My Essay *edited*

Truly – if you have the gumption to make it all the way through this, please give me your honest and, if you’ve got it, brutal feedback. It’s been a while since I’ve written an answer to an essay question, and it’s a skill I want to keep sharp. Your helping me to edit and improve this in any way will be greatly appreciated!

4. Compare and contrast the ways in which Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Lanyon represent different attitudes toward scientific ethics and, perhaps, toward the nature of evil itself.

Well we all have a face/ that we hide away forever/ and we take them out and show ourselves/ when everyone has gone./ Some are satin, some are steel/ some are silk and some are leather/ they’re the faces of the stranger / but we love to try them on.
-Billy Joel; The Stranger

Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written in 1886, is a complex and multilayered novel that has come to symbolize for many in modern culture the very nature of human duality. Set against the backdrop of proper Victorian society and populated almost entirely with “austure,” “sombre,” “reputable” gentlemen, the novel investigates, with a combination of telling detail and sly omission, the nature of evil that Stevenson seems to believe resides in every man.

Dr. Jekyll is first introduced to the reader by way of omission, and from the very first, his character is veiled in half-truth and deception. His good name is associated early in the story with the unsavory character of Edward Hyde, who uses a cheque drawn on Jekyll’s account to pay his way out of an unpleasant situation. As this story is related to Gabriel Utterson, Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer and longtime friend, we begin to get a feeling that there is much more to be learned about Henry Jekyll and his tenuous hold on his good reputation, but that information may come at a dear price.

Utterson is already aware of a connection between his friend and this Hyde character that makes him profoundly uneasy. In the deepest recesses of the lawyer’s safe he retains a will, drawn by Dr. Henry Jeckyll, which directs Utterson to afford a Mr. Edward Hyde every bit of Jekyll’s property in the event of the doctor’s “disappearance or unexplained absence for any period exceeding three months” (4). Utterson’s attempts to find out more about the relationship that his friend shares with the unpleasant Hyde ends with Jekyll’s general evasion of the topic; he is immediately put off as Jekyll “grew pale to the very lips” (8) at the mere mention of Hyde’s name. Jekyll assures Utterson that he “can be rid of Hyde” whenever he chooses, and begs the lawyer to let the issue drop as “a private matter” (8). Deeply dissatisfied, but respectful of his friends wishes, Utterson strives to do just that.

His investigations take Utterson to a friend he shares with Jekyll, a Doctor Lanyon who “must be the two oldest friends that Henry Jekyll has” (4). Utterson learns that it has been “more than ten years since Henry Jekyll became too fanciful” (4) for Dr. Lanyon, who believes that their old friend has gone “wrong, wrong in mind” and is laboring at “unscientific balderdash” (5), though what, exactly, Jekyll has done to inspire Lanyon’s contempt is never made clear. In this brief exchange between lawyer and physician, though, we are given a glimpse into Lanyon’s character; for all the store he puts by his old friendship taking, as he calls it, “an interest in him for old sake’s sake,” he would rather “see devilish little of the man” (5) than entertain Jekyll and his “unscientific” pursuits. The doctor’s professional ethics, it seems, are far stronger than the pull of old friendships.

As the story continues, Dr. Jekyll’s strange relationship with Mr. Hyde attracts more attention. After the brutal murder of Sir Danvers Carew at the hands of Mr. Hyde, Utterson goes to his friend’s home to confront him about his connections to his unsavory friend and to warn against his continued relationship with a known murderer. Utterson finds Jekyll to be in a “feverish manner” and with a “changed voice” (11), and Utterson receives a letter that Jekyll claims came from Hyde, assuring the doctor that he has fled the reach of police and will no longer trouble his friend. Jekyll assures the lawyer that he is “quite done with [Hyde],” and that his concern for his reputation and character will serve as the motivation he needs to sever the relationship forever. Utterson doubts Jekyll, however; a doubt which is proven first when Utterson questions the butler about the post that arrived that day, and later when he shows the letter to a friend who compares the handwriting from Hyde’s letter with that of an invitation written in Jekyll’s hand. The two were found to be “in many points identical” (13).

