Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A Case of Deviant Sexual Expression
Jacqueline Conahan L-SAW 2009
Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores
the dark implications of the duality of human nature. The lawyer Mr. Utterson
embarks on a frightening hunt to discover the mystery of the elusive Mr. Hyde.
In a male–dominated London society, Utterson and the men around him lead lives
characterized by instinctive silence and strict self–denial. The repressive
atmosphere impedes their ability to confront the startling facts about Mr. Hyde
and his inextricable connection with their friend, Dr. Jekyll. Despite
everyone's resistance to accept the harsh realities of Mr. Hyde's identity, no
one could deny the truth in the end. Mr. Hyde is, in fact, Dr. Jekyll's
manifestation of suppressed homosexuality, the deep–seated tension that the
other characters managed to control.
reveals undertones of homosexuality among the characters in the way that he
describes the men's friendships and interactions. The novel opens with Mr.
Utterson on one of his weekly walks with friend Mr. Enfield. Witnesses of them
on the town together claim that the two men rarely speak, jump with "obvious
relief" at the sight of a friend, and seem to have nothing in common (6).
These observations could be intimations of the men's sexual tension due to
their mutually latent homosexuality. There is an awkward air to their
friendship, as if they don't want to do anything in public that could
accidentally expose their shared secret. The fact that these men, along with
all of the other male characters, are bachelors with no apparent interest in
women does not help their case.
also contains other instances of suggestive male-male relations. Jekyll
addresses his friends as "my dear Utterson" and "my dear Lanyon," when he
writes them personal letters (47, 49). In explaining the depth of Jekyll's
feelings for Utterson, Stevenson says that he "cherished for Mr Utterson a
sincere and warm affection" (19). When Utterson pays a visit to his old friend
Dr. Lanyon, their initial greeting is somewhat exaggerated. As soon as he
spots Utterson, Lanyon "[springs] up from his chair and welcome[s] him with
both hands," an act that is called "somewhat theatrical" (12). The two are
said to be old friends who both have "thorough" respect for each other and
"thoroughly" enjoy one another's company (12). Lanyon's intimate welcome and
the strong friendship he has with Utterson may imply a deeper relationship. In
his essay "'The End of History': Identity and Dissolution in Apocalyptic
Gothic", George Haggerty studies the close connections of males often present
in Gothic novels like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He describes the
"physical and psychological bond" of these men as "emotional and erotic in ways
that defy conventional descriptions of male friendship" (226).
keep their homosexual tendencies in check by constantly restraining themselves
from behavior that may be overly indulgent or undisciplined. Self–imposed
repression runs throughout the novel as an integral part of these men's
everyday lives. Stevenson introduces Utterson as a man who is "austere with
himself" (5). He avoids the theater for years, despite his enjoyment of it,
and postpones his reading of Lanyon's urgent letter, although he feels "great
curiosity" (19). Utterson is reluctant to speak and even more unlikely to
smile. He takes pains to mask his emotions and lets his "rugged countenance"
speak for itself, maintaining his image as archetypal male (5).
of silence is central to the characters' repressive lifestyle. Utterson and
others are carefully tacit, preferring the torture of quiet to the risk of open
speech, even when a pressing issue is at hand. After Enfield first tells the
story of his experience with Mr. Hyde, he and Utterson vow never to mention the
subject again. Utterson says he is "ashamed" of asking too many questions (10).
The men behave as if conversation requires apology, because the very act of
speaking to someone is an invasion of privacy. The characters struggle with
self–expression, because they fear exposing too much. As a result of their own
anxieties, they practice awkward self–control when they interact with others.
this culture's rigid internalization, Dr. Jekyll's coming out as Mr. Hyde is
even more scandalous. Hence, Jekyll exerts great effort to keep his hideous
secret to himself. Beyond the conventional privacy that male characters have
in the novel, Jekyll creates a number of other personal barriers to separate
himself from society and prevent the uncovering of his alter ego. As Jekyll
begins to lose control of his identity, he gradually withdraws from the
public. Jekyll avoids contact with the outside world, hiding within the refuge
of his home and laboratory. When Utterson expresses concern at Jekyll's
reclusive behavior, Jekyll responds with a muddled note:
mean from henceforth to lead a life of extreme seclusion; you must not be
surprised, nor must you doubt my friendship, if my door is often shut even to
you. You must suffer me to go my own dark way. I have brought on myself a
punishment and a danger that I cannot name. If I am the chief of sinners, I am
the chief of sufferers also. I could not think that this earth contained a
place for sufferings and terrors so unmanning; and you can do but one thing,
Utterson, to lighten this destiny, and that is to respect my silence. (33)
A number of themes,
relating to the desire for secrecy and the battle against overt homosexuality,
prevail in Jekyll's letter. The note evokes images of light and dark. While
light represents the public life of a respectable man of society, dark relates
to the required covertness of homosexuality. Jekyll's deviances are so
horrific that he "cannot name" them. Jekyll's most telling explanation of his
troubles is that they are "unmanning," implying that his experiences are
somehow emasculating. Jekyll's only wish is that Utterson continue to "respect
his silence." To avoid any chance of revelation, Jekyll will live in a state
of decided isolation. He says his door will be "often shut," which could
describe both the literal door of his home and the figurative door to his inner
self. Essentially, Jekyll intends to hide in every sense of the word.
his home as his trusted shield from the outside world, concealing himself in
his private laboratory and turning all visitors away at the door. Jekyll's
obsession with seclusion comes to dominate his life. His unhealthy behavior
culminates in the "incident at the window," when Utterson and Enfield spot a
dreary–looking Jekyll gazing out of an upstairs window of his home. The very
sight of his old friends fills Jekyll with such paralyzing terror that he
cannot bear to remain in the window beyond a terse greeting to the men below.
