The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Motif of Darkness

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Darkness is seen throughout many of the texts that we have studied, both through setting and theme. I, however have chosen to focus on how it is used in the poems, Musee Des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden, Disabled by Wilfred Owen, and My Last Duchess by Robert Browning along with the novel, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. These texts all convey darkness differently, some include the theme of darkness whilst others rely on a dark setting and some even have themes of darkness and dark settings, but this is what I will be exploring and emphasising in this essay.

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The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has a huge focus on darkness as a theme and a setting. The theme of darkness is portrayed again and again throughout the novel. The whole double life complex highlights the theme of darkness perfectly as it is showcasing that Dr Jekyll is releasing his inner darkness through the use of his alter ego Mr Hyde, which is actually the cause of their eradication. Fiona Subotsky has said that “Stevenson shows how important it was for a Victorian doctor to preserve his reputation by pursuing his pleasures secretly.” Which I feel supports my argument that Dr Jekyll is releasing his inner darkness through Mr Hyde, as he is doing it all just to ensure that his name and status continue having a good reputation. It makes the reader begin to question whether good can actually be separated from evil, as shown through their untimely death it highlights that Mr Hyde has only gotten stronger through Dr Jekyll’s attempts to suppress him which is why there were times that Dr Jekyll did not reappear for 2 months as those were the times Mr Hyde was at his strongest and why Mr Hyde was fully able to commit what looks to be suicide. Mr Hyde’s physical appearance also fits in extremely well with the theme of darkness due to it being so hideous, as those who have seen Mr Hyde describe him as “some damned Juggernaut” (Stevenson, 1679) which is taking away his humanity and making him appear monstrous whilst also reinforcing the darkness within him as they are actually saying he is nothing more than a relentless force that crushes others. This is further emphasised when we first encounter Mr Hyde and he knocks over a little girl without any remorse until someone stops him and again shown metaphorically when he crushes Dr Jekyll’s true persona in order for him to continue being Mr Hyde therefore portraying the theme of darkness through Stevenson’s attempt at recognising split personality. Mr Hyde also gets described as “hardly human” (Stevenson, 1685) by Mr Utterson, further emphasising how because he is the embodiment of Dr Jekyll’s evil thoughts and feelings, he is going to appear looking scary and unhuman due to him only having negative and dark thoughts and not having any remorse for any pain he inflicts on others which is exaggerating Stevenson’s use of darkness as a theme once again as he is actively showcasing that the darker a person is, the scarier and uglier they will appear to others.

The setting in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde also helps to portray the use of darkness and how it helps Stevenson in conveying the mood of the novel. Throughout this novel, the setting is described as “black” and “dark” (Stevenson, 1678) due to a lot of the novel being set in night time London. This alone adds mystery to the novel which shows how Stevenson is using the setting to express darkness because he knows that automatically the reader will know that this novel is set in Victorian London which instantly adds an eerie feel to the novel as people relate Victorian London to Jack the Ripper even though he didn’t start killing until a year after The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published and then for Stevenson to go on and allow the speaker to describe the setting as “dark” and “black” confirms that the novel will be full of darkness and deceit. Stevenson uses the setting to portray darkness many times throughout the novel, for example when Mr Utterson is doing his night rounds waiting to stumble upon the cryptic enigma that is Mr Hyde, Stevenson describes the night that Mr Utterson eventually does come face to face with Mr Hyde as a “fine dry night” (Stevenson, 1683) which instantly makes the reader shudder with anticipation due to the use of “dry” as it makes them wonder if something is about to happen that is why the air around Mr Utterson is “dry”. Stevenson then goes onto say that, “the lamps,” were “unshaken by any wind” (Stevenson, 1683) which reinforces how he is using darkness within the setting and also, with the speaker saying there is no wind instantly gives this chapter an eerie feel, almost like something wicked is going to happen which will only intrigue the reader more much like the use of the word “dry”. With there being no wind and this giving it an eerie feel, adds to Stevenson’s use of darkness because all that the reader is thinking about is what will happen next and questioning whether something bad is going to happen. So, therefore through the use of setting it is helping Stevenson to portray darkness by using words that will arouse curiosity within the reader.

Unlike The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘Disabled’ focuses on using darkness as a theme to convey sympathy towards the reader whilst also portraying darkness negatively, as he is showing that darkness is a thing that seems to be taking over the speaker’s thoughts and any positivity or hope that he is. This is proven when the speaker opens the poem with the following, “sat… waiting for dark” (Owen, 2039). This quote tells the reader that the speaker is just patiently waiting for the darkness to fully take over his last bit of hope and positivity whilst also proving that he is isolated. This is due to him waiting alone, wishing and hoping for death to come and take him to put him out his misery, without anyone around to distract him from his thoughts and in this scenario, his thoughts seem to be his own worst enemy since arriving back from the war. I feel that this is showcasing how Wilfred Owen is actively using darkness as a theme to evoke sympathy out of the reader for the speaker as he chose specifically for this quote to be the opening line of the poem. Also, the use of repetition at the end of the poem with, “why don’t they come … why don’t they come?” (Owen, 2040) highlights Owen’s attempt of using darkness to make the poem appear morbid. This is due to this poem revolving around the speaker begging for death and darkness to take him which is further emphasised through this quote. It is like he is begging for the poem to end alone with begging for his life to end, as though he just wants to be put out of his misery and it has gotten to the point now where he is resorted to actually begging for his life to end, very different to how at the beginning of the poem he was just “waiting for dark”, he is now actually begging for dark and death.

