Comparing Dual-Self Characters in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and A Study in Scarlet and Sign of Four

Comparing Dual-Self Characters in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and A Study in Scarlet and Sign of Four

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Dual-Self Characters in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and A Study in Scarlet and Sign of Four


The character, Jekyll/Hyde, from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written by Robert Lewis Stevenson, and the characters Bartholomew and Thaddeus Sholto from A Study in Scarlet and Sign of Four, written by Sir Arthur Canon Doyle, exhibit dual-self characteristics. The Jekyll/Hyde and Sholto twin characters have many strong similarities as well as distinct but related differences.  Interestingly, many of the areas of differences are ultimately the most vital aspects of the characters.

The premise of the dual self quite probably has its roots in the waking field of science and the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species.  There was an upsurge in discoveries that made people of this time-period realize that there was a great deal they didn't know or understand.  Also adding to this anxiety was the prevalence of disease, an aging Monarchy, and the shifting hierarchy among the classes.  Changes in society and the fears that plague a society eventually find their way into literature, as witnessed in both of these texts.

When Mr. Utterson and Dr. Jekyll are first together in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson describes Dr. Jekyll as, "-a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast, perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness-- (12)."  We are also told that Dr. Jekyll has a handsome face (13).  Through the text, we learn that Dr. Jekyll was a hardworking, likable gentleman with a deep interest in science. 

Unfortunately, Dr. Jekyll had a strong desire to "perfect" himself by splitting his good qualities from his bad by separating himself into two separate identities:

It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both [. . .] If each, I told myself, could be but housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.

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(Stevenson 43)  

We can see that Dr. Jekyll dreamed of a separation of self that, he believed, would eliminate his anxieties tied to his bad qualities.

Without the publications by Darwin, it is unlikely that a dual self would become the basis of a text.  It is the anxiety prevalent in the Victorian era that turns Darwinism into an idea to be feared and grappled with. When Dr. Jekyll changed into Mr. Hyde, he transformed physically as well as psychologically.  Mr. Hyde is described as: "Pale and dwarfish; he gave the impression of deformity without any namable malformation, he had a displeasing smile [. . .]he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice [. . .]There is something more, if I could find a name for it.  God bless me, the man seems hardly human!" (Stevenson 10) This description was offered by Utterson.  It reflects his fear of the unknown, which translates into a frightening portrayal.  Dr. Jekyll changed psychologically as well.  He transformed from a moral, just man into a self indulgent, aggressive killer. 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde represent two sides of the same person, the twins within, whereas Bartholomew and Thaddeus Sholto, from the Sherlock Holmes text, look like the same person, but are in actuality, two separate people - genetic twins.  Even though Thaddeus and Bartholomew physically look alike, they are very different.  How ironic that they may represent the very division that Dr. Jekyll was looking for. 

Thaddeus Sholto is described as, "a small man with a very high head, a bristle of red hair all round the fringe of it, and a bald, shining scalp which shot out from among it like a mountain-peak from fir-trees [. . .] and a too visible line of yellow and irregular teeth (Doyle 145)."  Thaddeus Sholto sounds to be a fairly normal looking gentleman. Perhaps not overly attractive, but normal none-the-less.

Thaddeus also seems to be a good person with good intensions.  He sent Mary Morstan pearls several times from the treasure that their fathers had stolen together.  He did this because he had a good heart and wanted to do what was right. When the treasure was found, he wanted to make sure that Mary got her fair share of the entire fortune. 

When we are first introduced to his twin brother, Bartholomew, we are given a description that presents us a much different view of him than the view we have of Thaddeus.  Bartholomew is already dead when Watson sees him through the keyhole.  Watson describes him as having, "the same high, shining head, the same circular bristle of red hair, the same bloodless countenance.  The features were set, however, in a horrible smile, a fixed and unnatural grin, which in that still and moonlit room was more jarring to the nerves than any scowl or contortion (169)."  This description gives the reader the feeling that this face is more similar to the face of a monster than to that of his twin brother Thaddeus, again reflecting the anxiety of the times and the fear of the unknown.  It also points to the dual self - the same, yet somehow different.  Bartholomew is Thaddeus' identical twin, so they obviously have the same physical features, but they are presented as vastly different and separate. 

As Bartholomew is dead, we only learn of his evil nature through the memories and conversations reminisced by Thaddeus.  Bartholomew, Thaddeus tell us, was greedy, much like his father.  "Over this chaplet my brother Bartholomew and I had some little discussion.  The pearls were evidently of great value, and he was averse to part with

them, for, between friends, my brother was himself a little inclined to my father's fault (161)." 

Looking further into their father's character as an indication of Bartholomew's character, we learn what their father was like as Thaddeus recounts the conversation their father had on his deathbed with Bartholomew and himself.  Their father stated:

The cursed greed which has been my besetting sin through life has withheld from her the treasure, half at least of which should have been hers.  And yet I have made no use of it myself, so blind and foolish a thing is avarice.  The mere feeling of possession has been so dear to me that I could not bear to share it with another. (Doyle 158) 

He was sharing with his sons what his greedy nature had caused him to become.

In Sherlock Holmes, we have twins, similar to the twins referred to by Jekyll/Hyde.  They are identical genetically, but two separate individuals split into what Jekyll/Hyde saw as an answer to the discomforts he suffered due to the struggles within.  Whereas Jekyll/Hyde couldn't completely separate himself, as the good side still contained evil, the separation of Thaddeus and Bartholomew is complete and derived from nature. 

The Jekyll/Hyde and Thaddeus and Bartholomew characters are similar in that they both represent dual selves.  Both sets of characters have a good, ethical side and an evil, immoral, selfish side.  It is easily discernable which characters are which.  The separation is obvious, if not complete.

            Unlike Thaddeus and Bartholomew where evil dies and good survives, the Jekyll/Hyde separation was not complete, so both sides die.  Thaddeus and Bartholomew possessed the division between good and evil that Dr. Jekyll so earnestly strived for.

Both of these texts are stories that reflect the times.  The influence of Darwinism is definitely present. Jekyll/Hyde is the epitome of natural selection - the survival of the fittest - even when embodied in the same being. 

Many of the scenes in Sherlock Holmes are riddled with mystery and all its accompanying anxieties.  Perhaps it is through exploring, via literature, the fears and unknowns, that we progress to further knowledge and lessened anxiety.  In both of these books, many anxieties are alleviated and knowledge is attained through exploration. 

Works Cited:

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2003.

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