Every’One’ is Two
Prior to having read the novel itself (which I did for the first time last week), I had had one previous experience with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This occurred when I was seven years old and PBS aired the Wishbone (who was a Jack Russell Terrier with an impressive repertoire of doggy tricks and an intimate knowledge of the literary canon) version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic under a kitschy canine title like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hound,” or something like that. What I remember from this experience, apart from Wishbone’s dapper little outfit, is thinking that this is a story about the struggle between good and evil! Or whatever the second-grade equivalent of that thought would have been…
And now, after nearly two decades and having finally read the book (without the help of an articulate terrier), I still think that it’s a story about good and evil and the struggle individuals have with their own duplicity and desires. But what I can’t decide is whether it’s a warning against indulging your evil side (lest it should overcome you and turn you into an anti-social, drug-addicted monster), or a warning against repressing for too long your evil side (lest it should overcome you and turn you into an anti-social, drug-addicted monster).
There certainly is duplicity inherent in human nature; even “cold, scanty” Utterson had “something eminently human beacon[ing] from his eye” when he drank enough wine! But is this duplicity something we can control? Is it something we can indulge or repress? Near the beginning of the novel, Dr. Jekyll sure seemed to think that, having perfected his magic miracle drug, he could manipulate his nature, claiming to Utterson that “the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde.” However, as it turned out, getting rid of Mr. Hyde meant getting rid of Dr. Jekyll as well.
So, while Dr. Jekyll was successfully able to shift into a self who was purely evil, he failed to create a self that was purely good. And while he was fully cognizant that “man is not truly one, but truly two,” he was ultimately unable to control which of his disparate sides would hold the reins. Finally Jekyll writes that “I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.” Although he had realized as an adolescent the duplicity of his own nature, Jekyll refused to acknowledge until it was too late that perhaps he couldn’t isolate his competing natures, that perhaps one couldn’t exist purely on its own without the other.
By attempting to control his nature, Dr. Jekyll created something so completely evil that he had to kill himself to get rid of it. So maybe Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde isn’t a story that warns against indulging or repressing duplicity, but story that warns against the dangers of attempting to manipulate human nature. I was able to understand the essence of the story as a child, but not the nuances of human nature that it evokes. Perhaps as humans, we should acknowledge that there may be a bit of evil within us, but instead of trying to isolate that evil to stomp it out (or let it run free), we should simply accept it.