Sometimes students worry about attaining depth in their creative and analytical writing. They feel their understanding of character, in particular, may remain quite conventional or superficial and that this undermines the quality of their writing.Here’s an easy way to add depth to your writing whether in terms of your English Literature studies or in your creative writing. Think about this question:What secret defines or haunts your character?It’s a simple, but a far-reaching question. Secrets motivate characters whether they move away from their secrets or move towards them, however stealthily. Emotions are entangled with secrets, and shame or embarrassment may prevent characters admitting what they have experienced or felt.In short, a secret often supplies motivation and thus generates action. Secrets often explain seemingly inexplicable behaviours. They give psychological realism and depth.So please think about the secrets of your character. Preferably the deeply buried secrets that often govern lives but may never be admitted or expressed directly for fear of exposure or shame.Let’s look at an example of a powerful secret in a narrative. Let’s examine a very popular GCSE English Literature text which is relevant to students.Here’s an interesting moment in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, where Hyde is surrounded by an angry gathering after he has deliberately trampled on a child. (The Story of the Door).” I am naturally helpless. No gentleman but wishes to avoid a scene,” says he. “Name your figure.”Enfield is reporting the incident to his companion, Utterson and the choice of the language selected by Hyde is surprisingly civil, discreet and apparently vulnerable. Remember he is surrounded by antagonism and has behaved atrociously, yet he speaks very easily of his ‘helpless’ situation and claims he is a ‘gentleman’ who ‘wishes to avoid a scene.’ The latter claim seems ironic, even contradictory after he has drawn attention to himself so clearly with his violence. The easeful way in which he takes control of the situation, and demonstrates his sensitivity and worldly knowledge of economic settlements, contrasts with his out of control behaviour a few moments before. It is as if the primitive has suddenly become usurped by the worldly and this creates a feeling of surprise and fascination for the spectators or readers, both within and without the novel.Interestingly, the speech of Hyde shows apparent disassociation from the deed he has committed. This disassociation is one of the underlying concerns of the novel. It has links to the themes of secrecy, silence and contradiction and thus implicates all the male characters in the text.For who is actually speaking here? Who is performing civility so well? Hyde? Dr Jekyll? Is one ventriloquising the other, suggesting a very slippery, dangerous relationship between the apparent speaker and the ‘real’ subject? Language is a form of camouflage and can be adopted to protect and to defuse?What after all, might be the motivation in adopting such a calm, strategically civil tone when chaos is all around?Surely we suspect that Hyde’ s secret is that he is able to speak as another because he is an/other?The chaos of the situation requires that Hyde speaks as a gentleman and thus is able to restabilise the upset through his composed language(and tone) and financial offer(bribe). So he speaks as a gentleman and slips back linguistically into Jekyll, even though his outside, protective ‘other’ veneer, remains Hyde.
Interestingly the episode is also retrospectively narrated by Enfield. It is worth noting that Hyde’s language is unexpectedly that of the gentleman and that Enfield might have been expected to ‘filter’ Hyde in a more derogatory way, with vulgar language as an indication of Hyde’s fallen ways. But Enfield gives us here the speech of a gentlemanly Hyde. Odd?Think also about the way Jekyll commits suicide as Dr Jekyll but becomes Hyde as a corpse. Is this to remind the reader that Hyde and Jekyll are (in truth) one?!So much of the novel’s moral darkness is assigned to the wicked Hyde, that it is sometimes overlooked that Hyde is really Jekyll unleashed; his repressed respectability flung away in order to indulge the pleasures he craves. Thus the secret is hidden in plain sight in this instance. Hyde can ventriloquise Jekyll because he is Jekyll. The latter cohabits the body of Hyde, so he can literally hide and indulge his desire for transgressive behaviours.It’s almost as if Hyde is the ventriloquist ‘s glove puppet and the ventriloquist is Jekyll himself.Maybe the repeated disgust at the appearance of Hyde emanates from the bigoted filter through which he is ‘seen’ or significantly, not seen. Remember how Hyde’s appearance is always rendered illegible and ‘other’? Hyde is ‘wrong’, therefore he cannot be acknowledged as being from the gentleman class.Hyde cannot be recognised as Dr Jekyll or where would that leave his friends? Thus we see not the dead body of Jekyll, the gentleman self-harmer, but ‘see’ instead the body of the ruffian, ungentlemanly, Edward Hyde.But maybe Utterson sees what he expects, what is comforting to the ruling classes, rather than what he actually witnesses, which would implicate himself and his kind too intimately with Hyde and what he represents?In my next post I will speak further about the slipperiness of the language of Hyde/Jekyll and look at the cunning jest contained in the apparently vulnerable declaration of Hyde, that ”I am naturally helpless.” What does that adverb ‘naturally‘ , actually mean in the full context in which it is spoken?
How to analyse a text quickly!
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