In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

28 THE RELATIONSHIP OF THEME AND ART IN THE STRANGE CASE OF PJL- JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE By Joseph J. Egan (St. John's University) Characteristic of contemporary criticism of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic horror story THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is Walter Allen's statement that "Dr. Jekyl1 is a good and honorable man; his other self, Mr. Hyde, is wholly evil."l Nearly forty years ago, however, G. K. Chesterton wrote a true and concise explanation of the moral idea involved in the tale: From time to time those anonymous authorities in the newspapers, who dismiss Stevenson with such languid grace, will say that there is something quite cheap and obvious about the idea that one man is really two men and can be divided into the evil and the good. Unfortunately for them, that does not happen to be the idea. The real stab of the story is not in the discovery that the one man is two men; but in the discovery that the two men are one man. After all the diverse wandering and warring of those two incompatible beings, there was still only one man born and only one man buried. Jekyl1 and Hyde have become a proverb and a joke; only it is a proverb read backwards and a joke that nobody really sees. Chesterton's two-men-in-one interpretation of JEKYLL AND HYDE must be seen as essentially correct, for this idea that Dr. Jekyl1 himself is both good and evil is the only one supported by the artistic design of the story. The central pattern of symbolism in JEKYLL AND HYDE is associated with the various dwelling places that figure in the tale to reveal the spiritual condition of their inhabitants. Dr. Jekyll's own home lies in "a square of ancient, handsome houses, now for the most part decayed from their high estate and let in flats and chambers to all sorts ... of men" (pp. 297-98),3 and the physician's surroundings thus suggest both the past condition of his soul, when evil was still in check, and its present state of moral debility. We are told that around the corner from this square is a pleasant and respectable bystreet of the London business section: "The street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighborhood, like a fire in a forest; and with its . . . general cleanliness and gayety of note, instantly caught and pleased the eye of the passenger" (p. 283). And yet the attractive scene is marred by the presence of "a certain sinister block of building [that] bore, in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence" (p. 283). This structure proves to be the '"back way to Dr. Jekyll's'" (p. 322), by which Mr. Hyde gains access to the physician's home, and in the context of the story becomes symbolic not only of Hyde's depravity but of the tarnished side of all men as well. Like the moral destitution it represents, Hyde's sinister doorway, the appropriate symbol of the "back door" to Henry Jekyll's soul, stands out in contrast to its ostensibly wholesome and orderly surroundings. The London bystreet, then, suggests something of the incongruity in human nature itself, where evil coexists with that which is seemingly most respectable. The idea of spiritual decay is given further meaning when we discover that this grimy building where Dr. Jekyl1 performs his secret experiments is called "'Black Mail House'" (p. 286), for evil has indeed come to compromise the good in Henry 29 Jekyl1. It is his own frightful inclination towards evil that has brought on the moral ruination of Jekyl1, a ruination which cannot long be concealed despite the fact that the doctor's dwelling still wears the deceiving mask of respectability and "a great air of wealth and comfort" (p. 298). A more obvious image of cprruption is Hyde's filthy residence in Soho, which is guarded by an old woman with "an evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy" (p. 308), the fitting companion and familiar for such a creature as Edward Hyde. Stevenson repeatedly employs the artistic elements in JEKYLL AND HYDE to suggest...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 28-32
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.