The Significance Of Repression In Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Repression of objectionable traits is a frequent practice within a strict society. People who possess characteristics seen as undesirable by those around them are often pressured to conceal these aspects of themselves. Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, tells of Henry Jekyll, a scientist, living during the rigid-mannered Victorian Era in London. As Dr. Jeckyll’s story unfolds, it is revealed that he has created an alter-ego personality, Mr. Hyde, as means of repressing his dark animalistic impulses. Throughout the novella, the repression of Dr. Jekyll’s instincts as expected by society leads to the emergence of an even darker concentration of these urges. An extremely prevalent thematic subject in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that temporary repression can result in catastrophic consequences.
Primarily, repression is encouraged by the rigid expectations present in the setting of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Victorian Era was defined by a multitude of strict social standards, regarding one’s sexuality, behavior, dress, and conduct. These virtues are demonstrated clearly in the novella’s development of the character Dr. Utterson, which details:
“Hosts loved to detain the dry lawyer… they liked to sit a while in his unobtrusive company, practising for solitude, sobering their minds in the man’s rich silence after the expense and strain of gaiety” (Stevenson 23).
Evidently, Victorian ideals commended the concepts of sobriety and silence, while regarding lighthearted things like gaiety as a “strain.” Consequently, in order to maintain his standing as an upright citizen, Dr. Jekyll was compelled to feed his disparaged appetites in secrecy, admitting:
“ Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures…I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame” (Stevenson 73).
This admittance of guilt reveals the motivation of shame behind Dr. Jeckyll’s repressive behaviors. Although these pleasures are never explicitly defined, one can assume that they were not socially acceptable considering the remorse displayed by Dr. Jekyll. Thus, strong Victorian social implications were the primary cause of Dr. Jekyll’s repression of behaviors.
Furthermore, the creation of Mr. Hyde was the dangerous culmination of the extended repression of Dr. Jekyll’s pleasures. The aforementioned shame felt by Jekyll had never caused the urges to go away, but simply to amass within him. When Jekyll created the potion to become Mr. Hyde, he had simply created an outlet to release these built-up urges. Accordingly, Dr. Jekyll compares himself as Mr. Hyde to a drunkard acting solely on impulse, explaining,
“ …when a drunkard reasons with himself upon his vice, he is once out of five hundred times affected by the dangers that he runs through his brutish, physical insensibility; neither had I… made enough allowance for the complete moral insensibility and insensate readiness to evil…My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring” (Stevenson 86).
This metaphor of the roaring devil vividly exemplifies the downfall that repression caused in the life of Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll’s persona of Mr. Hyde rampantly committed crimes on an almost animalistic impulse without thought of consequence. Hence, Dr. Jekyll’s creation of Mr. Hyde was a critical move resulting from his desire to release urges that he had repressed for an extended period of time.
Moreover, the persona of Mr. Hyde demonstrates repressive behaviors, despite his existence being a literal release of such restrictions. As Mr. Hyde, Jekyll committed various atrocities, often violent, as a way to unleash his innate desires. Adopting the alter ego of Mr. Hyde did not, however, completely eliminate the sensation of guilt for these crimes and Hyde still attempted to preserve his reputation. For instance, after being caught trampling a young girl, Mr. Hyde is confronted by Enfield, who blackmails him. Surprisingly, Mr. Hyde cedes to Enfield’s request, asserting,
“If you choose to make capital out of this accident,’ said he, `I am naturally helpless. No gentleman but wishes to avoid a scene,’ says he. `Name your figure” (Stevenson 7).
Although Hyde represents the impulsive, unrestrained side of Jekyll’s personality, he still attempts to be perceived as a “gentleman,” in accordance with social expectations. This demonstrates Hyde’s repression of self in attempt to conform to Victorian expectations in front of Enfield, even though Enfield already perceives him as a brutish, animalistic figure. Evidently, the repression exhibited by Jekyll was so deep-rooted in his personality that it managed to extend itself to his supposedly untameable alter-ego.
In brief, repression of urges in accordance with societal expectations was a frequent thematic subject in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The strict standards of Victorian society led Dr. Jekyll to heavily repress his deepest impulses, in attempt to preserve his reputation. This repression resulted in an unsustainable accumulation of impulse, leading him to find release in his alter ego Mr. Hyde. The societal standards imposed upon Jekyll, however, were so deeply ingrained that repression of self was even present in the behaviors of Mr. Hyde. Ultimately, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reveals that the repression of one’s true urges is an unsustainable method of fitting into society which can only lead to a release of destructive potential.