Dr. Jekyll and Tyler Durden: Not Just About Duality.
“Two sides? You’re Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Jackass.”
-Marla Springer, Fight Club (1999)
As Marla’s quote indicates it is hard for readers of Chuck Palahniuk’s award-winning novel Fight Club, and viewers of the 1999 samely-titled movie to take in the story of the unnamed Protagonist and his questionable “better half”, Tyler Durden, without thinking of another infamous “duo” Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Despite the glaring similarities between these two cultural works concerning the motif of human duality, these two texts are nearly identically linked by other important underlying (often unconsidered) themes and motifs such as isolation, and the role of sleep.
Both narratives revolve around a young man who decidedly lives alone and is surrounded by other men of varying ages and professions who are also alone. Not a single character in either one of these works has a family to speak of nor is married, this is seen in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Dr. Lanyon’s admittance of seeing Dr. Jekyll less and less (Stevenson, 1784) and in the fact that there is absolutely nothing in the text that would indicate to the reader that Jekyll has a wife/significant other or any family to speak of. Later in the novella Jekyll’s isolation is amplified after his encounter with Dr. Lanyon and his insistence upon leading “a life of extreme seclusion” (Stevenson, 1796). This extreme isolation is also seen in the Protagonist of Fight Club. Living in a condo with a foot of solid concrete between him and any of his neighbors he lives a life devoid of friends or family, but filled with material objects not connecting to people, coworkers or neighbors around him but finding his identity through the things he owns, wondering what sort of dining set would define him as a person (Palahniuk, 5:21).
Sleep is another overlapping theme between these two works, sleep being the most common “vehicle” for the transformation processes portrayed. In The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Dr. Jekyll starts transforming from himself to Mr. Hyde, [going] to bed Henry Jekyll, I had awakened Edward Hyde” (Stevenson, 1813) and it is shown later that the transformation from Jekyll to Hyde always happens when Jekyll sleeps or even dozes (Stevenson, 1817). This fixation on sleep (or the lack thereof) is extremely similar to the Protagonist in Fight Club who at the onset of the movie and the book has been suffering from insomnia for the past six months, commenting that with insomnia “you’re never really asleep and you’re never really awake” (Palahniuk, 12:52). This similarity between these two texts is cemented in the later-discovered fact that the Protagonist’s alter ego, Tyler Durden, was taking control of the Protagonist’s body while he slept; the Protagonist even wondering to himself, “have I been going to bed earlier every night? Have I been sleeping later? Have I been Tyler longer and longer?” (Palahniuk 1:55:30).
Edward Hyde and Tyler Durden may be a couple of insidious body-snatchers (in a sense). But they are only a small fraction of what brings these seemingly different narratives together; besides from the duality of human nature and the struggle between a person’s “true” identity there are a million other themes and symbols, motifs and icons that connect these two texts across space and time.
Stevenson, Robert. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Trans. Array The Longman Anthology of British Literature. . 4th Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc., 2010. 1780-1818. Print.
Palahniuk, Chuck, writ. Fight Club. Dir. Fincher. Fox 2000 Pictures, 1999. Film. 22 Nov 2013.