The next time we are reacquainted with Dr. Lanyon, when Utterson visits him after being repeatedly denied entry to Jekyll’s home, we find him sick nearly to death. He has had a shock that has upset him so deeply that he himself knows he will never recover, and has “declared himself a doomed man” (14). Despite what he has seen, however, Lanyon remains true to his ethic of confidentiality and discretion; he won’t say what has brought him to the brink of his own demise, but rather insists that Utterson inquire of the matter directly to Jekyll, whom Lanyon now “regard[s] as dead” (14). Confused and deeply disturbed by the respective conditions of his two oldest friends, and wondering how they are connected, Utterson continues his investigations.

What comes to pass between Jekyll and Utterson is extremely telling to the characters of all the men involved. After Jekyll-as-Hyde commits suicide, Utterson comes to learn, though the letters his friends have delivered into his hands with instructions that they be read only when certain events have come to pass, what has happened between them. What he learns tells us much about the attitudes and behaviors of Jekyll and Lanyon.

As Jekyll loses more and more of his control over his “experiment,” he comes to find that he must rely on the support of Dr. Lanyon for his own survival, and that the favor he asks of his old friend is what causes the mortal shock that Lanyon suffers. Lanyon grants his friend’s strange and unseeming request to enter into his chambers and bring back a particular drawer – a drawer that contains the ingredients to a potion that form the foundation of Jekyll’s “unscientific” experiments. When Hyde, on the run from the police following the murder of Sir Danvers, appears at Lanyon’s door, Lanyon’s curiosity overcomes his ethics, having “gone too far in the way of inexplicable services” (25) to not see the matter through. Jekyll/Hyde, however, mindful of the disagreements between himself and his friend, warns Lanyon to consider very carefully what his is about to witness. “[A] new province of knowledge and new avenues to fame and power shall be laid open to you, here, in this room, upon the instant,” he tells Lanyon, “and your sight shall be blasted by a prodigy to stagger the unbelief of Satan” (25). Before he drinks his potion to turn himself back to the Jekyll form, however, he reminds Lanyon to recall his “vows” and that “what follows is under the seal of [their] profession” (25), thereby assuring Lanyon’s silence in the matter and, to a point, protecting both of their reputations.

Jekyll’s letter to Utterson gives us a good look into the man’s character and thinking. He tells of his investigation into “the relief of sorrow and suffering” and of his coming to the recognition that “man is not truly one, but truly two” (26). He sought to find a way to separate the two halves so that the “unjust could go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil” (26). Jekyll was, in short, looking for an easy way out of the complexities and complications of human nature and was excited to have seemingly found one.

Jekyll found that he was “braced and delighted” (27) in his Hyde persona, released as he was from any feeling of moral obligation and free to do as he chose. He was “conscious of no repugnance, rather a leap of welcome” (27) as Hyde, and he enjoyed the freedom that persona afforded him in the face of a society which valued order and propriety so highly. He noticed, early on in his experiments, that his “evil side…was less robust and less developed than the good,” (27), though it quickly came to pass that this would change.

Jekyll comes to quickly recognize, however, that his discoveries bring with them a heavy cost. Recognizing, albeit too late, that had he taken a “more noble spirit” with his experiments, had he been “under the empire of generous or pious aspirations, all might have been otherwise” and he may have “come forth an angel instead of a fiend” (27) He notes that the drug “had no discriminating action; it was neither diabolical nor divine” (27) but, rather, afforded an open door to the personality which most desired it. He discovers that he lacks the strength to resist the pull of the drug and the freedom it offers, and eventually the doctor falls into slavery (28) to his own discovery. He becomes disassociated and refers to himself in the third person, not knowing how to adequately describe his thinking as either personality. He finds himself reverting to the Hyde persona without the drug, going to bed as Henry Jekyll and waking as Edward Hyde (29) until it comes to pass that he requires the drug to return to himself as Jekyll.  He fails to see how wrong his experiment is, even as he forges letters and lies to the authorities and his dearest friends for his double, believing that he “sat beyond the reach of fate” (28).

