November 8, 2011
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Through the Lens of Freud
Known for the promotion of strict morality, the period between 1837 and 1901 in England is synonymous with human restraint. The Victorian era, named after Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne, began with the elite in control of society and its politics (Bayley). Concerned with maintaining power over their society, these original three hundred families focused on the social separation between the upper and lower classes; associating enlightenment with the upper class became a leading thought behind this separation, which regarded the lower class as bestial in nature. Concepts opposing the primordial lower class were idealized, such as higher education and restriction of sexual, emotional, and social behaviors. This thrust the Victorian era into a period of human hypocrisy and emotional suppression: a cultural idea that bled into the fields of science and religion. Robert Stevenson emulates the ideals within Victorian Society in his novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Using Dr. Jekyll as a model of a typical Victorian gentleman, Stevenson demonstrates the strain of this suppressive culture on human nature. Coincidentally, the struggle between Dr. Jekyll, his human instincts, or Mr. Hyde, and the pressures of Victorian society parallels that of Freud’s Theory of the Mind. Using Freud’s theory to analyze and explain the conflicts of Dr. Jekyll, the underlying message regarding the tax imposed by Victorian society on the human soul in Robert Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is exposed.
The relationships between Jekyll, Hyde, and Victorian society emulates concepts later explained by Sigmund Freud in his Theory of the Structure of the Mind. The theory divides the human psyche into three sections: the id, ego, and superego. The iceberg is a common metaphor for the introduction to Freud’s theory. Only part of the iceberg is visible, while the waves contain most of its massive expanse. Roving beyond its place above the water is the ego, the conscious, rational division of the mind. Beneath the waters of consciousness, the hidden expanse of the iceberg divides into the superego and id. The superego, or “the moral part of us” (Heffner), lays the grid work for and reinforces rules. Farthest from the shore of consciousness, the id embodies the individual’s desires: the most primal part of the mind developed during the prenatal months.
Ego attempts the dangerous balancing act of managing the id and superego. An individual becomes a victim to egocentric emotions and desires if the ego allows too much free reign to the id, yet if power lies within the superego the individual leads an inhuman life bound by rigid moral confines. Sigmund Freud concludes that an individual can only achieve happiness once the psyche achieves equilibrium between the id and superego. It is this idea of equilibrium, or rather the consequences of unbalance, that Stevenson reveals in his novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll is the conscious ego attempting to maintain balance between his id, or Hyde, and his superego, or the Victorian morality of his society.
Victorian culture mandated from the elite class the knowledge and understanding of social codes as well as the theories in the fields of science and religion. Therefore, the reader can assume that Dr. Jekyll is familiar with the times, which consequently suppress his natural, human needs in accordance with Victorian society. As a result, Jekyll, the ego, undergoes a tragedy of imbalance wherein the morals, imposed by a Victorian superego, overwhelm the psyche. Struggling under the impossible standards placed on humanity, he enlists the help of science to physically extract the repressed human needs, or id, from his tormented mind whose physical form is that of Hyde. Exemplifying Hyde as the consequence of society restraint, Robert Louis Stevenson attempts to expose the devastation and hypocrisy Victorian society creates in the gentleman.
In order to understand the prominent ideas of thought that influenced the character of Dr. Jekyll, the reader must reach an understanding of the foremost theories in science and religion during the time period. Lombroso, Myers, and Nicholson, primary authorities in these fields, emphasize that duality in humankind consists of adjacent good and bad halves of personality. Lombroso’s theory of the criminal man exemplifies the first argument. The Italian doctor claims that there are anatomical differences between criminals and gentlemen. “Criminals are evolutionary throwbacks in our midst,” explains Stephen Gould on Lombardo’s theory, “These people are innately driven to act as a normal ape or savage would.” In other words, for people with these anatomical traits, the path of the criminal is destiny (Gould). However, derision of Hyde from the gentleman Jekyll counters arguments such as Lombroso’s, which testify that criminal traits are not only phenotypic but also hereditary. Jekyll’s countenance does not resemble that of a criminal, and due to his ancestry, he could not have inherited the “criminal gene.”
Frederic Myers’s theory of the Multiplex Personality institutes the field of psychology as a source of delineation of duality of man. Using a case subject known as Louis V., Myers notes that if one “[inhibits] his left-brain…he becomes, as one might say, not only left-handed but sinister…inhibit his right brain, and the higher qualities of character remain” (Myers, 135). Essentially, if an individual stifles the left side of the human brain the resulting effect will consist of a thoroughly evil personage, but apply the process to the right side and an angelic individual appears. In other words, Myers argues that each half of the brain devotes itself to either benevolence or sin, which is a concept widely accepted as scientific fact in the Victorian era.
