The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Most know of Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but do we truly know the context in which it was written? When reading Stevenson’s novel, most of the time it is read as a novel depicting dualism. Singh and Chakrabarti define dualism in their article (“A study in dualism: The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) as “a thought that facts about the world in general or of a particular class cannot be explained except by supposing ultimately the existence of two different, often opposite, and irreducible principles” (Singh, and Chakrabarti).
Stevenson’s story is based around a Dr. Henry Jekyll, a well-to-do, successful scientist in his society. Jekyll is interested in finding a way to separate the good and bad portions of man’s personalities so that both are free to do what is expected. Through his experiments, Jekyll is able to invent a concoction that does just as he hoped it would; it “…enables him to free this evil in him from the control of his good self, thus giving rise to Edward Hyde” (Singh, and Chakrabarti). Edward Hyde is pure evil. And not only does he differ in personality, but the physical appearances between Hyde and Jekyll are quite noticeable; Jekyll as a popular man in society, probably good-looking, and Hyde as a short, disfigured man that disgusts most. Once he has created his “Hyde,” Jekyll believes that he will be able to carry out the deeds his evil self has always wanted to do, but never could because his good-self kept him from it. Eventually though, Hyde becomes much too powerful and overtakes the body, leading to Jekyll’s doom, and not long after, Hyde’s suicide.
Stevenson’s novel focuses on the relationship between good and evil, and man’s constant war to maintain the good. Surprisingly, the religion that Stevenson was born into (Christianity) rejects all ideals of dualism and teaches that we come from one all-powerful being who simply tolerates evil because evil only exists as a result of the creation of free-will in the universe. In the novel, Jekyll, sick of the duplicity in life and wishing to eliminate it, creates the concoction that separates Jekyll and Hyde. Not only does Stevenson present that dualism exists in every individual, but in his novel he is also suggesting that dualism exists in society as a whole, “where the aristocracy that superficially was genteel and refined, had dark secrets to hide behind the high walls of the mansions in which they lived” (Singh, and Chakrabarti).
As Dr. Jekyll says, “With every day and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and intellectual, I thus drew steadily to that truth by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.” He further adds,”… that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man…if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.”
Singh, S. M., and S. Chakrabarti. N.p.. Web. 21 Nov 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738358/>.