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The Unanswered Question
Transcript of The Unanswered Question
These are the real questions that are raised by literature. They're thought provoking. And the answer is not clearly given to you, perhaps because there is no right answer at all. Or maybe there is. Who knows?
“Literature is the question minus the answer.”
What is the essence of a person?
Who is the real Henry Jekyll?
We obviously want to think of the essence as being the "good" part of a person. We all think of Dr. Jekyll is the main character here, with Hyde being a minor side character. However, Hyde is actually a manifestation of Dr. Jekyll’s dark side. Therefore, Hyde is completely Jekyll. Jekyll only hides Hyde (there’s that pun again; I’m starting to think it was intentional). Jekyll conceals his Hyde nature throughout his life, shoving it down and putting on a proper face as Victorian society dictates. But his Hyde side has always been there and is a part of him, right? That’s where this question is tricky. Can we really separate the two? Where does the one end and the other begin? Who is the “actual person” here? Jekyll simply wore a mask. Hyde can be considered to be his true nature. But then again, Jekyll did work hard to restrain his darkness. And he felt guilty about everything Hyde did. That is where his “good” comes from. Does all his goodness mean nothing? We talk about Hyde “taking over” and “consuming” Jekyll. But the two are really one, aren’t they? This work just raises more and more questions about human nature.
The Novel Itself
(basically New Criticism)
How many different versions of yourself are out there? Who is the real you? Can you really make a distinction? Is man really not one, but two?
We can think about Jekyll and Hyde as ourselves. We oftentimes act as different people, depending on the various situations we find ourselves in. For instance, the way you would conduct yourself at, say, a job interview would vastly differ from your behavior when casually hanging out with your friends. You restrain yourself from immature jokes and speaking what is on your mind when you’re in front of a potential employer. Then with your friends, you can let loose and “be yourself.” And at home, you’re neither of the people you were at the interview or with your friends. All these transformations to your personality that occur within a day, even without drinking a potion, make you somewhat like Jekyll and Hyde. Not as extreme, of course. But the idea is still there.
The Unanswered Question
Stevenson raises this question by creating Dr. Henry Jekyll, a character who manages to isolate the “good” part of himself from the “bad.”
Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
We will hunt for answers to the question(s) raised by Robert Louis Stevenson's novella:
Jekyll is a well respected doctor held in esteem by society. He conducts himself properly and comes from a good background. We learn of his secret yearning to participate in dark activities but he controls himself. However, after drinking his concoction, his dark alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, is free to do whatever he pleases, without any inhibitions. We don’t know a lot of what Hyde does, though Jekyll seems to remember and feels remorseful in his final letter. We do know that he eventually kills an old man and is forced to hide [haha punny. Speaking of puns, there’s this great one I must include: “If he be Mr. Hyde . . . I shall be Mr. Seek (Stevenson, 25).” I laughed so hard.] Anyway, Jekyll gradually loses control of the transformations and Hyde ends up taking over, destroying Jekyll, or whatever the good part of him was.
The messages here are that man is both innately good and evil [ ]. Also, the idea of not messing with that natural balance is evident since it destroyed Jekyll.
Good versus evil is another theme found in this book. [ ] Jekyll obviously represents the good and Hyde represents the bad. This functions as a cautionary tale, similar to that of Dr. Faustus, against dabbling in “evil” since it can and will overtake and consume the good.
Another idea is that of self-control versus self indulgence. Dr. Jekyll has so far in his life, been a picture of self-control. However, when he creates and let's himself loose in Hyde, his self indulgence overtakes him, resulting in murder. Fulfilling your darker desires is dangerous since you can easily become addicted and lose control.
Though it's debatable whether the two can or should be considered as one, both characters are outcasts at some point.
Goes through a journey since he wasn't initially an outcast; his outcasting was a consequence of his own actions and choices.
1. He upset the natural balance
(of good and evil within man)
-got to satisfy his darker desires
by living vicariously through Hyde
-while still preserving the "goodness"
of Dr. Jekyll.
2. He lost control of his creation and
forced himself into isolation.
-arguably to preserve his own reputation (Victorian era - reputation
-didn't ask for help but waited until
the last second...too late.
Hyde was an outcast from the beginning.
-created to fulfill darker desires that went against cultured Victorian society.
-physically strange: people feel uncomfortable in his presence [quote]
-the only young character in this story of mostly middle-aged men.
Jekyll writes in his letter after his experiment that “all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil.” (Stevenson, 134).
Stevenson demonstrates his belief to be contrary to Jekyll's initial belief that man was two separate parts by having Jekyll destroyed by his attempts of messing with the natural order (by trying to separate the two parts that fit together to make a whole man.) He also ensures that Jekyll learns the truth and shares it with the readers.
But these are all clear statements, or answers. We’re looking at “the question minus the answer.” To me, that is: where is the essence of a person —in the good or the bad?
Jekyll was born “to a large fortune, endowed besides with excellent parts, inclined by nature to industry, fond of the respect of the wise and good among my fellowmen, and thus, as might have been supposed, with every guarantee of an honourable and distinguished future.”
In his narrative, Jekyll himself says “even as good shone upon the countenance of the one, evil was written broadly and plainly on the face of the other” describing how good and evil are represented in the characters of Jekyll and Hyde (Stevenson, 133).
This is an allegory!
(since the characters represent more than themselves)
Dr. Jekyll writes “I concealed my pleasures” in his final letter that reveals all (Stevenson, 124).
“The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified; I would scarce use a harder term. But in the hands of Edward Hyde, they soon began to turn toward the monstrous. When I would come back from these excursions, I was often plunged into a kind of wonder at my vicarious depravity. This familiar that I called out of my own soul, and sent forth alone to do his good pleasure, was a being inherently malign and villainous; his every act and thought centered on self; drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from any degree of torture to another; relentless like a man of stone. Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde..." (Stevenson, 138).
This quote hints at the evil done at the hands of Hyde and shows Jekyll's remorse over them
BUT WAIT LET'S DO THIS REALLY QUICKLY FIRST
Jekyll writes about his "discovery . . . that man is not truly one, but truly two," which prompts him to create a potion that separates what he believes are the two parts of man --good and evil (Stevenson, 128) .
Jekyll claims in his letter that "It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty"
Immediately after blaming Hyde, Jekyll admits that "Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired"
After remembering Hyde's actions, Jekyll resolves that "he would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered.”
Jekyll writes “although I had now two characters as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still the old Henry Jekyll” (Stevenson, 135).
Jekyll writes that even before the transformations, “I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of me” (Stevenson, 125).
Jekyll is under the illusion of control, saying "I will tell you one thing: the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde" (Stevenson, 39).