Stevenson refutes Myers’s theory in the scene where Jekyll notes that Hyde was “knit” to him “closer than a wife, closer than an eye” (Linehan, 204). The use of the term “eye” is a pun for the word “I” (Goss). In this particular sentence Jekyll concedes that Hyde is in fact a part of his character and not a distinct, malicious alter ego squatting in Jekyll’s mind until he springs forth into Hyde. Instead, Hyde is simply the id of Jekyll allowed free reign.
Through the scope of religion, Rev. Dr. Nicholson connects in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the 7th chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Nicholson interprets the supposed duality in Stevenson’s novel as a “moral sermon” and explains to his congregation “there was a higher nature within them and a lower nature; that by power of will they could, if they would, surrender their higher natures to their lower natures.” He then continues by stating that if this surrender to their sinful nature were frequent return to morality would become impossible (Nicholson 103). “If Christ was in their hearts, they would gain the victory and spiritualize even there on earth, that poor fallen nature, and triumph over sin, and over death, through Jesus Christ their Lord,” Nicholson concludes. Strictly speaking in regards to Nicholson’s argument, man must repress and denounce his “lower nature” in order to achieve eternal happiness in the hands of God.
In the end of the novel Hyde cannot revert back into Jekyll, which seemingly supports Nicholson’s argument that frequent surrender to sinful nature would make the return to morality impossible (Nicholson, 103). However, closer examination reveals that physically, Hyde is dominant; mentally, Jekyll and Hyde combine and form one entity. For example, during the conclusion Jekyll refrains from separating himself from Hyde in discussion. Instead of referring to Hyde or Hyde’s actions as a separate entity with the pronoun “he,” Jekyll replaces it with “I,” which signifies the joining of Jekyll and Hyde in one body. In this way, Stevenson comments that in the end, all Victorian gentlemen embody both Jekyll and Hyde.
Those who would apply Lombroso’s, Myers’s, or Nicholson’s theory to the case of Hyde forget that although the id is a biological element dealing with the mind, it is not evil. The id, or Hyde, does not inherit behavior from ancestry nor is the id innately evil; it is a purely biological aspect influenced by biological needs ranging from hunger to sex. By itself, there is no morality in the id, only an exclusively need-based drive. During the reader’s first encounter with Hyde, the mysterious creature tramples a small girl. Initially, the circumstance seems a purely malicious, unwarranted act of a demon; however, closer examination of the text reveals that this is a simple circumstance of chance and not a gruesome act. The girl “was running as hard as she was able down a cross street” (9) and “the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner” (9). The circumstance resembles that of car wreck in which recklessness is the culprit not malicious personage. Without Jekyll to enforce moral law, the id, a thoroughly selfish entity, continues in his path regardless of the child beneath his feet. Driven by the desire to return home, Jekyll’s id becomes a “juggernaut” (9) of need. The incident with the girl is not to satisfy an innate evil. His purpose is not to harm the girl but to fulfill an unrelated need.
The id within Jekyll erupts with suppressed desires when released as Hyde. The character of Hyde can be described as child-like due to his impulsivity, violence, and disregard for others, which is appropriate due to its germination during infancy. With its lack of morality, it does have the aspects of an immature child. Unfortunately, the merciless stifling of Hyde and the lack of control from Jekyll, or the ego, leads to a series of grievous events wherein the id’s self-centered behavior causes harm to others. In character, the id is an entirely selfish being focused on the desires of an individual. It is this selfishness that lends to the argument that Hyde cannot in essence be evil due to an absorbing focus on its own pleasures. Although the id instigates severe circumstances, the purpose of the ego is to monitor such actions and achieve balance. Due to restriction of Victorian society manifested in the superego, the ego is woefully underdeveloped to successfully manage the selfish desires of the id. Using Sigmund Freud’s Theory of the Mind as a frame of reference, the reader can understand the social critique Robert Louis Stevenson presents. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reveals the true monster in Victorian London: societal pressure. Lombroso, Myers, and Nicholson epitomize the influences that shape the Victorian mindset and therefore Dr. Jekyll. However, application of the Freudian id, ego, and superego as well as evidence in the text reveals the instinctive nature of Hyde. The culprit for Mr. Hyde’s follies becomes the society that contained the id within Jekyll, not the id itself.
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