From the very beginning of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a heavy emphasis is placed on one’s appearance and status within the society. However, these seemingly perfect appearances the men give off soon become questionable as it becomes apparent that they are upheld by deceit. In the novella, secrecy is used to maintain one’s reputation and identity as an upstanding and respectable member of society. Repression is also used in an effort to maintain a positive image, however it can often render worse results than honesty.
Secrecy is used to protect one’s self-image and ensure no destructive secrets of one’s past become public knowledge. One of the very first things the reader learns about Mr. Enfield is that he feels “ very strongly about putting questions; it partakes too much of the style of the day in judgement. You start a question, and it’s like starting a stone…away the stone goes, starting others; and presently…the family have to change their name” (4). In this sense, Mr. Enfield represses his inquisitive nature for fear that it will lead to the unearthing of terrible secrets that would potentially cost others their reputation. Upon this recognition, Mr. Enfield and Mr. Utterson make a pact when Mr. Enfield says, “‘here is another lesson to say nothing,’ said he. ‘I am ashamed of my long tongue. Let us make a bargain never to refer to this again’” (5), to which Mr. Utterson responds, “‘with all my heart…I shake hands on that, Richard’” (5). The two agree not gossip anymore and let the past rest because they realize that they each have aspects of their past of which they are ashamed. Unveiling these secrets could be detrimental to their own, or others’, statuses within society, and thus they choose not to debate others identities for fear of what might be uncovered. This commitment to ignorance is especially evident when Mr. Utterson receives an envelope that supposedly contains private information for him alone. Mr. Utterson expresses his concern that this envelope will affect a friendship, however “a great curiosity [comes] on the trustee, to disregard the prohibition and dive at once to the bottom of these mysteries; but professional honour and faith to his dead friend were stringent obligations; and the packet slept in the inmost corner of his private safe” (24). Mr. Utterson represses his curious nature in an effort to preserve his professionalism and friendship because he knows the contents of that envelope contain information that could alter his perception of his friend and, consequently, their entire friendship.
Dr. Jekyll’s attempts to repress his other personality, Mr. Hyde, only make the situation worse. Upon reflection of his dual personality, Dr. Jekyll notes,
“I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high, and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public. Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection, and began to look round me and take stock of my progress and position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of me…I regarded and hid them with an almost morbid sense of shame” (42).
Dr. Jekyll tries to keep his evil side repressed in order to portray himself as the upstanding member of society he is perceived to be by others. Essentially, he is ashamed by his actions as Mr. Hyde, and wants them to remain hidden so it appears that he fits society’s status quo. However, this repression of Mr. Hyde is not without its consequences. In his attempts to suppress Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll notes he is “tortured with throes and longings, as of Hyde struggling after freedom; and at last, in an hour of moral weakness, [he] once again compounded and swallowed the transforming draught…[his] devil had been long caged, [Mr. Hyde] came out roaring” (49). The repression of Mr. Hyde only makes his personality stronger and more detrimental when he is finally released.
Secrecy and repression are ultimately utilized by the characters in the novella for selfish purposes. They all have aspects of their being of which they are ashamed and want to suppress in an effort to maintain their respectable statuses within society. However, they are mostly curious beings and attempt to repress this trait for fear of what it will expose about others. Dr. Jekyll’s attempts to repress Mr. Hyde only end up fueling Mr. Hyde’s angry personality, thus further jeopardizing Dr. Jekyll’s image.