The Outcasts of English IV

Michael Ashworth

Outcasts in disguise

Because those who are different feel the need to hide themselves from gthe greater society, Robert Louis Stevenson's dark yet insightful novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Oscar Wilde's comedic yet truthful play The Importance of Being Ernest and T.S. Eliot’s curious yet insightful poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” reveal the lengths people will go to in order to hide their true selves--no matter how long or short--will always end up backfiring in the end. Outcast of society don't usually follow the status quo on their own. In order to survive in the world they believe they must pretend to lead normal lives to hide the fact that they are outcasts in reality. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot, and The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, the outcast of the story uses a mask of normality to hide from society. Whether it be an alter ego, or a fake personality, these people try to live their lives hiding among those who would ridicule them if they knew their secret.

Jekyll and Hyde

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"The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified; I would scarce use a harder term. But in the hands of Edward Hyde, they soon began to turn toward the monstrous."

Dr. Jekyll knew he was an outcast in society, yet kept his desires secret. He was a esteemed scientist that would be ruined if he acted upon any of the things that swirled around in his head. Mr. Hyde was Jekyll's solution to this problem. Using his new miracle potion, Jekyll was able to transform into a new man, therefore protecting his reputation while Hyde went out and caused trouble. Hyde amplified all of Jekyll's desires though, and the more and more he was used the harder it was for Jekyll to become himself again. Those desires that Jekyll believed he could control, while living a noble lifestyle, were only made worse by the creation of Hyde and drove Jekyll into the darkness of insanity.

"I was not only well known and highly considered, but growing towards the elderly man."..."I was the first that could thus plod in the public eye with a load of genial respectability, and in a moment, like a schoolboy, strip off these lendings and spring headlong into the sea of liberty."

These two quotes show the freedom Jekyll must have felt when he first started transforming into Hyde. Jekyll describes his experience as Hyde as liberating. He is no longer confined by the rules of the society that oppresses him and he can act without consequence. Not only this, but he is much stronger in his new body, rather than the one that was growing older everyday. The inner outcast found in Jekyll is allowed out as Hyde, stronger than ever after being bottled up for so long.

"Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end."

This quote is an interesting one, because it highlights the fact that Jekyll and Hyde are the same man. As Jekyll is writing this, he is trapped in the body of Hyde, yet refers to himself as Henry Jekyll. He was so sick of having to keep up the appearance of normality that he sought out a solution that only drove him farther away from it. For years he had controlled his desires and led a normal life, but Hyde made those same desires impossible to ignore. The ironic truth in Jekyll's solution is that it only made his problem worse. Hiding away under his disguise only made the darkness inside of him grow, causing Jekyll to lose himself in the madness.

J. Alfred Prufrock

"No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool."

Prufrock reveals that he sees himself as an outcast as well through this line. He knows that he is not the central character in life, but rather a background character. Someone who can be used as a tool to keep the conversation flowing, but not to rely on for the whole story. He is the fool of the story in his mind, and that eats away at his image of himself. Prufrock knows he is an outcast and can't help but look down upon himself. What Prufrock doesn't know though, is that his own thinking is the only thing stopping him from advancing in life and reaching the things he believes are out of reach for him.

"To lead you to an overwhelming question ... Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit."

Prufrock's indecision over asking his "overwhelming question" is a way of hiding his inner outcast himself. He believes that this question will mark him forever as someone who is not normal. He continues to avoid his question to keep up his mask of normality with the social norm. Time after time, the question gets brought up and avoided by Prufrock. If he would have just grabbed a hold of the opportunities that are in front of him then he could have gotten the answer he wanted. One thing that is certain about Prufrocks question though, he will never get the answer he wants if he never asks it in the first place.

"I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me."

Once again, Prufrock is labeling himself as an outcast in the world. The mermaids that are singing would never sing to a lowly person like him. Prufrock is once again highlighting his biggest flaw, which is not seeing his own potential. His life has been wasted away at this point, used up on worthless thing and not the important things he should have focused on. Even his dreams recount the lack of courage he has by not approaching those mermaids that sing to each other. Prufrock is so clearly lonely, but will never do something about it. He is left to think about all the little decisions he actually was able to make in his life, and all his missed chances.

"Prufrock is acutely conscious of the insensitivity and callousness of his society and can see the futility of expressing his true feelings.” -Shyamal Bagchee

Shyamal Bagchee reveals that Prufrock truly believes himself to be a loser of sorts. He does not believe he is good enough for much of anything, not to mention asking this life altering question. Prufrock is alone in the world in his eyes, always observing others and never being observed. That is what makes him so interesting to study.

"Prufrock is unable to sustain himself in his dreams" -Marisa Pagnattaro

Marisa Pagnattaro explains that in Prufrocks dreams of mermaids, he is no longer able to see anything but the emptiness that could have been filled by them. Prufrock missed his chance to change his life and now the opportunity is gone. If he hadn't of been hiding behind his own insecurity, he might have asked his question, but the mask he kept up blocked him from living his life to the full.

The Importance of Being Ernest

The Importance of Being Earnest - Act 1

"When one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. It's one's duty to do so. And as a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either one's health or one's happiness, in order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes."

Jack is the guardian of Cecily, and this pushes him to create his fictitious younger brother. He must always be moral and responsible when on duty, but he can only be himself when he escapes to a different town under a different name. This is very much like Jekyll creating Hyde, only less physically dangerous. Jekyll's solution drove him to insanity and made is problems worse, while Jack's solution only worked temporarily before forcing him to confront his own role as an outcast. In both cases though, it is abundantly clear that creating another persona to do defy the norms of society will never work out the way you want.

"You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable."

The problem of creating another persona does not only effect Jack in this story, because Algernon falls into the same trap. Bunbury is Algernon's own version of Ernest. He escapes from responsibilities much like Jack does as Ernest. Their identities both backfire on them at the same time though when they both claim to be Earnest.They are both in love with girls who only want to be with an Earnest so they both took the role without knowing about the other's decision. The predicament they got themselves into really showcases the flaws in their plans and only brought the truth to light.

"Your brother Ernest…arrived about half an hour ago."

When Cecily tells this to Jack, he must have been extremely confused. He never had a brother, but apparently this nonexistent man was right there with him. In reality, it was Algernon who was posing as Ernest to attract Cecily. Jack was no longer both people, and his two worlds were colliding. This forced him to face the outcast he was on the inside and become his true self for everyone. While this ended up turning out for the best, unlike Jekyll's situation, Jack's juggling act could never survive. The truth will always come out eventually, and hiding it away from those you care about rarely ends well.

Wrapping it Up

Taking off the mask

In all three stories, characters hiding their inner outcast always backfired. Jekyll was driven to suicide because he could not escape his monstrous alter ego. Prufrock never asked his question because he was too insecure to risk it. Jack got caught up in his lies and his worlds ended up colliding. Those who are outcasts may not fit in with society, but that shouldn't be a reason not to embrace being themselves. We all have differences, and while some maybe be larger than others, society shouldn't be something we have to hide from. Jekyll, Prufrock, and Jack all felt the need to hide their true thoughts and selves to keep up their image in society. Stewart F. Sanderson explains that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde expose the "frailty of conscience" and goes on to talk about how desperate Jekyll was to continue his charade. In weakness Jekyll created Hyde to solve his problems, but all three stories have shown us that hiding behind a disguise is not the way to do that. Confront problems head on is the only way these outcasts could have avoided all the pain and difficulty they went through.