Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores the duality of human nature. Jekyll believes he can extract his evil side as Hyde to destroy this part of himself; however, he realizes that he enjoys his secret life pursuing illicit pleasures. At first it appears that the primary struggle lies between the well-respected Dr. Jekyll and the evil Mr. Hyde, but what is actually more threatening is the fact that the binary does not hold. The evil cannot be isolated and contained, thus it is impossible to separate and kill off. Jekyll is not completely good and Hyde is not purely evil. Some evil must have existed in Dr. Jekyll in the beginning for him to transform into Mr. Hyde. Hyde is not completely evil because he is somewhat “natural and human” (Stevenson 58). By combining good and evil in both characters, Stevenson reveals the complexities of human nature rather than the strict “divided self” that Jekyll believes he is creating. The flaw that leads to Jekyll’s downfall is his thinking in binary terms when he says, “man is not truly one, but truly two” (55).
On the simplest level, Jekyll is a respectable scientist, but upon closer analysis Jekyll is not purely good evinced by the many temptations to which he succumbs. As a scientist, he “gave into the temptation of discovery” to create a drug that would painfully transform him into the evil Hyde (57). Jekyll’s curiosity gives him the power to play God, which might be considered unethical by many. The fact that Jekyll believes this breakthrough to be a “temptation” also demonstrates his recognition of the potential disaster that could ensue due to his self-experimentation with drugs. In order for Dr. Jekyll to transform into Mr. Hyde, some evil must have originated in Jekyll. Jekyll supports this idea in his confession when he calls himself and “incongruous compound” of good and evil (59).
In chemistry, a compound is a homogenous mixture that cannot be separated. The fact that he is an “incongruous compound” indicates that both good and evil can come out of Jekyll in an unpredictable manner, but they can never be truly separated. Stevenson describes Jekyll as “composite…now with greedy gusto, projected and shared in the pleasures and adventures of Hyde” (63). Jekyll knows that Hyde’s adventures are dangerous to the community, yet Jekyll still selfishly allows himself to enjoy the disguise of Hyde. The fact that Jekyll is not perfect, but really a mixture of good and evil, questions the possibility of separating these two poles.
Jekyll calls Hyde purely evil, but there is evidence suggesting that Jekyll’s theory is flawed and that Hyde is actually a mixture of good and evil. When Jekyll characterizes Hyde as wholly evil Jekyll prefaces his statement by stating that it is based on his personal “theory alone” (58). This indicates that Jekyll could be speculating about the results of his experiment. There is no way to prove this theory because Hyde is inherently part of Jekyll and the research cannot be repeated. This gives reason to believe his confessions are potentially biased. The character portrayal of Hyde as a “small” man with a “murderous mixture of timidity and boldness” points to the complexities of human nature in Hyde (16). Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same because they have “memory in common” and can be transformed between the two forms, but they are not proportionally represented (63).
Hyde’s small stature reinforces the idea that Mr. Hyde is part of Dr. Jekyll since a part must always be smaller than the whole. If he is a part of Jekyll, then he is at least partly human including good and evil, thus not strictly evil. Hyde’s “murderous mixture of timidity and boldness” provides more insight into his character. He is criminal, but a “mixture” and not a pure compound of evil as Jekyll asserts. One who is timid and bold is unpredictable: at one moment they may hide their evil plots, whereas at other times they act on their devastating impulses. Humans are multifaceted because their actions are not always rational or foreseeable. Jekyll’s unreliable science and Hyde’s “murderous mixture” cast doubt on the claim that Hyde is completely devilish.
Just as Hyde and Jekyll both contain good and evil within, their shared home represents two sides of one character. Dr. Jekyll enters the front of the house with a great faï¿½ade and elegant interior, whereas Mr. Hyde enters through the back laboratory door with a dilapidated structure. Hyde’s door “was well equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained” (6). The doors strike an incongruous note and contrast with the rest of the houses on this pleasant and wealthy street.