In an investigation of human behavior, it may well be that while Lanyon stands for the ideal of professional and personal ethics, Jekyll is far more represents the fallibility of human nature. He “chose the better part” of himself “and was found wanting in the strength to keep to it” (29), all the while shielding his friends from the ugly truth of what he was doing. When he finally finds himself at a point where he can no longer endure – or control – his own behavior, he realizes that it’s far too late to go back. Suicide, even, is beyond Jekyll’s ability to contemplate because he “find[s] it in [his] heart to pity” (32) Hyde, even beyond the point of the ruin of his better self. In the end, he finds the courage “to release himself at the last moment” (33), though one is left to wonder, given all we learn about Jekyll and his inability to stand against his Hyde personality, whether his final act was one of courage or of cowardice.

jekyll-mansfield.jpg

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13 Comments

Filed under Learning, Literature, Questions, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, writing

13 responses to “My Essay *edited*

  1. I haven’t had time to read the whole thing. I got about halfway through and so far it seems like it’s all introduction to me, you’re telling me the story that I should already have read. So from my half read perspective I would tighten that up a bit.

    I’ll come back later to finish up.

  2. Yeah, you know what? I thought that, too, and this is the version that I edited a bunch of that out.

    I gave this to Xena, and she didn’t have any editorial suggestions. Then again, she’s used to the kind of writing that TCC students typically hand in, so she thought “it’s the best piece of writing” she’d seen in years. I’m still not happy with it, though, and am still tinkering.

  3. wordlily

    Just a little thing (haven’t gotten very far yet): In your first graph one of the commas is outside the quote marks and the other is inside. Should all be inside.

  4. You know what I think would be a fun exercise? Write an essay that you would be happy with if your student turned it in, and then write one that they would actually do.

    Okay, I am being a little silly; but, you’re a gifted wordsmith – it would take me days and days to write something probably only halfway to a B.

  5. First of all, be warned: I often skip to the end of books to find out where the story is going, then (if I like it) go back to see how it gets there.

    Second: I haven’t read the story.

    With those caveats out of the way – like Kizz, I was confused as I read through the essay. The analysis is good – you describe the characters clearly and give great supporting quotes. But I didn’t know where you were going with it until I got to the last paragraph. Maybe this is the mode du jour in essay writing and I’m just not hep to that. However, the feeling of uncertainty that followed me through the essay wasn’t particularly pleasant.

    Also, have you ever heard the songs from the musical? I can’t help wondering what you’d think of them. :D

  6. Seester, I’ll do you one better – I’ll post an essay from a student (anonymously, of course).

    Clix, I’m sorry you were lost – that’s the risk we take when writing these sorts of things. There’s a balance between giving enough background so that anyone can follow along and using up a lot of real estate retelling a story that (ostensibly, anyway) everyone in the group has already read. I edited out a lot of my story-retelling after Kizz’s comment – I think I still have the original on my desktop – do you want me to email it to you so you can see if that version helps you understand better where I was going?

  7. Clix

    *ponder* I’m not sure that more background is what I’m looking for (though I’d be glad to look at the original essay). I think what would’ve helped me was a clearer answer to the question at the beginning, and then the explanation of the answer as you went along. I have a hunch that your explanation & analysis is already where it needs to be… I wish I could pinpoint why…

    Hm. Looking back over, I think why I’m comfortable with the analysis is that your explanations mesh neatly with the references you use. None of that feels like a stretch. I’m just not sure where you’re going with it at first.

    Clearer, or still pea soup? ;)

  8. Little things first, did Stevenson really write “austure”? Also, I think if you go from, “The next time we are reacquainted with” to “We are reacquainted with” it’s simpler with less of a redundant feel. (This note is another effect of the Sin & Syntax book.) I think there’s a word missing or a tense misplaced in this sentence, “In an investigation of human behavior, it may well be that while Lanyon stands for the ideal of professional and personal ethics, Jekyll is far more represents the fallibility of human nature.”

