"If I Am The Chief Of Sinners, Then I Am The Chief Of Sufferers Also" - To What Extent Can The Reader Feel Sympathy For Dr Jekyll?
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"If I Am The Chief Of Sinners, Then I Am The Chief Of Sufferers Also" - To What Extent Can The Reader Feel Sympathy For Dr Jekyll? In terms of this book, I think that it's difficult for me to place Jekyll as a complete sinner or a complete sufferer due to the varying influences of the other characters, the society of the time and the drug that Jekyll uses. My opinion of him tends to fluctuate throughout the book. Certainly, some of the language used by Stevenson can be rather grotesque at times and at others, heart wrenching. As the storyline progresses, the reader becomes more aware of what has happened to the reputable Dr Henry Jekyll and how his life gets turned upside down. However, our suspicions are only totally confirmed in "Dr Lanyon's Narrative" and "Henry Jekyll's statement of the case". Through the story, Jekyll displays acts of recklessness but also kindness and surprising self-control at times. It's these episodes, mainly in his statement of the case that I will analyze in order to draw a conclusion about his character and to what extent the title quote is true. I believe that the quote "If I am the chief of sinners than I am the chief of sufferers also" essentially refers to Jekyll transforming into Hyde. By all the pleasures in the lifestyle that this change brings, Jekyll has completely gone against G-d's will and the laws of nature (being the chief of sinners). This leads to Jekyll also being the "chief of sufferers" i.e., he'd never forgive himself for the massive sin that he commits. In his eyes and also those of society, he can never be redeemed. It also relates to the physical suffering that he has to endure, such as the "pangs of transformation", mentioned five times throughout "Jekyll's Statement of the Case". For me personally, during the time I have been studying this book, one sentence has stuck out in my mind, the very last sentence
presented many years before to Henry Jekyll" (Pg26, 6th Paragraph) Using the information known from the previous chapters, the reader is beginning to build up a picture of what is going on here. A connection with Jekyll, a murder, we're feeling a serious lack of sympathy for Jekyll here, one of his associates has committed murder. The more informed reader realises that this is in fact Jekyll in his Hyde guise, in which case even less sympathy is felt, Jekyll has reached a new low in his alter-ego form. As we learn later on, the original objectives of Dr Jekyll were to separate good from evil, it could bring fame and fortune and do a lot of good for humanity, very innocent aims made with a good heart, every person across the planet could show simply their good side to others and the world may at last be at peace. It was due to his selfishness - and I use the term "selfishness" loosely - however, that led to his demise. Some may argue that Jekyll was simply an addict and that he was hooked onto whatever this potion was and yes, this is easy to see, as with any drug that gets you high, he experienced feelings of pleasure, happiness and freedom. Personally I think we can sympathise with Dr Jekyll in a lot of respects, however, things did go out of hand for him. Once murders were being committed, it did sink in that perhaps the transformations should stop, he managed this for a while, returning to his old self, he noticed it and his friends noticed it. However, despite deep and utter resentment, it wasn't long though until his hunger for what he had once experienced returned, and he gave in to his desires. Jekyll was addicted and in an act of extreme selfishness carried on taking his doses of potion.
Now the reader feels proud of his good will, his commitment to giving up his addiction and once again feels sympathy for his situation, at least he's making a conscious effort to redeem himself. However, this momentary peaceful existence does not continue, Jekyll misses the freedom he experienced too much and gives in to his pang of desire. As himself, I don't think Dr Jekyll meant to cause the harm that he did, but under the influence of Hyde, he caused great evil, his apparent lack of self control makes him accountable for all the actions that he carried out, it requires a large degree of naivety to carry on with what he was doing, knowing full well that his actions were likely to be more and more serious, even, as the book says, beginning to long for more disruption, more evil to be caused. "To cast in my lot with Jekyll, was to die to those appetites which I had long secretly indulged and had of late begun to pamper. To cast it in with Hyde, was to die to a thousand interests and aspirations, and to become, at a blow and forever, despised and friendless" (Pg 68, 2nd Paragraph) I think a certain amount of sympathy can be felt for Jekyll and his impossible situation, he was faced with a huge decision, he enjoyed being Hyde so much, he was addicted to it however, if he was to carry on transforming, eventually, there would be no way to reverse the effect, slowly, by this point, Hyde was taking over his mind and body. Either he stopped being Hyde forever and lives a somewhat disturbed life with a constant longing to turn into his alter-ego or, stop being Jekyll and run a life of evil, with no friends and hatred all around him. He chose to continue giving in to his desires until the last traces of the once prominent gentleman Henry Jekyll had disappeared and in an extremely sad final paragraph, in a tone of extreme despair finally recognises that his life is slipping beyond his grasp. 1
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