuse people, but his actions have threatened the social order of the society. Utterson notes with horror that it is not good that all the servants are not doing their jobs anymore; furthermore, we see Poole, who should be preserving his master’s household, destroying his master’s door with an axe.

 

Questions

What function does Poole serve in the narrative?

What evidence is there that Poole is actually quite perceptive and intelligent?

POSSIBLE ANSWERS in brief & bold

What function does Poole serve in the narrative? Poole is important in the narrative because he helps heighten the suspense considerably. At first, the introduction of Poole helps heighten the mystery about the connection between Hyde and Jekyll because he tells Utterson that Jekyll has given orders for the servants to obey Hyde. In ‘The Last Night’ Poole creates a great deal of the suspense by appearing so worried about Jekyll, and theorising that he has been “made away with”. By calling Hyde “it”, he creates a sense of horror regarding Hyde, suggesting Hyde’s inhuman qualities.

What evidence is there that Poole is actually quite perceptive and intelligent? Of all the characters in the novel, it is Poole who gets closest to the truth when he suggests that Jekyll has been “made away with” or murdered by Hyde. This is something that Utterson doesn’t believe; preferring to think Jekyll is ill and needs drugs. Poole also subtly engineers the breaking down of Jekyll’s door by revealing the truth about the situation to Utterson in stages, and not all at once. This suggests he knows Utterson well and realises that he can’t tell Utterson the full extent of knowledge until Utterson has witnessed Jekyll’s house himself.

 

 

For more on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde please read my book Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: The Study Guide Edition available in paperback and e-Book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1494767910

My playscript version of the novel enables students to read the book in groups and understand it as well as the context of the times: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1495975010