Rhetorical Analysis: Pauline Inklings in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Alicia D. Costello
2010, Vol. 2 No. 06 | pg. 1/1

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson proves to be an enduring literary illumination into the human psyche. This little novella, published as a Christmas story in 1886, took some of the first steps into early Modernism and provided the basis for stories that more deeply dive into human psyche like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was one of the first books to explore the duality of good and evil in everyday people, a strong step away from the mono-polarization of morality present in Victorian literature, like one might find in Dickens.

Kevin Mills, a professor at the University of Glamorgan in Wales, authors an essay entitled “The Stain on the Mirror: Pauline Reflections in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” He interests himself in a specific angle of the duality: the Pauline pattern within the text, or in other words, the structure of the novel that seems to be concurrent with the life and words of Paul of Tarsus found in the Bible. In his essay, Mills takes account the similarities of the duality present in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Paul’s words written in Romans 7 about the duality of the flesh and the spirit. Ultimately, Mills argues that not only is Paul’s duality present in the text, but it was Stevenson’s full reason for authoring the text in the first place. Mills argument convinces with skill and confidence and a very specific set of circumstances, but a lack of evidence fails to bring the reader to comply with his message.

The first area in which Mills fails to convince the reader by the lack of textual evidence is in his argument on page 342 in which he asserts that “Stevenson, drawing on St. Paul, depicted the divided self as a commonplace rather than as an aberration.” While Stevenson’s prose is unique to its time in exploring the wrongs of an everyman, Mills’ argument does not make a significant enough connection between his prose and the writings or life of Paul. In fact, one might only realize that Stevenson is exploring an everyman if one uses background information to attempt to place Stevenson in congruence to the other Victorian writings at the time. Stevenson’s prose is not significant in itself, but its significance lies as a subset of a larger writing community. Mills achieves this idea by comparing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the other Victorian writings, but he does not prove it to the reader within the text, and, in the world of Postmodernism and Formalist criticism, it is necessary that the critic prove his point with textual evidence, which Mills has not bothered to do. The lack of evidence in this point makes the reader suspicious that Mills is leading him down a rabbit hole.

Another area in which Mills makes his argument suspicious is when he connects Jekyll’s freedom to the instance of Paul in prison in Philippi, recorded in Acts 16. Near the end of the book, when Jekyll gives his confession, he discusses how he feels free because he is able to let his morally corrupt self run wild in Mr. Hyde, while he can properly behave without negative urges. Mills mentions this passage: “’The drug had no discriminating action; it was neither diabolical nor divine; it but shook the doors of the prisonhouse of my disposition; and like the captives of Philippi, that which stood within ran forth’ (85)” (qtd. in Mills 344). Mills takes this small quote and uses it as another instance of a Dr. Jekyll/Paul connection. While there are more actual quotes than the previous suspicious example, the quotes used for evidence in this instance speak only to freedom and not to the specific freedom enjoyed by Paul and Peter once they were freed from the prison in Philippi, and the lack specificity makes his claim weaker. While he has picked out the one specific example in the text, one example hardly constitutes a pattern. Mills here tries to liken the theme of freedom in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the instance of Philippi, and it is dubiously argued. If Mills had perhaps found another instance of the referencing to Paul or his theme of freedom, Mills would convince. In this situation, however, even a novice reader would notice Mills reads too much into this one sentence in the text.

From his discussion on Philippi, Mills himself provides the first discord to tear apart the instance of Peter and Paul in Acts 16 and the quote from the text: “Hyde’s escape has precisely the effect of leading his jailer (Jekyll) to a kind of suicide, complete with suicide note in the form of his written confession” (344). However, readers of Acts 16 know the Apostles stop the jailer from committing suicide, instead converting him and letting him go. Mills goes on to say “precisely because the inmates did not ‘run forth,’ so the fact that Stevenson’s text misses the point draws attention to Hyde’s escape as a negative conversion—a narrative of deconversion as the ‘pure evil’ of Hyde gradually becomes dominate” (344). If Mills writes to attempt to draw a parallel between Dr. Jekyll and Paul, here, a flaw is found. The entire paragraph before it describes the event in Philippi as a freedom event of Paul, and subsequently the freedom Dr. Jekyll feels when Mr. Hyde is unattached and allowed to roam free. However, Mills, in this quote, specifically characterizes Mr. Hyde’s existence and detachment as a negative thing, which is contradictory to the point he attempts to make in the paragraphs before, and contradictory to Jekyll’s feelings as plainly stated in the text. Mills chokes on his own lack of evidence. Perhaps if Mills found more textual evidence from Stevenson to support a specific link to the events recorded in Acts 16 and the freedom Dr. Jekyll felt at the disconnect between himself and Mr. Hyde, a stronger point of evidence might be made here, but as it rests, it is as dubious as Hyde himself.

However, those two issues are two small riffs in an essay flowing with a close, respectable analysis of the two texts, but failing to ultimately tie the two texts together. Beginning on page 345, Mills grabs the reader with fascinating, well-supported evidence to show the duality mentioned in Romans 7 manifested in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Mills explains Stevenson’s use of a mirror to question Jekyll’s full understanding of his experiment and coming face-to-face, literally, with the evil inside himself, represented by the character of Mr. Hyde. Mills quotes both texts closely and the texts themselves show the patterns. When Jekyll looks into the mirror, “I was conscious of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome. This, too, was myself…In my eyes it bore a livelier image of the spirit, it seemed more express and single, that the imperfect and divided countenance I had hitherto accustomed to call mine” (qtd. in Mills 345). Mills effectively draws a parallel between the mirror and the use of Jekyll’s first person when referring the Mr. Hyde. He then draws a parallel from that to Paul’s realization of himself, not necessarily in a mirror, but in realizations of variations of himself, found in with Romans 7 and Paul’s claim that “I live; yet not I, but Christ in me” (Gal 2:20, qtd in Mills 347). In this area of the essay, Mills does a fantastic job pointing out the realization of selves of both Paul and of Dr. Jekyll, but he does not connect them together as well as he could have with more of his personal analysis. He instead focuses on the same themes in both the texts, without paying attention to sewing the two arguments together. This is a constant problem throughout the text: Mills articulates the theme’s effects on the texts, but fails to explain how the texts are then related.

Kevin Mills’ “The Stain on the Mirror: Pauline Reflections in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” overall convinces the reader of the parallel and similar threads between the duality of personality explored in Stevenson’s work and Paul’s reflections in Romans 7, but a lack of evidence from Stevenson’s book fails to bring his readers to complete agreement on his point. Mills convinces the reader that Paul and Dr. Jekyll have similar themes and similar instances of their respective stories, but he does not convince that Stevenson specifically had Pauline ideals in mind when he sat down to pen The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One can stay that, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, these two texts proved to be relatable but stayed as far apart from each other as possible.

Mills, Kevin. "The Stain on the Mirror: Pauline Reflections in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Christianity & Literature. 53.3 (2004): 337-48.

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