Jekyll's paranoia is indicative of a problem beyond fixing, a fact which grows
more and more evident to Utterson and the other characters. His devious
actions suggest a secret both shameful and dangerous. As Judith Halberstam
puts it: "Jekyll/Hyde's desire to stay in hiding, his appearance as if masked,
announces an essential connection between secrecy and sexuality, conspiracy and
perverse activity" (79).
identity begins to take over, Jekyll takes his hiding to extremes and
indefinitely plants himself within his laboratory. His butler Poole says he is
"shut up again in his cabinet," an ultimate hiding spot. Utterson and Poole
must break down the locked door of the laboratory, Jekyll's last fortification,
to expose his secret for what it truly is: the homosexual manifestation of Mr.
Hyde. All along, Utterson and his associates had missed the key regarding Jekyll's
mysterious problem; he had not been concealing a singular fault or
transgression, but an element of his very identity. The riddle of Jekyll and
Hyde had been all the more confusing, because "Utterson assume[d]…that Jekyll
[was] hiding a particular behavior or behaviors, something that [could] be
expunged by rewriting history. But Jekyll [knew] that what he [was] dealing
with [was] not a behavior as much as a feature of identity" (Haggerty 241).
decisive unveiling in the laboratory not only exposed Jekyll as Hyde, but also
as a homosexual, for Hyde's descriptions throughout the novel characterize him
as such. Characters who have encountered Hyde struggle to explain his
appearance. Enfield makes the initial attempt to do so:
is not easy to describe. There is something downright wrong with his
appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw
a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere;
he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point.
Enfield's words, or
strain to find words, illustrate the "disconcerting effect" that Hyde's
appearance has on those who see him (Williams 412). Something about Hyde is
unpleasant or inappropriate, but characters cannot seem to identify an exact
problem. Williams calls Hyde an "obstacle to expression," a sort of anomaly to
the common people in society (412). Hyde's indescribable features prevent him
from being categorized; he may be called, in fact, nothing more than "other," a
label often associated with homosexuality.
Hyde's physical characteristics are effeminate, also related to stereotypical
descriptions of a homosexual male. Doane and Hodges observe that a few of
Hyde's most prominent traits are "congruent with cultural descriptions of
femininity" (69). They note that Hyde is "small in stature, has a quick light
step with a swing, and weeps like a woman" (69). When he speaks to Utterson,
Hyde behaves with a "mixture of timidity and boldness" (16). His voice is
"husky, whispering and somewhat broken" (16). Feminine weakness marks Hyde's
demeanor. Furthermore, Utterson's description of Hyde's home characterizes
Hyde as a tidy housewife. His small dwelling consists of only a couple of
rooms "furnished with luxury and good taste" (24). A wine closet, elegant
silver, fine art, and aesthetic carpets are defining features; Hyde's place
sound more like the home of a woman with an interest in interior decorating
than of a violent mystery man.
possessing qualities that are decidedly feminine, Hyde also comes across as
rather animal-like. Hyde is "ape–like" with mannerisms strikingly similar to
other creatures (22). When Utterson approaches Hyde in the street, Hyde
"[shrinks] back with a hissing intake of breath" (14). This image sounds more
like an animal caught off guard by a predator in the wild than a man simply
startled by another human being. Hyde ends his encounter with Utterson by
"snarl[ing] aloud into a savage laugh," the words "snarling" and "savage" again
suggesting that Hyde is something other than human. Poole describes Hyde
making sounds "like a rat" and moving about "like a monkey" (41, 42). In his
closing statement, Jekyll himself refers to Hyde as one who "had long been
caged" and "came out roaring" (64).
implications of Hyde as animal–like are both violent and sexual. Halberstam
claims that "the ape-like Hyde combines perversion with a lust for murder, he
allies sex with violence, and he produces within his own person a form and
shape for deviant sexuality" (80). Hyde is not only Jekyll's manifest
homosexuality, but is also representative of a rapacious sexual appetite.
Hyde's sexual desire is rampant, because of its long suppression. He satisfies
his cravings through late night adventures on the London streets, which may
likely entail deviant trysts not to be detailed. The only people that Hyde is
known to have encountered are the young girl and old man whom he murders. The
relationship between sex and violence is most evident in these two counts of
brutal murder. This dynamic can be read in two ways. One interpretation is
that Hyde killed these two people in an effort to eliminate any witnesses of
his perverse late night activities. Another view is that Hyde's insatiable
sexual appetite frustrates him to act out with violence, the other raw longing
of the flesh.
