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Reputation & Repression

Exploration of a theme

Victorian society put a high value on a gentleman’s good reputation and there was huge pressure to conform to society’s expectations. Desires and habits that did not fit in with these expectations had to be hidden or repressed and the novel explores the consequences of this.

‘He was austere with himself; drank gin… to mortify a taste for vintages’

Utterson does not drink his favourite beverage, wine; instead, he restricts himself to gin as a way of controlling or subduing his love of wine.

Utterson deliberately suppresses his own desires and enjoyments, reflecting the theme of repression in the novel.

Context: Gin was seen as an inferior beverage- a poor man’s drink – and wine was drunk by the upper classes. For a gentleman to have a solid, respectable reputation was seen as incredibly important in Victorian Britain. Without this good reputation, a man could be ruined and rejected by society, and so we understand Utterson’s determination to control the pleasures that he sees as undesirable and which could possibly damage his reputation.

‘he had always been known for charities, he was now no less distinguished for religion’

Jekyll is known for his work or donations to charity and becomes equally renowned for an interest in the church after Hyde’s murder of Sir Danvers Carew.

Jekyll ensures that he ‘had always been known’ for good works, suggesting that he is mindful of keeping up the appearance of a philanthropist.

Context: Victorian society had strict moral codes that it expected people to adhere to. Arguably, it is this huge pressure to conform and maintain this ’distinguished’ reputation that has the effect of Jekyll striving so hard to uncover and release his darker side.

‘I was the first. I was the first that could thus plod in the public eye… and in a moment… spring headlong into the sea of liberty’

Jekyll recalls how he enjoyed the ability to change his personality by becoming Hyde.

We see his contempt for respectability in the verb ‘plod’ which suggests the mundane and unexciting. This contrasts with the much more energetic verb ‘spring’ which shows how he eagerly embraces his dark side. Hyde represents freedom from repression and Jekyll revels in the evil that Hyde encapsulates.

Context: Stevenson used the literary traditions of Gothic novels which were popular in the Victorian era. One of these traditions was that of the doppelganger (double character) and, through the creation of Hyde, Stevenson shows how Jekyll chooses to explore this duality.

‘trampling… hailing down a storm of blows… the bones were audibly shattered’

Jekyll transforms into Hyde after some time of repressing the desire to indulge in his dark side. This repression leads to Hyde’s built-up violence exploding in a terrible way as Hyde brutally attacks the elderly MP Sir            Danvers Carew.

This is a moment of horrific graphic violence with the use of sensory language capturing the ghastly sounds of breaking bones in the onomatopoeic ‘shattered’. The vicious verbs ‘trampling’ and ‘hailing’ emphasise the astonishing brutality of the attack and increase dramatic tension for the reader.

‘We may at least save his credit’

Utterson tells Poole that he will read the two letters that Jekyll has left with the purpose of saving Jekyll’s reputation.

Utterson is loyal to the last, and also, perhaps, more interested in protecting Jekyll’s reputation rather than allowing the truth to come out. This shows again how important reputation was in the Victorian era.  We do not hear from Utterson again so we have no idea whether he does publicly declare the letters or whether he suppresses them. Stevenson leaves us guessing.

‘A creature eaten up and emptied by fever, languidly weak solely… occupied by one thought: the horror of my other self’

Dr Jekyll is a broken man at the end of the novel,     destroyed by his unrepressed dark side.

He is physically weak. The personification of the fever, which is a side-effect of the transforming drug, shows how powerful it is; it has ‘eaten’ Jekyll up and ‘emptied’ him. He has been consumed by the evil that he has unleashed and is diminished to the status of a ‘creature’, the noun signifying he is less than human. His dark desires, released and unrepressed, end up killing him.

He is mentally destroyed as well; his brain is obsessed with ‘one thought: the horror of my other self’. There is regret here at his actions which have had unforseen, horrifying consequences.

Context: Stevenson’s portrayal of the strong scientist reduced to a weak creature reflects concerns that, at the end of the 19th century, civilisation was degenerating and mankind was becoming weak through the indulgence in immoral activities.

Grade 9 Analysis

Look at the theme in a different way.

How does Stevenson present repression?

As necessary: Stevenson shows us that to allow our desires to run loose unchecked is dangerous and ultimately destructive. Repression is needed to keep our darker instincts in check and prevent the moral collapse of society. Jekyll’s creation of Hyde and thus his rejection of a lifetime of repressed desires soon brings him more pain than happiness and ultimately completely destroys him.

As a negative: Stevenson shows us that constant repression is unhealthy. Utterson regularly denies himself wine for fear of indulging himself, yet we are told that ‘at friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye’. It seems here that the allowance of vices can have a positive affect as Utterson becomes warmer and more humane after allowing himself a drink. Furthermore, Jekyll’s attempts to suppress his other self causes him agony; he states ‘I began to be tortured with throes and longings, as of Hyde struggling for freedom’. The lexical choices- ‘tortured’ ‘throes’ ‘struggling’– shows the pain of repression. Jekyll does try to repress his baser half but this has the dreadful consequence of the desires become stronger and more powerful for being repressed; when he finally succumbs to being Hyde again, he says ‘My devil had long been caged, he came out roaring’. The caging of Hyde, the repression of desires, means that he is now uncontrollable as seen in the furious, aggressive word ‘roaring’ and this soon leads to the brutal murder of Sir Danvers Carew.

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