Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde — a review
What happens when the ‘animal’, the ‘beast within man’, is let loose, and lust and pleasure become the sole guiding principle of life? Ruled by instincts, driven by pleasure, selfish, egotistic, giving free play to the passions of lust and anger, man is reduced to the state of an animal. R L Stevenson, better known for his novel The Treasure Island, dwells on the two well known sides of man — the good and the evil — in the story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The good here is represented by a life of reason and self-restraint, and the naked, animal-like free pursuit of lust and pleasure is the evil. Yet the story packs in it a good deal of science fiction and mystery as well.
Dr Jekyll, aware of the dual nature of man — his reason versus his instincts – discovers a chemical compound that can transform the features of human body, and also temper with the natural balance of the above two aspects. He ingests the compound, and is metamorphosed into a new body with a new face. Now, as perhaps nature would have it, the evil side of man overweighs his good nature. Thus, during the transformation, it is the dark side that, spotting an opportunity, takes total control of the newly formed body of Dr Jekyll. The lust-driven, animal part now comes alive in its pure form, no longer restrained and sublimated by reason, and takes control of the new body, with a new identity, that of Mr Hyde.
Dr Jekyll realises the folly of being Mr Hyde — his lusty adventures at night. He tries to control his urges, and enjoys living a balanced life in the company of his friends and society. Yet, he is human, and weak. Once aroused and given free play, his passions urge him to ingest the drug again, but this time with catastrophic effects. The scientific experiment now goes awry, and Dr Jekyll keeps turning into Hyde against his will.
Quite expectedly, Mr Hyde, the evil incarnate, is described as ugly and deformed. He arouses instant revulsion from the onlookers, especially Mr Utterson, a lawyer through whom much of the story is told. The plot is intricate, gradually building up a suspense around the true identity of Mr Hyde till the fag end, when Dr Jekyll’s last hand-written confession is reproduced, lifting the veil from the mysterious series of events that form most of the story.
Take away the actual physical transformation part from the story, and Dr Jekyll could be diagnosed with a split personality disorder. The story itself contains many references to mental disorders. Yet the human element in the story is that Dr Jekyll discovers a drug to do away with all restraints, and intentionally uses it to derive pleasure from being Mr Hyde, and later confesses to his weakness, for indulging in pleasure like most other men. He is no different from other human beings, so says the author. But indulging in pleasure without restraint, for the author, is sin, and in the abnormal, lacking-in-self-control character of Mr Hyde, it is truly madness. This is the true premise or framework of the story.
But I was still cursed with my duality of purpose; and as the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for licence. Not that I dreamed of resuscitating Hyde; the bare idea of that would startle me to frenzy: no, it was in my own person, that I was once more tempted to trifle with my conscience; and it was as an ordinary secret sinner, that I at last fell before the assaults of temptation.
This familiar that I called out of my own soul, and sent forth alone to do his good pleasure, was a being inherently malign and villainous; his every act and thought centered on self; drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from any degree of torture to another; relentless like a man of stone. Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde.
I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin.
Book: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
The story can be read here
Was Stevenson under drug influence while writing the story?
A Stevenson website