    I’ve read the whole thing now and the beginning does read much more smoothly. However, we don’t get to an answer to the question until the last paragraph. Let me be honest when I say that I never learned that thing you’re supposed to do with Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis so I’m going to butcher it now.

    In its simplest form I think this would be easier to read if you said, “Dr. L represents this and Dr. J represents this.” Then, “Here is where Dr. L does this which supports my view and here is where Dr. J does this which supports my view.” (Repeat as necessary.) And a conclusion of, “So I was right, bitches.” (Bitches optional.)

    I read it and got, a thoughtful and really beautiful paragraph about the story as a whole, a long re-telling of the story (it felt a little like you were proving to the teacher that you’d read the text) and another thoughtful and beautiful paragraph that answered the essay question. So, on the one hand it’s lovely writing and it does answer the question. It’s just that on the other hand I think you can do it better. Or perhaps tighter.

    (Bitches!)

    (No, no idea why I’m throwing the bitches thing around today, it’s just apparently tickling my fancy, bit….well, you know.)

  9. Clix

    Kizz – Oh. My. GOD. I *so* want to use “So I was right, bitches” when I teach conclusions!!!

    I think you’re right that what you’re describing isn’t Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. OTOH, I think T-A-S is B-&-S. From what I understand (and hey, maybe I’M the one butchering it now!) thesis looks at one side of things, antithesis looks at things from an opposing or otherwise contrasting perspective, and synthesis sort of puts the two together to get a compromise. However, if you had done your research appropriately, I should think the thesis would’ve been right the first time.

    (Bitches!)

    *glee!*

  10. Clix

    Doh – “you” there meaning a universal “you” (because I think “one” sounds stuffy), not you-personally-Kizz. Just sayin’.

  11. drtombibey

    It does start out slow and then gather pace, but isn’t what what a good movie or book should do?

    As a doc who over the years has seen some talented human beings self-destruct, I have significant perspective on this issue.

    It seems often folks get in trouble when they don’t just accept they are human, and not perfect. Example: The fellow who rants against “evil spirits” seems to be a higher risk to be an alcoholic sometimes.

    We all have evil that resides in us. Rather than deny it, perhaps it is best to admit that to one’s self and nurture strategies to limit the impact. Example: Let it be O.K. for a man to gamble for fifteen bucks on the golf course, but not to p*** away the family farm at Vegas.

    A profound statement: There is no easy way out of human complexity. As a doc I say true, true, and more true. What better example than drugs? The recognition in the essay of the drug as non-discriminatory could have been written today about a number of different street drugs.

    This is a very deep subject, and one that points out the strong value of a liberal arts education. I am a Doctor, a man of “science,” yet you’ll notice I did not write a single formula, or prescribe any medicine to remedy this stuation. This is why your students should study the arts. All the answers are not there either, but asking the questions can save a human being a lot of trouble down the road. No use in history repeating itself anymore than it has to.

    Dr. B

  12. I’m not above monkeying around with it some more. It’s pretty good as it stands (it’d certainly pass), but I agree, it can be tighter.

    All the exposition that I’ve got in it is important, I think, to the points about secrecy and justification that I’m trying to make, so it’s going to be a challenge for me to figure out where to edit and how to keep in what needs to be kept in without sounding like I’m “proving to the teacher” that I read the story (you’re right here, Kizz – you should have seen my FIRST draft…). I’m going to step away from it for a day or two, though, and come back to it fresh on Monday (it’s a Yoga National Guard weekend, and I’m probably not going to do any TCC-oriented thinking until Monday).

    I, too, love the “I was right, Bitches!” conclusion. And Clix, when I first read your comment, I DID think you were talking directly to Kizz – that’s why I don’t care how stuffy “one” sounds…

  13. Everyone should feel free to use my conclusion talk. I think it speaks to the youth of today. Heh, like I would know.

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