Comparing Knowledge and Power for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Jekyll

Comparing Knowledge and Power for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Jekyll

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Knowledge is Power for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Jekyll


Living in the 21st century is very exciting. The ever-changing world of technology is proof of that alone.  Still, if you examined the last 20 years of history you would find examples of enormous changes in technology and the use of power in our world.  The Cold War came to an end resulting in the fall of the Soviet Union, and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall are examples.  Looking beyond the last 20 years we have seen wars come and go, governments topple, economies change, and the assassination of world leaders.  Power can be an enormous thing.  If used right it can have an overwhelming positive influence.  Used incorrectly it can have disastrous effects.

Science and technology has advanced like never before.  We have seen new medical vaccines to cure such horrific ailments as Polio, Small Pox, and further progression in the fight on AIDS.  Medical procedures have advanced also, incorporating the use of science and technology to perform difficult surgical procedures, and other complicated calculations. 

The Human Genome is another exciting advancement.  Creating a human road map and having the understanding of how and why things happen is invaluable.  Just imagine walking into the Hospital and in exchange for a drop of blood you would receive information about what ailments you will see in your lifetime, what disease you might die of, and when.  This kind of study has advanced our interest in cloning.  With such successes as Dolly the sheep, and human embryo testing, scientist have seen enough success to continue advancing this exciting new field.

Advancements like these in science and technology have to begin somewhere. Wielding this kind of power in the 21st century begins with a certain type of individual. A person like this probably has some characteristics of the fictional characters being studied in the 19th century.  Power can be more than just form of knowledge, and control; it can be a way of life.  Characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Henry Jekyll are proof of this. 

Two individuals, who would seem so different, are more alike then one might think.  The similarities between the two are undeniable.  Both Characters are from England and from roughly the same period. The two characters may live differently but require the same fulfillment.  First you have Dr. Jekyll whose a pillar of his community, a well-regarded man of wealth and proper upbringing, the host of many social functions, competitive, and is described as " a large, well made, smooth faced man of fifty, with something of a stylish cast" (12).

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Still with all of his financial, business, and social successes Dr. Jekyll is alone, and hides behind his only true power, knowledge.

Then there is Sherlock Holmes, whom seems to be fairly similar Dr. Jekyll.  From a parallel perspective Holmes follows the same approach to life that Dr. Jekyll has.  His extreme intuition has made him popular in his own community.  His ability to be approachable, and a cut above the rest as a detective have made him well regarded.  He is competitive like Dr. Jekyll, and has the same type of social activity, but like Dr. Jekyll he is also alone.  Holmes uses his only true power in the same fashion as Dr. Jekyll, for knowledge. 

Fundamentally both men require power for survival.  Each wields their power in the same way, to increase their self worth.  With the noticeable absence of family outside of close friends in the lives of Jekyll/Holmes it is obvious that each has a void to fill.  For Jekyll it is the need to separate him from what's desirable and what's not.  For Jekyll to survive he must have the ability to remove all that is unwanted to increase his own self worth.  Holmes need for an increased self worth is much more obvious than Jekyll.  Holmes needs the company of friends to defuse his issues with women.  He adds more insight into his feeling regarding the opposite sex, in a statement to Watson, Holmes says, " I would not tell them to much" continuing " women are never to be entirely trusted- not the best of them" (203).  In his particular case his apparent abuse of knowledge fumes from his every statement.  In every possible chance Holmes gets, he applies what he has deducted in almost a vain manner.  In the first encounter with Dr. Watson, Holmes comments on his uniquely dark tan as saying " you have been to Afghanistan, I perceive" Watson replies, " how on earth did you know that?" Holmes responds " Never mind" (13).

The most obvious point between the two books regarding Jekyll/Holmes obsession for power is the need for mind-altering chemicals to help each reach their intended goals.  In the introduction we learn that Holmes is a "first-class chemist" (11).  On the beginning first page of text, Holmes removes a bottle from his mantle and takes out his hypodermic syringe from its case. Watson adds that, " three times a day for many months I had witnessed this performance" he continues in regards to the injection " which is it to-day, morphine or cocaine?" (135).  Holmes responds, " it is cocaine, a seven percent solution" (136).  It seems that Holmes knowledge of chemistry allows him the ability to alter his perceptions on a regular basis.  The daily injection might help Holmes in his day-to-day confrontations with people.  Which in turn might give him enough alteration to perform his job flawlessly in the eyes of his peers.  This form of power is needed for Holmes to function at the professional level that is expected of him.  Similarly Jekyll who is already a known chemist uses chemicals to alter his whole being in his search for perfection.

