The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, published on January 5, 1886. In this novella, Stevenson explores the duality of people and how we all have both good and bad characteristics inside us. Inspired by this dynamic, Stevenson had long been intrigued by human personalities and wanted to explore this theme. I thought it would be interesting to take a close look at how he explored this idea.
Mr. Utterson, a lawyer, listens to a friend who tells him he saw Edward Hyde trample over a little girl, go into an old house, and pay with a check signed by Dr. Jekyll. Utterson later hears that Jekyll had transferred everything to Hyde in his will. Upon investigation, Hyde’s house is a lab attached to Jekyll’s house. Jekyll tells Utterson not to worry about Hyde.
Hyde later kills a client of Utterson’s. When the police had called Utterson, he suspected Hyde; however, Hyde was not home and had seemingly disappeared. Jekyll, on the other hand, was in good spirits for a few months, then suddenly refused visitors. Utterson came later, and he had found Hyde’s body and a letter.
Utterson discovered Jekyll wanted to separate his good and bad sides by drinking a potion, and he was delighted with the results, which created his alter-ego, Hyde. Unfortunately, he started involuntarily transforming into Hyde and couldn’t stop. He had to drink more to change back into his original self, but he couldn’t make more. Jekyll didn’t know Hyde’s fate but knew that this was his end.
The Good Side of Jekyll
Jekyll represents the good side of people. He is a respected doctor, has a positive reputation, and engages in charity work. Those in his community think well of him, and he seemingly has no enemies besides the malevolence within himself. He is perfect — perhaps a little too perfect. When he was young, he engaged in several youthful indiscretions that he worried would hurt his future, and so he started repressing them. He is not perfectly good — no one is — but he appears perfect because he never allowed his inner evil to come out.
The struggle between good and evil also fascinated Jekyll, and that is why he was inspired to create a potion in order to release the evil in someone that would take them over completely. It was done under the guise of an experiment, but Jekyll just wanted to be evil without consequences. Does this make him good, or does this make him evil?
He wishes to hurt others with no repercussions, not caring for the harm he causes, so long as he can be free. Indeed, perhaps we all wish for this to some degree; to do what we want — hopefully within reason — with no price to pay. Does this make us bad, even if we never commit these acts?
The Evil Side of Hyde
Edward Hyde seems to be the opposite of Jekyll. He is rude, disliked, and evil. In the book, he commits two evil acts: he tramples a girl and kills a man. It is unknown if he committed more that were not on the pages, or if these were his only ones (I would bet they weren’t, but I have no proof other than my suspicions). He is said to have no moral compass, and that he acts upon every desire he has, even to the detriment of others.
There is a convincing argument that Hyde was considered entirely evil because he was “visibly disfigured and physically impaired.” While we cannot know Stevenson’s intentions with Hyde, this is a strong possibility. He did commit two heinous, inexcusable acts; yet, with little else known about him, how can we classify him as entirely evil without even a speck of good?
I would not classify him as a good person, to be sure. But if every person has good and evil, and Hyde is a person, would that not mean there is something good in him? While his crimes were terrible, he is referred to as a thing, as a monster, without an ounce of humanity ascribed to him.
In the end, being both good and bad is part of human nature. We can choose how we act, but I believe there will always be a part of us that wishes to act the opposite.
For another article on the author or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, click here.