The Assignment: Discuss an aspect of Michel Foucault's work, Discipline And Punish, in its relation to Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Victorian England, an era destined for change. A time in which governments were being completely reformed showed the birth of modern politics as we know them. Hence it is no wonder that the artists of this time and place began to address the social concerns that were emerging throughout society. One such author, Robert Louis Stevenson, in his novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, chose to confront the issue of privacy and the consequence of societal repression of its individuals in their actions through the use of panopticism. This work can be seen as the initial analysis of an issue which still exists to this day. The panoptic term was later defined specifically by Michel Foucault in his work, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison which provides useful analysis of how and why Stevenson's work portrays panoptic ideas. Foucault's argument is that with the progression of society comes an increased ability to monitor the movements and actions of the individuals within it for the purpose of conforming to social norms. Stevenson's work contains two characters at completely opposite ends of this societal spectrum. On the one hand we see Dr. Jekyll, who is the epitome of a conformed individual: quiet, reserved, and never rash. And representative of the other extreme is Mr. Hyde, who is Jekyll only in a completely free state. The setting for the story establishes a panoptic space, in which both characters display their actions.
"Paranoia, paranoia, paranoia, everybody's coming to get me"1
Within the Victorian Era in London there was no doubt a progression of technology which brought about new ways to monitor the actions of its citizens. The city was structured around the ability for both policemen and citizens to watch over the city, hence establishing a panoptic space. This structure was not established on accident either, instead it was planned in order to most easily enforce the people within it through having the ability to consistently watch over them. "It is the examination which, by combining hierarchical surveillance and normalizing judgment, assures the great disciplinary functions of distribution and classification…" 2. Foucault's statement presents the argument that by combining scrutiny with standards people will essentially govern themselves. Normalization, which Foucault defines in great detail as being a set of standards defined by society, was most overbearing on the upper-class citizens whose duty it was to be the upstanding citizens. Stevenson portrays this idea through his representation of Dr. Jekyll, who is initially the ideal high society civilian.
"Have you heard the word? The revolution's over.
Now the anger's disappeared And the rebels are much older.
And the schools and universities Are turning out a brand new breed of young conservatives.
Get yourself a brand new scene, Keep your collars white and clean,
It's time to come and join the young conservatives.
Revolution used to be cool, But now it's out of fashion."3
Speaking in terms of modern politics, Jekyll would most definitely be a conservative. But the reason for his being this way may not have been his choice to make; rather, he subconsciously acts in the ways in which society ordains strictly because he realizes that society, and most especially Mr. Utterson, has the choice to monitor his actions as long as he is within the public spectrum. For this reason he is most often collected and makes no changes which might break from those society has set forth as normal. In this system of panopticism he becomes more and more repressed and yet still cannot act on his natural instincts. Mr. Utterson can be seen as the old-fashioned watchful eye whose goal it is to monitor both Jekyll and, later, Hyde, in order to see that neither break from the norm. He even makes it his goal to seek out Hyde's actions to make sure that he is doing nothing suspicious as is shown through his witty statement: "If he be Mr. Hyde I shall be Mr. Seek" 4. In this respect both Jekyll and Hyde's privacies are seemingly restricted, with the only true private residence for Jekyll being in his laboratory, which is where he begins to contrive ideas to break free. This freedom comes only through the work of fiction that is the magical potion, which Stevenson creates in order to formulate a new method of being free of the oppressions of society. As Jekyll writes, "the drug had no discriminating action; it was neither diabolical nor divine; it but shook the doors of the prisonhouse of my disposition" 4. With such a potion Stevenson allows for Jekyll to break out of the societal norms and finally do the things which he has always naturally wanted to.
"Stop children what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down...
Paranoia strikes deep,
Into your life it will creep,
It starts when you're always afraid"5
A crucial point within Foucault's work is that as soon as standards are defined in the process of normalization it is implied that those who aren't normal must be criminals. And the limitless possibilities for someone who is completely unafraid of the consequences of their actions is the epitome of danger to a society. If such a person were apprehended today they would surely be locked away as quickly as possible to avoid allowing that person to act on their instinct. And this is exactly the person which Stevenson unleashes upon the world with his creation of Mr. Hyde. He has the ability to do whatever he wants and then change back into his original self to avoid being caught. If it weren't for the physical and mental exhaustion involved in such changes, this might have been the perfect combination. But yet Stevenson realizes that in order for the world to work there must be some constraints on people, and a world of complete anarchy is not feasible. The standards that constrain Jekyll are no longer useful when it comes to Hyde, because although someone may be watching over him, he knows that they cannot identify him later because he will no longer exist. In this sense Stevenson transcends Hyde above the Panoptic restraint and allows him to rebel against society freely.
"London calling to the faraway towns,
Now war is declared and battle come down.
London calling to the underworld,
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls.
London calling, now don't lecture us,
All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust.
London calling, see we ain't got no swing,
'Cept for the reign of that truncheon thing"6
Rebellion is a natural aspect of a society that is too overbearing on its individuals, and does not allow for the natural progression of change. Not to say that the Victorian era did not change, on the contrary is was a very crucial stepping stone to where society is today. However, it did set some fairly substantial individual constraints as to how individuals could act. This repression, while it did help to keep order about the people, was fairly strict in its constraints, and to an individual such as Dr. Jekyll, might have seemed too overbearing. Stevenson's work is extremely interesting to contemplate in that it provides the possibility for an individual to be completely free of oppression through the avoidance of the panoptic constraints of society. The addition of the chemical potion allow the book to explore the possibilities of being above the constraints of society, no matter what the technological methods of monitoring the individual's actions.
1. Harvey Danger - Flagpole Sitta
2. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Second Vintage Books Edition, May 1995.
3. The Kinks - Young Conservative
4. Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York: Vintage Classics, 1991.
5. Buffalo Springfield - For What It's Worth
6. The Clash - London Calling