You’re sneaking down an alley on a cold winter night, buttoning up your coat to shield yourself from the bitter wind. You keep looking behind you, paranoid that someone you know might follow you. Your shady friend meets you. You give the cash, he gives you the drugs. You walk back to your house, still looking behind you, paranoid, every few steps. As your conscience begins to beat incessantly on the door of your mind, you insist: “This isn’t me. This is someone else. It’s completely different.”
That’s exactly what Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is all about: a division of self to create a another soul to blame. The benefit of sin without the horror of consequence. I’ll give you a little spoiler: it doesn’t turn out too well.
Dr. Jekyll is a generally well-thought of man in a non-descript area of a non-descript town. This book is about as descriptive as it is long (that is to say, not) in some respects, but I believe intentionally so. The exact setting and time period is never laid out for the reader, and the narrative is quite jittery, leaving the reader with only splotches of the plot until the very end of the narrative. What is known to the reader, mostly through Dr. Jekyll’s friend Utterson, is that there is a dreadful man known as Mr. Hyde who Dr. Jekyll seems to have as a friend, for some unknown reason. The reader first meets Hyde as one who heartlessly tramples over a small girl, and is described as one of short stature, and some intangible characteristic that makes him despicable to all who come across him. Utterson is then shocked to find that Dr. Jekyll has named this Mr. Hyde as his beneficiary in his will, in terms that bring chills to the reader, almost as if he would be slipping into the life, and even the body, of Dr. Jekyll upon his passing.
Nothing much else happens until Mr. Hyde murders another man in unbridled and animalistic rage. A witness ties him to the event, but he conveniently disappears. That’s the last we see of Hyde until the end of the story (which isn’t that long, seeing as the book itself barely stretches past 100 pages), and it’s a letter in Dr. Jekyll’s own writing that tells us how it truly happened.
I won’t reiterate everything from the letter here. While it would hardly be a spoiler, seeing as even those who have never picked up a book older than 2005 know the basic story, there are a few points I want to highlight that really help us discern the worldview of the story.
It was told me before reading the book that Dr. Jekyll chooses to lose himself in Hyde. Is that true? No. But at the same time, yes. His “discovery” of how to morph into Hyde was a thrill to Dr. Jekyll, and he utilized it on a regular basis. However, he started to lose control. He no longer needed to take a potion to turn into Hyde. So he had to choose between Jekyll and Hyde. He choose Jekyll. Or he claimed to, at least. After a brief period of restraining himself from the unnamed things he loved to indulge in as Hyde, he started dabbling in those same vices again, only without changing his persona. Then Hyde came back.
So did he choose to become Hyde? Yes, he did. This is a very good lesson for us when we’re talking about the old man and new man that Paul talks about in the New Testament. We’re supposed to put to death the old man, along with its desires. What did Dr. Jekyll do? To put in a Christian allegory, “I’m a Christian now, but I’m going to do a little bit of the stuff that I did before.” Would we be surprised to find that Christian fallen away again? No, and we should not be surprised to find Dr. Jekyll’s body failing and Mr. Hyde’s body growing. After all, it was Hyde that he was feeding more, and the dog you feed most wins the fight.
Another thing that I find curious is that Dr. Jekyll never spells out what those sins were that he was indulging in as Mr. Hyde. We clearly get a picture that Hyde is selfish, violent, and angry, but we never are told what exactly it is that he is indulging in. So what was it? I’m not going to venture a guess, and here’s why: I don’t think we’re supposed to figure it out. People have hashed out all kinds of theories, which range from murderous psychopathic tendencies to sexual urges, but the fact that it isn’t mentioned is the thing that makes this story so important. It says to use that it doesn’t matter what our vice is, indulging it and playing with it will result in destruction.
And destruction is certain, because neither Dr. Jekyll nor Mr. Hyde won in this instance. They both lost, in the end. This story is a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy with very important implications. Dr. Jekyll may have tried to put Hyde to rest, but he never tried to rid his soul of the vices that were his inception. Without cleaning out his heart, Hyde came back to his home, finding it swept and in order. In fact, the good doctor even left his furniture there! He had not let go of the home attributed to Mr. Hyde, nor the clothes that he required.
When we attempt to rid ourselves of the symptom and not the disease, this is the result – complete destruction of not only our bodies, but of our very selves.