Doubleness in Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 5
Words: 1222
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


This essay deals with an analysis of different forms and patterns in which the concepts of duplicity and doubleness are represented in Stevenson’s famous novel ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. The issues of duplicity/doubleness were not an accident thematic choice for Stevenson for he was deeply affected by the strange subconscious interplay and resulting hallucinations that haunted him while he was in tuberculosis fever. But it would be complete nonsense to ascribe the reasons that triggered the creation of this novel only to the author’s physical experience. It can be claimed that this novel in fact expresses the cultural and social atmosphere in Western society of that time and Stevenson’s perception of human subjectivity.

Main body

As it may be interpreted human subjectivity is torn apart by opposing forces of good and evil. Social and religious norms of respectability and piety deaden the voice of evil forces inside people but the more hypocritical all these social norms become the more intensive is personal duplicity which gives exit to evil forces. Inner divisions in Jekyll’s personality can be explicated by the inherent subjective break between conscious and unconscious later developed in the Freudian psychoanalysis, as well in Darvynian account of dominant animal instinct present in human personality. Thus, the duplicity/doubleness of Dr. Jekyll may be described as biological determinants of human personality. But it seems that this vision is narrow taking into consideration an important role of duplicity/doubleness in the whole fabric of Stevenson’s novel which can not be reduced to the main character. These phenomena can be interpreted as social. Notwithstanding the fact that Stevenson doesn’t say exactly if Hyde has pleasure in his nightly adventures, though it can be described as something of the evil and lusty nature, these images can be easily referred to as dominant Victorian moral and religious rigorism which was a cover-up for social inequality and inner ugliness of ruling class. Other influences on breaks and fissures in human morality as can be seen in the character of Dr. Jekyll account for possible connotations of alcohol and drug addiction, psychological disorders of personality, regressive animality, etc.

Besides these Jekyll’s duplicity can be described as characterization of other divisions in Victorian society such as class divisions, divisions in Scottish identity, secular and religious oppositions.

Of course, all these can be proved only by concrete reference to Stevenson’s novel which we now start.

The story starts when the lawyer Utterson hears from Enfield, his cousin about strange and violent man Hyde who bruised a girl he met on a road. Utterson and Enfield became more worried when they found that when Dr. Jekyll dies, Hyde will inherit all his money and property. Investigation begins besides Dr. Jekyll’s assurance about Hyde. But when Hyde commits an ugly crime and kills the Member of Parliament, Jekyll becomes more solitary and somber. His inability to control his experiment makes him close himself in his laboratory where he totally changes into Hyde and then kills himself when police tried to detain him.

The comparison of Jekyll and Hyde as presented in Stevenson’s novel before the fearful revelation of the truth presents a pure duality between them. On the one hand we ‘Henry Jekyll, M.D., D.C.L., LL.D., F.R.S., & c.”, “the very pink of the proprieties”. As respected and altruistic doctor Jekyll looks a “large handsome,” “well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty”. Edward Hyde is “abnormal and misbegotten”. Racially Hyde has a “swart growth of hair” over the “dusky pallor” in contrast to Jekyll’s white skin.

Thus, the doubleness between evil and good is presented in natural to Victorian society oppositions between ‘WASP’ and animal-like opposite expressed in racial or class categories.

As the unraveling of the novel further suggests this duality is not balanced properly since the forces of good are more developed. But we don’t know whether these words are said by the ‘good’ side, thus they can be interpreted oppositely:: ‘The evil side of my nature… was less robust and less developed than the good which I had just deposed. Again, in the course of my life, which had been, after all, nine-tenths a life of effort, virtue, and control, it had been much less exercised and much less exhausted. And hence, as I think, it came about that Edward Hyde was so much smaller, slighter and younger than Henry Jekyll”.

As we can find in the novel itself Jekyll’s profession made his life be best defined as “commit[ment] to a profound duplicity”. Moreover, Jekyll’s frequent experiments which he tries on himself and constant use of different drugs and medicines results in psychological changes in his personality and thereby we are provided with an empirical basis of his doubleness and duplicity. Jekyll considered Hyde to be an inseparable part of his Self. His declaration of affection and sympathy to Hyde whom he at the same time regards as the embodiment of ‘pure evil’  and ‘the child of Hell’ postulates not only the enormous deviation of his new value system which was adopted to rationalize his personality but reveals the fact that Jekyll’s addiction to his doubled duplicity was transgressing common sense and he couldn’t resist deep personal changes caused by the drug. Jekyll adores not the drug that turns him into Hyde and not even the process of experimenting and searching for scientific truth. He is enamored in Hyde himself for he is the reincarnation of his evil culture which taken metaphorically in the novel is presented in the image of Hyde. As Jekyll says it himself, “I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine”. He then continues: “I was the first that could plod in the public eye with a load of genial respectability, and in a moment, like a schoolboy, strip off these lendings (it may be an allusion to the Lear’s exclamation when he was transformed) and spring headlong into the sea of liberty”.

Thus, duplicity and doubleness are maintained at these two levels – metaphorical and empirical. Empirical interpretation of this duplicity is scientific and should be used carefully in application to a piece of art. Though it is important for understanding those informational materials Stevenson used to describe the ‘split personality’ of Dr. Jekyll.

The metaphorical dimension is more relevant for understanding the structural elements of the novel. As it was noted metaphors of duplicity and doubleness can be found not only in the main character Jekyll/Hide but in various settings and an episode of Stevenson’s novel. Everywhere in his description of various classes of Victorian society from the most oppressed to the highest layer and particularly in it, we say striking examples of moral, behavioral, and emotional duplicity. If we take Utterson and his cousin it is particularly relevant since they constantly change the manner in which they speak, act depending on the conditions and social status of those with whom they communicate and deal.


Thus, it can be easily claimed that the novel of Stevenson is mainly about doubleness and duplicity which are revealed on different levels and in different characters.


Stevenson, Robert Luis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: Norton, 2003.