 The chemical alteration is needed for Jekyll to reach the ultimate power he is seeking.  In Jekyll's full statement he says, " I knew well that I risked death; for any drug that so potently controlled and shook the very fortress of identity, might by the least scruple of an overdose or at the least inopportunity in the moment of exhibition, utterly blot out that immaterial tabernacle which I looked to it to change" (44).  In the case of Jekyll the chemicals themselves represent power.  He cannot function in the world he has created without them.  As Jekyll continues this obvious chemical abuse his social status, and financial power established in the world around him is about to crumble because of his need for perfection by separating his good versus evil in the form of Hyde.

Causing this need of abuse for these two characters is their confusion and dissatisfaction with their lives.  Both simply are not happy as human beings. Jekyll's need to try and reinvent himself backfires as he points out, " The evil side of my nature, to which I had now transferred the stamping efficacy, was less robust and less developed than the good which I had just deposed" (44).  The success in his community, wither it is financial or social is simply not enough.  Jekyll feels the need to put his well being at risk in search of recognition from the medical community.  To perfect a new procedure that is as advanced and god-like in nature would secure him a place in history.  If the procedure was successful, Jekyll could have been happy as a human being. 

Holmes needs is very similar to Jekyll.  Instead of true separation like Jekyll, Holmes displays his unquestionable knowledge to fulfill his dissatisfaction with his life.  He likes to outsmart others instead of working in conjunction, like the Police detectives.  Holmes finds pleasure in reminding individuals of their inability to compete at his level.  He reminds Watson of this in a conversation regarding the launch saying, " I then put myself in the place of Small and looked at as a man of his capacity would" (215). 

It seems to suggested that Jekyll and Holmes are looking for ways to extend their power over those they encounter.  Because of this they seek to find pleasing forms of immortality.  For Jekyll it is the ability to extend his life by using the special powder.  Following this measure Jekyll hopes to take advantage of living the life he always knew he could never have. Regarding his feelings of his life as a young man he says, " many a man would have even blazoned such irregularities as I was guilty of; but from the high views that I had set before me I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame" (42).  Holmes condition regarding immortality is different than Dr. Jekyll.  Since he cannot extend himself in the same physical alteration as Jekyll, he hopes to do it in a lasting remembrance.  Holmes presents himself as a renaissance man.  His wide interests outside of academics include boxing.  In a conversation with a former boxing champion Holmes states, " I don't think you could have forgotten me.  Don't you remember that amateur who fought three rounds with you at Alison's room on the night of your benefit four years back?"  The champion responds, " If instead o' standin' there so quite you had just stepped up and given me that cross-hit of your under the jaw, I'd ha' known you without a question" (165).  Holmes is certainly not void of the chemical influence in his search for immortality.  When Watson asks Holmes about any other professional inquires he may wish to investigate Holmes responds, " None.  Hence the cocaine.  I cannot live without brainwork. What else is there to live for?" (142).  It would seem that although chemical alteration is apart of Holmes life, maybe this chemical dependence is needed for Holmes to complete his professional work in a certain type of manner, and might just help him in reaching his ultimate goal of immortality.

It seems clear that Holmes and Jekyll do not reach their goals in power.  Obviously these examples have disastrous effects on Dr. Jekyll.  As for Holmes his chemical dependence may be his undoing.  Perhaps his chemical alteration affects his judgment in future investigations, causing his death.  British literature is reflective of the times.  The British culture that is portrayed in the books reflects a different concept for success.  In the books examined, both main characters use their knowledge as a form of power to preserve themselves.  For Jekyll, it's a physical preservation. However for Holmes it is being remembered as a great critical thinker, an athlete, and an individual who can always be counted on, or otherwise a renaissance man.  Both of these characters are disturbed; they represent some of the attributes that make our science and technology possible today.  Both of their attributes include a solid and diverse knowledge, a curiosity of the unexplained, overconfidence towards their work, and the reliance on chemicals to help attain their goals. There does not seem to be a clear-cut answer as to whose power is more monstrous.  In the 21st century an individual wielding his knowledge in an unknown substance and chemicals to physically and mentally alter one's self might be considered more monstrous than a know-it-all detective with a cocaine habit.
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