The back door lacks a bell and knocker which is unwelcoming to visitors. Stevenson personifies the door as “blistered” indicating an element of pain that occurs due to the transformation that occurs within this lab. Ironically, when Utterson and the detective go inside Hyde’s house, they find it “furnished with luxury and good taste” (26). This suggests that Hyde is civilized and refined underneath his devilish exterior. Underneath the exterior is the scientist, Jekyll who works and lives in this house. Hyde dwells and hides in this home after going out on sinister adventures. This structure reveals the complicated interactions between moral and sinful nature within humans. The house with distinct doors represents Jekyll and Hyde residing within a single individual.
The Carew murder reveals another aspect to Mr. Hyde’s nature as animalistic and impulsive, but still human. A maid witnesses this tragedy by the light of “the full moon” (21). The full moon serves two functions: a practical source of lighting and to set the ominous mood indicating the time when evil lurks. This is a superstitious setting when humans transform into werewolves in horror and fantasy tales. Mr. Hyde tramples the innocent old man until he was destroyed and “the bones were audibly shattered” (22). The graphic image makes Hyde seem like a madman-uncontrolled, irrational, and violent; however, this crime is without motivation.
Hyde simply acts on an impulsive “ape-like fury” leading him to completely destroy his victim (22). Most animals would not destroy their prey to a pulp as Hyde does indicating that he possesses irrationality of a human. Jekyll even describes Hyde as “natural and human” (58). This signifies the complexities of a man containing both animalistic impulses and irrational human desires. The name Stevenson bestows on Hyde connotes an animal hide, indicative of his skin in this transgression. He appears animal-like externally but really derives pleasure out of this evil act. At the same time, Hyde knows that what he has done is wrong and it is in his nature to hide from the gallows by becoming Jekyll. Hyde’s nature is not as clear cut as Jekyll would like to believe.
After the Carew murder, Dr. Jekyll emerges as a man bound by his rational conscience to repress the evil Hyde. He appears “deadly sick” which is symbolic of his ill conscience (26). Jekyll knows that a part of him committed a heinous act and he is partly responsible because he acted on his curiosity to experiment scientifically and create Hyde. His weak body also reflects his weakness in controlling Hyde. Jekyll attempts to resume his prior life for two months by hiding Hyde, but he subconsciously does not want to rid himself of Hyde. Jekyll never gives up Hyde’s rented house in Soho nor destroys his clothes. Jekyll subconsciously enjoys Hyde’s freedom from “the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin” (56).
The fact that Jekyll refuses to sacrifice his liberated, impulsive self leads to Hyde ultimately reappearing without the potion. Jekyll loses the power to control himself when Hyde comes and goes because he refuses to consciously accept him. Both natures are trapped-Hyde cannot reveal his face because he is a wanted murderer and Jekyll loathes Hyde because he knows he cannot control Hyde. Since only one character can exist at a particular time, they are never completely separated. The fact that Hyde takes over Jekyll’s body right after Jekyll drinks the vial of poison shows that the conflict persists until the last minute of this character’s life.
The Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde illustrates the existence of multiplicities found in every individual and the need to recognize but minimize the grasp of evil. Seemingly opposing qualities such as good versus evil, civilized versus primitive, and repression versus liberation can all be found competing within a single character. Even though Jekyll calls Hyde “pure evil,” there is evidence contradicting this belief; Jekyll is not strictly good and Hyde is not wholly evil. Jekyll’s belief in humans as two separate beings that can be divided lead to his death.
They cannot concurrently exist because they are ultimately one individual. Jekyll’s dualistic thinking that leads to splitting his personality is problematic because all humans, including Hyde, are composed of multiple qualities. It is impossible to obtain a pure compound by human means such as through science due to the competing forces within every person. Jekyll’s lack of acceptance of his complex nature and attempt to split his identity ultimately led to his death because man is not two, but truly one.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. England: Penguin Books, 2002.