The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is a captivating narrative regarding the moral ambiguities of science and the duplicity of human nature. Dr Jekyll is a benevolent, well-respected and brilliant scientist who meddles with the malevolent aspects of science, as he aims to discover and breed his depraved alter ego. He does this through transforming himself into Mr Hyde, a monstrous being who is unable to repent or accept responsibility for any of his heinous actions.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde highlights the hypocrisy of Victorian values within an indictment of society that Stevenson makes. In Victorian London, Stevenson saw that, although most noblemen seemed to be genial in nature and as upstanding citizens, they hid sickening and horrifying compulsions behind their carefully crafted masks of courtesy within their public images. Many readers suspect that Jekyll and Hyde was a self-admission by Stevenson himself of his own degeneracy and dark nature he had so carefully kept hidden throughout his career as an author.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde centers upon a generalization of humanity being dual in nature, which emerges in the last chapter, when the complete story of the Jekyll-Hyde relationship is revealed. The theory of primal human instinct being suppressed by social conventions is only displayed after having witnessed Hyde’s unspeakable crimes against nature and his inevitable dominance of Jekyll’s persona. The novel not only presents the multi-faceted identity of human nature as its central theme, but invites readers to reason with the properties of this duality and to consider each of the novel’s examples as these theories are weighted.
Jekyll makes the bold assumption that “man is not truly one, but truly two,” imagining the human soul as a battleground for a virtuous angel and a corrupt demon, each struggling for authority over their host. Jekyll’s persona-altering potion was created to separate and purify the two warring entities, instead he succeeds only in bringing the demon into being as Mr. Hyde emerges, but he has no angelic counterpart to stop his immoral behavior. Once the demon is unleashed upon the streets of London, Hyde slowly begins to take over Jekyll’s personality until Jekyll ceases to exist.
The angel was nowhere to be found at the end of the novel, presumably corrupted by the sinful and sinister nature of the demon that had become Mr. Hyde, overcoming centuries of human evolution to revert back into the primal and intrinsic nature hidden away within Mr. Jekyll. The primitive creature embodied in Hyde was brought under tentative control by civilization, law, and conscience, but according to this theory, Dr. Jekyll’s potion simply strips away the civilized veneer of human existence, exposing the depravity of human nature.
Preserving public reputations emerges to be important within the world of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. The prevalence of this value system is evident in the way that refined men such as Utterson, a London lawyer, and Enfield, Utterson’s business partner, avoid gossip at all costs. They see gossip as a catalyst that ends in the destruction of one’s reputation. When Utterson suspects Jekyll of being blackmailed and then assumes that Jekyll is sheltering Hyde from the police, he does not make his suspicions known.
As Utterson is a close friend of Jekyll’s, there is an unspoken law to keep his secrets and not ruin his integrity. The importance of reputation in the novel also reflects the importance of appearances and facades, which often hide an abhorrent side of savagery and impulse. As Utterson embodies Victorian society and identity, he adamantly wishes not only to preserve Jekyll’s reputation but also to preserve an appearance of order and decorum, even as he senses a vile truth lurking underneath Jekyll’s passive demeanour.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde demonstrates how Dr Jekyll represents the affable and public image that is required of society’s members to be kept visible whenever it is required of them, with Mr Hyde representing the feral and subhuman desires that lurk deep within the “civilized” minds of human existence, yet they are virtually the same entity and symbolises the virtues and vices in all human beings. A person’s soul is paired with elements of both sophistication and brutality coexisting within a singular vessel: the human mind.
These basic elements cannot be separated because people are defined by the conflict within their inner nature and how they learn to coincide with this duality. Dr. Jekyll is obsessed with disrupting and segregating this balance between human nature to the point that he experiments with separating his barbaric nature from the decorous part of himself. However, in his attempt to remove the Neanderthal within his nature, Jekyll eventually discovers that without decency and righteousness to temper this intrinsic evil in human nature, people are overcome by their lower elements.
This separated lower element of Dr. Jekyll, whom he calls Mr. Hyde, commits evil for its own sadistic pleasure, and in this newfound freedom of separation, it’s acts of unholy wickedness become more egregious with each crime the beast commits. Eventually, this chaotic force overtakes Jekyll’s better self, and Jekyll, Hyde, and the vessel for the two warring forces are all destroyed by the end of the novel. Some readers will accept the fact that they are not as valiant as they would like others to think they are, while other people will not accept it.
The story raises a moral quandary in which each reader must reason with themselves, that their own selfish vices are embodied within the immoral and remorseless beast that is Mr. Hyde, and that they could someday breach the congenial veneer of the civilized persona that is practiced through the embodiment of Dr. Jekyll, threatening the societal order that has suppressed the maniacal Mr. Hyde for so long.