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Essay: American Psycho and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde: two sides of man, good and evil

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  • Published: 18 June 2021*
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  • Words: 1,190 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 5 (approx)
  • Tags: Jekyll and Hyde essays

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In both texts, ‘American Psycho’, and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, the writers successfully explore characterisation as the main character displays a “two-sided” idea of man: good and evil. In ‘American Psycho’, the main character Patrick Bateman, appears to be an intelligent, handsome, wealthy man. He is publicly viewed as being a perfectly sane individual who enjoys spending time with his friends. However, the other side to Bateman is that he is an insane psychopathic killer who is unable to control the urge to murder. In ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, the character of Henry Jekyll believes that he can separate the two sides of man, the good and the evil. However, his belief is proved to be naive as Stevenson reveals that the two elements are interrelated. In the novel, Jekyll represents the ‘good’ whilst the aptly named Hyde represents the hidden ‘evil within us all. Both novels explore notions of morality with reference to man’s relationship with society and look at what happens when man pushes against societal boundaries. Stevenson is keen to explore the idea that when man is repressed, he harbours a demon within, that will eventually be unleashed, whereas Brett Easton Ellis appears to explore what happens when the demon is in the open and already living a life of excess. In Stevenson’s novel, Mr Hyde attempts to cover up his wrongdoings by ‘committing suicide’ for a limited time by drinking the potion that transforms him back into the character of Dr Jekyll. This is not because he wishes to be Jekyll, but because Hyde is avoiding being hung for the horrendous crimes he has committed;

“The hatred of Hyde for Jekyll was of different order. His terror of the gallows drove him continually to commit temporary suicide and return to his subordinate station of a part instead of a person; but he loathed the necessity, he loathed the despondency into which Jekyll was now fallen, and he resented the dislike with which he was himself regarded.”

However, although, Hyde despises Jekyll’s dejection in contrast, Hyde is described as a ‘transport of glee’ as he murders Sir Danvers Carew. There is a complication as Jekyll uses the pronoun “I” to describe Hyde’s pleasure during the murder of Carew. This suggests that Jekyll shared these feeling with Hyde. Although Dr Jekyll believes that he can separate the two sides of man, the good and the evil, his belief is proved to be naive as Stevenson reveals that the two elements are interrelated. In Jekyll’s full statement of the case, he states;

“ I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I laboured, in the eye of day, at the furtherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering…With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.”

We must conclude that when Jekyll ‘plunges into shame’, he is conducting oneself in a ‘evil’ manner, whilst when he toils for the ‘relief of suffering’ he is doing ‘good’. Therefore, this actively illustrates that Jekyll is ‘good’ as well as ‘evil’ as these two components sit simultaneously within him – the two elements are interdependent.
Stevenson showcases the extent individuals will go to appear reputable and to conceal their inner-most desires. Stevenson clearly conveys that when Jekyll represses his true desires they inevitably come to light in due course, but they are now much stronger than if he had naturally expressed them. This is apparent in Jekyll’s description of the murder of Sir Danvers Carew; “My devil had been long caged, he came out roaring. I was conscious, even when I took the draught, of a more unbridled, a more furious propensity to ill.” Due to Jekyll having repressed his deepest desires within, his alter ego transpires ‘roaring’ like a ferocious beast. The use of ‘my’ is a possessive pronoun which shows that Hyde is Jekyll’s development whilst the word choice of “roaring” illustrates Hyde as an animal. This imagery emphasises how inhumane Hyde is as the devil and animals are diverse from humans however as animals are part of nature, the imagery also recognises that the strong emotions that Hyde acts upon are natural.
Similarly, in American Psycho Bateman has two sides to his persona. He too feels a sense of repression that Jekyll feels. His desire to be a respectable businessman is at odds with his need to express himself fully. Bateman exists within a pressured environment of work; a sexually permissive culture and displays a lack of moral fortitude which means that he finds it difficult to navigate the complex world he inhabits. His actions show that he is struggling to cope – we as readers are never sure if the things, he describes are real or in his imagination …whatever the case we can view his ‘actions’ as an escape mechanism. There are several cases in American Psycho in which Bateman’s repressed homosexuality is mirrored. In the chapter ‘Lunch’, Patrick Bateman heads out to lunch with Armstrong, another Wall Street banker, when his commute is interrupted and as he disembarks from the car due to heavy traffic, Bateman witnesses “a ‘Gay Pride Parade’ which made (his) stomach turn. (He) […] watched with a certain traumatized fascination […] but when (he) began to receive fey catcalls from aging, overmuscled beachboys with walruslike mustaches in between the lines, “There’s a place for us, Somewhere a place for us,” (He) sprinted over to Sixth Avenue, decided to be late for the office and took a cab back to (his) apartment where (he) put on a new suit (by Cerruti 1881), gave (himself) a pedicure and tortured to death a small dog (he) had bought earlier this week in a pet store on Lexington.” (Indent this) This showcases that due to Bateman repressing his homosexuality which he cannot accept, despite the sexually permissive society in which he lives, watching a gay parade provokes such angst that he must unleash the demon within in order to contend. As a result of observing these gay people, Patrick desires to murder his animal inclinations and tortures a dog to its death. Following this, at lunch, Armstrong speaks about sports attractions, however all Bateman can think about is how idiotic he is and continues to besiege him with questions in order to keep him articulating. Meanwhile, Bateman fantasises about cutting his wrists in a bid to shower Armstrong with his blood and describes his life as “a living hell”. Bateman’s revulsion for his own homosexuality is clearly showcased here as he displays an impulse for violence. He visualises violent imagery against himself for the first time in the novel due to his deep anguish as he cannot accept the devil within himself. This clever use of imagery is further explored as Bateman insinuates that his life is a living hell – the motivation of the abundance of suffering along with pain within the novel.

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