In class, we had a great discussion on this passage from the novel (I need to stop calling it a novel – it’s actually a novella, or a short novel).
Whilst reading the passage, I asked the class to underline ONE word per line, the word that they think stands out like a neon sign. Once they’d done this, in their groups I asked them to quickly ‘dump’ all their words on a sheet of paper in the centre of the room, adding ‘x2’ etc to any words that had been chosen by more than one member of the group. From this list, I asked them to discern any patterns: they were quick to point out things like:
pain; disease, joy and pleasure; horror;re-birth/birth; movement.
This is an extremely successful way of making some big, deep inferences from the text and really help with our question (‘how does Stevenson present Jekyll’s feelings towards Hyde in this passage’). These words already give us some key feelings – Jekyll feels a sense of joy and pleasure, for example).
The next stage is to start thinking about the second part of the question.
‘How does Stevenson present Jekyll’s feelings towards Hyde in the rest of the novel?’
I’ve put together this PPT slide to help them make some initial links from this passage to the novel. Not all of the links relate to Jekyll’s feelings, but we can narrow these down later.
To complete this thorough examination of the question, we must examine the context. Remember, the idea is that a text bears the imprint of the tine in which it was produced, so how does the extract reflect late nineteenth century London?
The whole mood of this passage is one of release: release from the stifling body of Jekyll, his frustrations at not being who he wants to be and Hyde offers this release. In this way, the passage reflects those ideas of Victorian repression – especially amongst the middle classes who preached morality and conscience and then vanished down the rabbit holes of Soho, to the opium dens and brothels – thus the link to ‘sensual images’, perhaps.
That Jekyll feels he has lost in ‘stature’ is explained later on in the novel: Hyde is small because as the personification of Jekyll’s dark side, he has been less used than Jekyll would have liked. Only later on in the novel, when Hyde appears more often, does he begin to grow in stature – a bit like a muscle, the more he is used, the bigger he becomes! But this lack of stature also reflects once more the ideas of Darwin, perhaps. Hyde is often referred to as a monkey, an atavistic ‘thing’ that is lower in the evolutionary scale. As such, he is an abomination (remember that many Victorians felt that Darwin was wrong, almost blasphemous in providing theories that jarred with religious interpretations of the birth of humanity). Linking Hyde with apes, and with a lack of stature, suggests that Stevenson wants us to see Hyde as a throwback and his evil an example of how far we as a race have developed. We need to think about whether Stevenson’s tale supports Darwin or reflects the hysterical reactions to Darwin’s work in some quarters. By linking Hyde’s ‘troglodytic’ ape-like form with evil, for example, is Stevenson suggesting that humanity in its present form is superior to their ancestors? What about Darwin’s idea of natural selection and the survival of the fittest? By killing off Hyde, Stevenson shows that Jekyll is morally stronger – prepared to sacrifice himself for the purposes of justice, truth and morality.
It is important to remember that students will have 45 minutes to write their answer in an exam, so there’s no way they can incorporate all these ideas. Instead, they need to select the ones that fit more neatly into their analysis. I’ll try and get some of their work together and post it on the next blog.