You’ve heard of Jekyll and Hyde. Whether in a classroom or passing conversation or one of its many reiterations, you’ve heard of Jekyll and Hyde – the ‘good’ Jekyll and the ‘evil’ Hyde. Some theories go as far as to suggest that Stevenson was describing multiple personality disorders before the advent of psychiatry. Since its publication in 1886, this story has become synonymous with the battle between good and evil. But let’s think for a minute here; how right is this assumption? Is the author really trying to suggest that you could split a person into their ‘good side’ and their’ evil side’?
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Review)
Perhaps these interpretations are true to an extent. Jekyll does grapple with Hyde’s violent tendencies, but at the same time, he is not the ‘good’ counterpart to Hyde. Instead, his ‘goodness’ and respectability as a doctor is simply a facade that protects him from suspicion. Likewise, Hyde is not the flip-side of Jekyll, but rather Jekyll’s dark nature-given physical form.
At the beginning of the novel, Jekyll believes that human nature can be split into being influenced by an ‘angel’ and being influenced by a ‘fiend’. So he attempts to make a portion to separate the two but ends up creating Hyde instead – a beast-like disfigured man who revels in violence and basks in the ‘freedom’ to behave immorally.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – if Jekyll created Hyde accidentally, he should be ‘good’ when he is Jekyll, right? Well, not exactly. Initially, transforming into Hyde was an intentional choice for Jekyll. He even writes a will leaving Jekyll’s money to Hyde if he cannot transform back into Jekyll. However, unmarried with only a few close friends and no notable relatives, Jekyll seems antisocial right from the beginning, before being revealed to be Hyde. His only real passions are scientific pursuits. Hyde, however, is not bound by the restrains of polite society like Jekyll is and can fully embody ‘the fiend’ with glee.
The difference between Jekyll and Hyde, therefore, isn’t good and evil, but social acceptability. Reputations and wealth defined social hierarchies in the Victorian era; we see the same playing out in the novel as well, since nobody suspects Jekyll initially despite his connection to Hyde. Jekyll represses any impulses not acceptable in Victorian society, and even acknowledges this, writing, “I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection, and began to look round me and take stock of my progress and position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life.”
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde shares a few striking similarities with its predecessor published almost 70 years ago – Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Both novels are ‘science fiction’ in the loose sense of the term. Although they gloss over the scientific processes they describe (which is understandable, considering that this was the 17th century), both novels are primarily concerned with the ethics of scientific advancement."The difference between Jekyll and Hyde, therefore, isn't good and evil, but social acceptability." Click To Tweet
Jekyll is said to have an affinity for ‘dark science’, implying that some scientific pursuits are morally wrong. This debate has been around for as long as science as we know it. In today’s time, we can find parallels to this idea in the debate surrounding genetic modification. On the one hand, the potential to cure or even prevent chronic illnesses is unmatched; but on the other hand, how ethical is it to play God?
Stevenson also considers an unrestricted pursuit of scientific excellence as an intoxicating influence. Thus, although aware that his attempt to remove the evil from himself had the opposite effect, Jekyll continues to transform into Hyde, almost like it were an addiction.
Finally, here’s a spoiler you can’t get away from: Dr Jekyll is Mr Hyde. (hover to reveal) Is that too obvious? Not in the original novel. The novel is told from the perspective of Mr. Utterson, a lawyer and Jekyll’s close friend, and the mystery of the connection between Jekyll and Hyde, two men so unlike each other, slowly unfolds. Unfortunately, a hundred years of pop culture osmosis has rendered this twist at the end unsurprising at best. But if you have always been fascinated with this tale like me, it’s definitely worth giving the original a read.
But don’t worry – there are many details you might not know already that make this story more than interesting. The ending definitely makes an impression on you, regardless of your familiarity with the story. The prose may be difficult for readers who are not used to reading classics, but the bright side is that the novel is only around 100 pages and freely available online. So if you’re looking for a book you can finish in an afternoon, the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde may be the one for you. You can get the book here! 📖
A final year law student from Chennai with an interest in policy, debate, and dogs.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
You've heard of Jekyll and Hyde. Whether in a classroom or passing conversation or one of its many reiterations, you've heard of Jekyll and Hyde – the 'good' Jekyll and the 'evil' Hyde. Some theories go as far as to suggest that Stevenson was describing multiple personality disorders before the advent of psychiatry. Since its publication in 1886, this story has become synonymous with the battle between good and evil. But let's think for a minute here; how right is this assumption? Is the author really trying to suggest that you could split a person into their 'good side' and their' evil side'?
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson