This very interesting book by Robert Louis Stevenson is one I knew of for many years, but had not read. Who hasn’t heard the phrase “a Jekyll & Hyde personality”? The book is quite succinct and to the point. In fact, I thought it would be a bit longer than it actually is.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic horror story (but of course not by today’s standards of blood, gore, and screams) that was published near the end of the 19th century. Many theories have been proposed as to why this story was written and how exactly is it horrific. During my in-class discussions of the novel, my professor noted that concurrently published with this novel were the beginning theories of psychology. The general public was terrified of the potential harm, and even good, that this new discipline offered. How can you be you, but not really be you? Can there really be more than one person inside you’re head? Stevenson took these theories and fears and penned them into this novel.
Instead of focusing on the internal struggles that psychology was trying to explain, Stevenson switched the physical and the mental to create a character that could physically change yet was conscience of both people. The character of Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that enables him to change into Mr. Hyde. Jekyll enjoys this freedom, a way to experience the world with no consequences to himself. Unfortunately, the character Mr. Hyde becomes self-aware and feels threatened by Jekyll. Quickly the story takes a turn for the worst and Jekyll looses control over Hyde. Unable to take control back, Jekyll knows the only way he can kill Hyde is to kill himself. With the last bit of potion left, Jekyll writes his last will and commits suicide. By the time the narrator, a lawyer, finds Jekyll, his body has turned back to Hyde, however the body is deceased.
The novel is presented as a who dunit novel. The lawyer encounters some strange tales by people and decides to investigate. Readers eventually find out that the lawyer’s interest lies with the new will given to him that in case of disappearance or death of Dr. Jekyll, all of Jekyll’s estate is to go to Mr. Hyde. The odd part – “in case of disappearance” has the lawyer troubled.
Of course it is well-known now that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person, but for me, that isn’t the point of the story. I am drawn to all the psychological threads that Stevenson weaved into the story. He was able to comprehend and understand the fears of society and re-tell them in an entertaining format. Jekyll fears that his has discovered that everyone has a Mr. Hyde, a “pure evil” side inside them. Could Stevenson be alluding to the fact that each person has a side of them that they can never escape? Or that our “pure evil” side will eventually destroy humanity? Or on a more surface level, is there anything we can do about our fear of the unknown?
Perhaps Stevenson tried to explain that life is a transformation, we are born neutral and we transform into adults. We have both a “good” personality and a “bad” personality and who we become will be a direct result of the events that form our transformation.