I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man...if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.See Important Quotations Explained
This chapter offers a transcription of the letter Jekyll leaves for Utterson in the laboratory. Jekyll writes that upon his birth he possessed a large inheritance, a healthy body, and a hardworking, decent nature. His idealism allowed him to maintain a respectable seriousness in public while hiding his more frivolous and indecent side. By the time he was fully grown, he found himself leading a dual life, in which his better side constantly felt guilt for the transgressions of his darker side. When his scientific interests led to mystical studies as to the divided nature of man, he hoped to find some solution to his own split nature. Jekyll insists that “man is not truly one, but truly two,” and he records how he dreamed of separating the good and evil natures.
Jekyll reports that, after much research, he eventually found a chemical solution that might serve his purposes. Buying a large quantity of salt as his last ingredient, he took the potion with the knowledge that he was risking his life, but he remained driven by the hopes of making a great discovery. At first, he experienced incredible pain and nausea. But as these symptoms subsided, he felt vigorous and filled with recklessness and sensuality. He had become the shrunken, deformed Mr. Hyde. He hypothesizes that Hyde’s small stature owed to the fact that this persona represented his evil side alone, which up to that point had been repressed.
Upon first looking into a mirror after the transformation, Jekyll-turned-Hyde was not repulsed by his new form; instead, he experienced “a leap of welcome.” He came to delight in living as Hyde. Jekyll was becoming too old to act upon his more embarrassing impulses, but Hyde was a younger man, the personification of the evil side that emerged several years after Jekyll’s own birth. Transforming himself into Hyde became a welcome outlet for Jekyll’s passions. Jekyll furnished a home and set up a bank account for his alter ego, Hyde, who soon sunk into utter degradation. But each time he transformed back into Jekyll, he felt no guilt at Hyde’s dark exploits, though he did try to right whatever wrongs had been done.
It was not until two months before the Carew murder that Jekyll found cause for concern. While asleep one night, he involuntarily transformed into Hyde—without the help of the potion—and awoke in the body of his darker half. This incident convinced him that he must cease with his transformations or risk being trapped in Hyde’s form forever. But after two months as Jekyll, he caved in and took the potion again. Hyde, so long repressed, emerged wild and vengefully savage, and it was in this mood that he beat Carew to death, delighting in the crime. Hyde showed no remorse for the murder, but Jekyll knelt and prayed to God for forgiveness even before his transformation back was complete. The horrifying nature of the murder convinced Jekyll never to transform himself again, and it was during the subsequent months that Utterson and others remarked that Jekyll seemed to have had a weight lifted from his shoulders, and that everything seemed well with him.
Eventually, though, Jekyll grew weary of constant virtue and indulged some of his darker desires—in his own person, not that of Hyde. But this dip into darkness proved sufficient to cause another spontaneous transformation into Hyde, which took place one day when Jekyll was sitting in a park, far from home. As Hyde, he immediately felt brave and powerful, but he also knew that the police would seize him for his murder of Carew. He could not even return to his rooms to get his potions without a great risk of being captured. It was then that he sent word to Lanyon to break into his laboratory and get his potions for him. After that night, he had to take a double dose of the potion every six hours to avoid spontaneous transformation into Hyde. As soon as the drug began to wear off, the transformation process would begin. It was one of these spells that struck him as he spoke to Enfield and Utterson out the window, forcing him to withdraw.
In his last, desperate hours, Hyde grew stronger as Jekyll grew weaker. Moreover, the salt necessary for the potion began to run out. Jekyll ordered more, only to discover that the mineral did not have the same effect; he realized that the original salt must have contained an impurity that made the potion work. Jekyll then anticipated the fast approach of the moment when he must become Hyde permanently. He thus used the last of the potion to buy himself time during which to compose this final letter. Jekyll writes that he does not know whether, when faced with discovery, Hyde will kill himself or be arrested and hanged—but he knows that by the time Utterson reads this letter, Henry Jekyll will be no more.
[As] the first edge of my penitence wore off … a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering.(See
At this point all the mysteries of the novel unravel, as we encounter a second account of the same events that have been unfolding throughout the novel. Only this time, instead of seeing them from the point of view of Utterson, we see them from the point of view of Jekyll—and, by extension, that of Hyde. This shift in point of view makes a great difference indeed. All the events that seemed puzzling or inexplicable before are suddenly explained: Jekyll’s confession makes clear the will that left everything to Hyde; it tells of the events leading up to the brutal murder of Carew; it clarifies the mystery of the similarity between Jekyll’s and Hyde’s handwritings; it elucidates why Jekyll seemed to improve dramatically after Carew’s murder, and why he abruptly went into a decline and was forced into seclusion. We know, finally, the details behind Hyde’s midnight visit to Lanyon and Jekyll’s bizarre disappearance from the window while talking to Enfield and Utterson; so, too, is Jekyll’s final disappearance explained. It is as if there have been two parallel narratives throughout the novel, and we have, until now, been given access only to one. With Jekyll’s confession, however, everything falls into place.
