Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde centers around the main character, Dr. Jekyll whose success in attaining his goals depends on keeping a secret and divulging solely at the right moment, if at all. This big secret held by Dr. Jekyll as is learned later through the book’s last chapter refers to his scientific breakthrough ability to physically personify the duality of human nature, that is, good and evil. While Jekyll represents the good nature of being human, his alter-ego, Hyde represents the evil nature of humanity. Jekyll exemplifies the goodness of the prosperity and order of the book’s setting during the Victorian Era. However, Jekyll’s decision to keep the sinister secret allows Hyde to eclipse him, replacing the setting’s favorable features with mystery and lies which ultimately gives way for Hyde’s atrocious crimes and subsequent Jekyll’s demise. This essay will explain the necessity for secrecy and how the choices to keep or reveal the secret impact the plot and the meaning of the literary work as a whole.
The necessity for secrecy in the novel is mainly based on Dr. Jekyll’s experiments and their results represented by the creation of Hyde. The Victorian world was not capable to understand Jekyll’s breakthrough nor could it accept the doctor’s complicity in the moral perversions perpetrated by Hyde. According to Stevenson, “The large handsome face of Dr. Jekyll grew pale to the very lips and there came a blackness about his eyes.” To Jekyll, such damaging transformation demonstrates the need to keep it as secret and hidden from the rest of society members at all costs. Keeping Hyde a secret was not only necessary because the knowledge of his creation and the possibilities it represented could overturn the social fabric of Victorian London, but also because of the animalistic connotations and the unnaturalness of his existence. Utterson uses words like “creature” and “turns me cold” in reference to Hyde, which highlights the severity of the implications on Jekyll’s life should the knowledge of what he had done come to light, especially the criminality aspect of the deed. Finally, keeping the secret of Hyde’s existence was necessary because awareness of what he was potentially fatal, perhaps through the severe psychological trauma it could trigger. Lanyon almost died after learning the truth of Hyde’s existence and as described, “[Lanyon] had his death warrant written legibly upon his face” (Stevenson). The immenseness and complexity of truth almost resulted in a mental breakdown where Lanyon’s inability to understand is was shown by his repetition of “h…w…h…w” as he tries to ask ‘how’ Hyde was possible.
The character’s choice to keep or reveal the secret affects the plot in various ways. Stevenson uses secrets to manipulate the perspectives of the readers on the tale’s plot. As the sequence of the events unfolds, the reader gains awareness of their progression simultaneously as Utterson, since revelations happen at the same times through the sequential process to Utterson. The realization to Utterson of Hyde’s extension from Jekyll shocks the readers at the same moment as him. The progression of the narrative’s plot follows the revelations of the secrets which are released in spits and spurts. The mystery and suspense featured by the book are able to reach its climax and appropriately so towards the end of the plot due to Utterson’s choice to share Hyde’s identity near the novel’s conclusion even after learning of the name earlier from Enfield. Throughout the book from that moment, the revelations of the tale are never present through conversations but via a sequence of documents and letters, sealed, addressed, and enclosed within safes. Therefore, the plot unfolds as a puzzle put together finally towards the end of the story, and this is important to the suspenseful, mysterious plot that evokes a sense of isolation and silence between characters, further underpinning the theme of secrecy.
The meaning of the literary work as a whole is contributed to by the character’s choice of secrecy through the heavy and persistent suspense that fundamentally characterized the book, and is only possible through the deliberate secret-keeping or repression. The literary work’s intention to epitomize secrecy as a means of maintaining a certain reputation was extremely important to the characters and the era of the text’s setting. The secret reinforces the narrative’s overall meaning represented through a thematic link drawn between repression, secrecy, and reputation. Stevenson establishes a suspicious atmosphere that forces characters to hide secrets based on the fear of ruining their reputation. Evidently, the novella’s characters strive not to tarnish their reputation as is dear to them, thus the secrecy woven into the narrative heightens the tension and exemplifies the suspense. For Jekyll, the amplified tension presents the experiments he conducts as most dangerous and implicates irrevocably severe consequences should they go awry. Within the Victorian society, ruining a man merely took the exposure of his secrets as evidenced by Enfield’s threats to expose Hyde to whole London society saying, “[I will] make his name stink from one end of London to the other” (Stevenson). Hyde’s actions would not bode well with the then society featured by significant moral repression and a relatively high state of scientific ignorance.
In conclusion, the necessity of secrecy is signified by the perverted severity of Jekyll’s experiments and the mind-boggling nature represented by the reality of Hyde’s existence and extension to the doctor. The secrets’ timed release and repression guide the sequence of the plot that carries its intended suspense and mystery to a climax towards the novel’s conclusion. Finally, the secrecy builds the narrative’s meaning based on the thematic representation of its connection to persistent repression and the significance of maintaining one’s reputation in Victorian society.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. Dover Publications, 1991.