In light of
either explanation of Hyde's violence, the two murder scenes employ sexual
language. In the first murder, Hyde and the young girl collide into each other
"naturally enough," and Hyde kills her by trampling over her small body (7).
In this incident, Hyde uses no weapon but his own body. He also leaves her
"screaming on the ground" (7). Although this scene is not literally sexual,
the union of the two bodies and the girl's screaming give the impression of a
sexual encounter ending in orgasm. In the Carew Murder Case, Hyde uses a
"heavy cane" to beat his victim (21). He then stomps the man underfoot, until
his "body jump[s] upon the roadway" (22). A piece of Hyde's cane remains at
the scene of the crime. Once again, the sexual nature of this event is not
literal. However, the cane is a rather phallic symbol, and the jumping of the
victim's body once more recalls the idea of reaching sexual climax. Finally, a
part of Hyde's cane marks the scene, as a man's semen is left behind after a
to the use of language that is sexually descriptive, the recurring setting of a
bed sexualizes Hyde's existence. Utterson is the first to see bedroom images.
In his tortured sleep on the night that he began his crusade to reveal Hyde:
would see a room in a rich house, where his friend (Jekyll) lay asleep,
dreaming and smiling at his dreams; and then the door of that room would be
opened , the curtains of the bed plucked apart, the sleeper recalled, and lo!
There would stand by his side a figure to whom power was given, and even at
that dead hour, he would rise and do its bidding. (13)
The bedroom setting is
sexual in itself, but more important is Jekyll's zombie-like obedience to his
aberrant sexual desires. Jekyll's act of "smiling at his dreams" may suggest
dreams of a sexual nature, or at least dreams that give him more pleasure than
his restrained lifestyle does. The figure's entrance seems to be outside
Jekyll's control. Jekyll is also quick to acquiesce, which show how Hyde's
persona begins to dominate.
relays the other noteworthy bedroom scene, in which he awakes in the body of
Hyde for the first time. As Jekyll comes out of a "comfortable morning doze,"
the oddly large dimensions of the room and the disturbing appearance of his own
hand allow Jekyll to ascertain that he is not himself (61). Haggerty remarks
that "the confusion of not knowing where he is upon waking, and the even more
pronounced sense that he is not who he thinks he is…all this reads like the
account of one finding himself in a strange bed after a night of sexual
transgression" (243). Rather than waking up with his partner in misguided
sexual behavior, Jekyll wakes up as his other self, Hyde, the perpetrator of
the misguided sexual behavior. Haggerty notes how "powerfully attracted"
Jekyll is to his other identity, Hyde (243). The fact that Jekyll makes his
unintentional transformation in bed and the presence of Hyde's "erotically
coded hand" make this scene starkly sexual.
incidents of Hyde's newfound autonomy lead Jekyll deeper into the world of
clandestine homosexuality, complicating his efforts to keep his double life a
secret. In his statement, Jekyll recalls how he "concealed his pleasures,"
though gripped by "the temptation of a discovery so singular and profound" (55,
57). Jekyll recognizes the immorality of his actions, but claims to feel
"something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and, from its
very novelty, incredibly sweet" (57). Jekyll knows his behavior is
"undignified" and "monstrous," but he becomes a slave to this "unknown but not
an innocent freedom" (60, 57). Hyde lives a life of unbounded enjoyment,
"drinking pleasure with bestial avidity" (60). All of Jekyll's descriptions
relate Hyde's identity to matters of the flesh, particularly stealthy, deviant
sexuality. When Jekyll begins to realize the raging power of Hyde, he makes
one last attempt to return to his former life. Jekyll goes back to the
"self-denying toils of professional life," only to discover that he does not
have the self-control to stick to the "dryness of a life of study" (64, 59).
lacked the unrelenting self–control of Utterson and the other men, forever
floundering in dull lives of restraint. The case of Jekyll and Hyde proved
that it is impossible to be a member of both worlds; one cannot live the
austere life of a respected man by day and the forbidden life of a rampant
homosexual at night. Jekyll succeeded in preserving the confidentiality of his
double life for some time, but eventually Hyde became too powerful to control.
In the end, Hyde had to be destroyed, and, rid of the homosexual threat, London
society returned to quaint suppression.
Doane, Janice, and
Devon Hodges. "Demonic Disturbances of Sexual Identity: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr/s
Hyde." Novel: A Forum on Fiction. 23.1 (1989): 63-74.
Haggerty, George E.
"'The End of History': Identity and Dissolution in Apocalyptic Gothic. "Eighteenth
Century: Theory and Interpretation. 41.3 (2000): 225-46.
Marion. "Parasites and Perverts: Anti-Semitism and Sexuality in Nineteenth Century
Gothic Fiction." Dissertation Abstracts International. 52.6 (1991):
Williams, M. Kellen.
"'Down with the Door, Poole': Designating Deviance in Stevenson's Strange
Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." English Literature in Transition
(1880-1920). 39.4 (1996): 412-29.