Jekyll’s meditations on the dual nature of man, which prompt his forays into the experiments that bring forth Hyde, point to the novel’s central question about the nature of the relationship between the good and evil portions of the human soul. As the embodiment of the dark side of man, Hyde is driven by passion and heedless of moral constraints. Yet it is important to note that while Hyde exists as distilled evil, Jekyll remains a mixture of good and evil. Jekyll repeatedly claims that his goal was to liberate his light half from his darker impulses, yet the opposite seems to happen. His dark side is given flesh, while his better half is not. Moreover, his dark side grows ever stronger as the novel continues, until the old, half-good and half-evil Jekyll ceases to exist.
Hyde is smaller than Jekyll, and younger, which leads Jekyll to surmise that his evil part is smaller and less developed than his good part. Yet Hyde’s physical strength might suggest the opposite—that the evil side possesses a superior power and vigor. Jekyll’s initial delight whenever he becomes Hyde seems to support this viewpoint, as does the fact that, no matter how appalling the crimes Hyde commits, Jekyll never feels guilty enough to refrain from making the transformation again as soon as he feels the urge. “Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde,” Jekyll writes, “but the situation was apart from ordinary laws, and insidiously relaxed the grasp of conscience. It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty.” But such statements seem little more than an absurd attempt at self-justification. For it is Jekyll who brings Hyde into being, clearly knowing that he embodies pure evil. Jekyll therefore bears responsibility for Hyde’s actions. Indeed, his willingness to convince himself otherwise suggests, again, that the darker half of the man has the upper hand, even when he is Jekyll and not Hyde.
With these pieces of evidence, Stevenson suggests the immensity of humanity’s dark impulses, which conscience can barely hold in check. In the end, then, although he portrays Utterson and Enfield as somewhat absurd in their denial of evil, Stevenson also may sympathize with their determination to repress their dark sides completely. Evil may be so strong that such strategies offer the only possibility for order and morality in society. The alternative—actively exploring the darkness—leads one into the trap that closes permanently on the hapless Jekyll, whose conscientious, civilized self proves no match for the violence unleashed in the person of Hyde.
Interestingly, even in this confessional chapter, certain details of the story’s horrors remain obscure. Jekyll refuses to give any description of his youthful sins, and he does not actually elaborate on any of the “depravity”— except the murder of Carew—in which Hyde engages. As with other silences in the book, this absence of explanation may point to the clash between rational articulation and the irrationality of profound evil. Perhaps these deeds are so depraved that they defy all attempts at true explanation, or perhaps Stevenson fears that to describe them explicitly would be to destroy their eerie power.
But in this chapter in particular, the silence may also indicate not a failure of words but, as in other instances, a refusal to use them. Earlier in the novel, reserved and decorous men such as Enfield and Utterson, wanting to deny the darker elements of humanity, make such a refusal. Here, however, one can hardly ascribe the silences to a character’s denial of evil, since the letter that constitutes this chapter comes from Jekyll himself. The absence of description may owe not to any repression within the novel itself but to the repressive tendencies of the world in which Stevenson wrote. Rigid Victorian norms would not have allowed him to elaborate upon Jekyll's and Hyde's crimes if they were tremendously gruesome; Stevenson thus discusses them in a vague (and thus acceptable) manner.
While Victorian society forbade the discussion of many issues, sexuality stood at the top of the blacklist. Based on other indications in the novel, one can reasonably infer that the misdeeds of Jekyll and Hyde are sexual in nature. For example, upon the novel's introduction of Hyde, Hyde tramples a young girl underfoot and then pays off her family. Child prostitution was rampant in Victorian London, and there may be a suggestion of it here. Moreover, in a novel whose characters are all staunch bachelors, one might interpret the “depravity” mentioned in the text as acts of hidden homosexuality. Late Victorian literature contains many subtle allusions to covert acts of socially unaccepted sexual behavior, often referring to or symbolizing homosexual activities. Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray provides an excellent example of Victorian literature’s concern and anxiety regarding sexual orientation.
In the end, though, the actual nature of Hyde’s and Jekyll’s sins proves less important than Stevenson’s larger point, which is that the lure of the dark side constitutes a universal part of our human nature. We are all Jekylls, desperately trying to keep our Hydes under control—even as we are secretly fascinated by what they do and envious of their frightening freedom from moral constraints.