Throughout this poem, the speaker is omniscient and has a negative perspective of the world now since his accident. I feel that this is reflecting on how Owen’s is using darkness to evoke sympathy out of the reader because even though we never actually meet the speaker or even learn their name, we feel very concerned by the negativity they are conveying. For example, when the speaker says, “All of them touch him like some queer disease” creates a kind of red flag, as it seems he is saying that just because he is injured people are avoiding him and are cautious when touching him like he has got a disease which instantly brings the theme of darkness into the poem as it is showcasing the darkness growing within him, as he is unable to see that people may only be cautious when touching him because they are afraid they may hurt him, however due to the darkness brewing and building inside him, he feels that they are being careful when they couch him because they want to avoid him and not be there. On the other hand, this quote is almost instantly creating sympathy towards the person in the poem, because it his highlighting the darkness that is growing inside him like previously stated, whilst also emphasising how women will never look at him the same due to his injury and loss of his legs. It is almost as if he is saying he would rather have a killer disease as at least he would still catch the attention of women and they wouldn’t overlook him for the “strong men that were whole” (Owen, 2040) as he himself may not be strong due to his illness but at least he would be whole and they would look at him for him, and not look at him just to give him pity. Again, it is as though he is saying he would much rather be dead than live a life like this where he cannot even win the attention of a woman, therefore exaggerating how Owen has used darkness in this poem to show how a person will think little of themselves after an accident and hate themselves so much that they would actually wish and hope for death just because women will not show them any attention and constantly overlook them for someone who is whole. It is as though “his injury has drained him of the socially constructed masculine image, and he is estranged and detached.” (Pigg, 2) therefore, his loss of masculinity is what is actually leaving him depressed and detached from the world around him, reinforcing how he is allowing the darkness to take over inside of him and take away any chance of his happiness.

Similar to Mr Hyde in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the Duke speaking in ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning seems to be a very strong and dark man that doesn’t show any remorse for the things he has done such as maybe killing his Duchess. However, instead of showing any remorse it seems as though he is actually bragging about it to a servant of hopefully his next Duchess. Straight away we see how possessive and controlling the Duke is, as he starts of the poem by complimenting the painting making out as if he is proud, “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall” (Browning, 1282) but, the more he seems to stare at this painting, the angrier he gets even going to the extent of accusing her of having an affair with the painter, “Sir, ‘twas not Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek” and without her being there to defend herself, the reader is only left to speculate whether she actually did have an affair or whether the Duke is just being over possessive. Also, through this accusation, we see the tone of the poem change drastically as the Duke goes on a full blown rant without actually realising he is in company. I believe that this emphasises the darkness within not just the poem but also within the Duke, as both show no remorse or redemption as “the Duke hints that he kills his wife, as opposed to forgiving her” (Hawlin, 153) further on down in the poem by saying, “she smiled… whene’er I passed her… who passed without … same smile? I gave commands: Then all smiles stopped altogether” I feel that this actively showcases how Browning is using darkness as a theme due to it being so secretive, as we never actually know whether the Duke did kill his last Duchess as he never admits it but, this quote seems to hint at him giving orders to stop her from smiling and it seems the only way to stop her from smiling is to murder her. Furthermore, staying with this quote, it is highlighting the kinds of person the Duke is due to him speaking negatively of the Duchess proven even more so when he says, “as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old-name with anybody’s gift.” Almost as if saying that because he has a well-known name and has been in his family for generations, he believes he is superior than any other being and questions why she smiles at other men when all her smiles should be targeted towards him and his special name once again reinforcing how possessive and jealous the Duke actually is.

‘Musee Des Beaux Arts’ by W.H. Auden is unlike the previous texts I have mentioned due to the darkness in this poem revolving around the ignorance of other people. For example, Auden begins the poem with the quote, “About suffering they were never wrong” which automatically gives the poem a dark feel. Whilst the use of the word “suffering” heightens the darkness but also highlights how everyone is ignoring the suffering around them and just going on with their daily lives, similar to the painting, Icarus which is why it is mentioned in the second stanza of the poem. This then brings around the perspective that unless it is happening to the people themselves, they do not care which emphasises how dark and selfish people can be. As because they themselves are not the ones who are suffering or in Icarus’ case, drowning and dying, they do not care. However, Auden it seems Auden is trying to say do not blame the people, they don’t know any better due to it being “the human position” to just focus on yourself and not others around you. This fits in with Thomas Dilworth’s reading of the poem, which is that he believes the poem is “about the reaction of people to the suffering of other persons”. What I feel that he means by this is that the poems entire focus is on the ignorance of people compared to the people who are suffering, which helps in Auden conveying darkness within the poem.

To conclude, I believe that even though these four texts are very different, I think that each of them have large underlying dark tendencies. Whether that be through the author’s or poet’s use of setting or theme. For example, ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ have both dark settings and dark themes, whereas the poems focus merely on darkness as a theme and not so much on darkness as a setting.

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