The writer Robert Louis Stevenson had in mind the idea of a double nature of the human being, that is a good and a bad part that coexist within us; the bad part would turn out to be repressed by society. The result of these thoughts is The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde (1886).
It is one of the first works that gives life to a character with a complete personality disorder with the ensuing consequences. Furthermore, it poses a challenge to the science of the time and religion, as it tells a scary and very intense story. The popularity linked to the figures of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde led to the theatrical, film and television transposition of the book.
The plot of the book is very intriguing. Through the lawyer Utterson, we learn about some unusual facts, Stevenson himself leaves clues that lead us to ask ourselves questions and, in the end, thanks to a manuscript we discover the fateful epilogue.
Have you ever had “bad” thoughts? Perhaps you have also asked yourself several questions such as “what would happen if I could release this wickedness?” or “is there really a dark side within us?”. The idea of a double nature of the human being was treated from different points of view and in different fields, such as philosophy, psychology or literature.
What if it was this double nature that made us what we are, that is, human? Perfection does not exist, absolute goodness does not exist either. What we consider “good”, perhaps for others it is not. Ethics has explored the question of good, not without finding discrepancies. In the course of our life we can all act in an irrational, inconsistent or completely unexpected way.
The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde explores the characteristics of a personality disorder, as well as a number of aspects related to human nature. In a very indiscreet way, it completely involves us and blends psychological with literature and philosophy. For this reason Stevenson’s text should not be missing in our library.
Good and evil
If we retrace our history, culture and religion, we can find an infinite number of examples of what is considered good and what is considered bad, examples that clearly distinguish these two aspects. If we think of religions, we realize that practically all currents try to define right behavior, punish bad behavior and explain the consequences of acting with good or bad intentions.
How can we define the good? It would seem a simple question, but the answer is so subjective that in the end it comes to say that good is the opposite of evil. Ethics is that part of philosophy which throughout history has tried to answer questions of this kind. Philosophers themselves have focused on the idea that good is the opposite of evil.
According to Aristotle, for example, the ultimate good is happiness; the common good for all, which is achieved through virtue and where politics plays an important role. In the attainment of happiness the path acquires particular importance, as it is not an immediate goal.
The hedonist ethic, on the other hand, recognizes the good in sensory and immediate pleasure. The Christian religion goes further and identifies good with the figure of God and evil with the figure of Satan, gives them a name and defines their characteristics.
The numerous examples we can refer to always lead us back to the idea of opposition. But what if good and evil were two sides of the same coin? In other words, two indissoluble, inseparable, intimately connected aspects, so much so that one does not exist without the other. And it is precisely the concept of the coexistence of good and evil in the human soul that Stevenson tries to deepen in his book, first trying to separate them, and then reunite them.
Each individual grows up in a society and learns behaviors that are universally accepted or considered appropriate. However, it seems that there is a nature within us that sometimes prompts us to act or think against established norms. Doctor Jekyll thought he could separate this double nature, that he could break the coin in two. The result is that both parties act of their own accord.
Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde: dualism
Literature has approached the concept of dualism on many occasions and from very different points of view. Already
The story of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde explores the consequences of the separation of these two faces of the human personality, a true split of the personality: both are the same person, the desires and impulses of both reside in the same individual and, when they are separated, the consequences are dire.
Jekyll is a “man of good”, an exemplary man, distinguished and with a good position. A man who, like so many others, represses the darkest impulses he feels inside. The passion for medicine and the obsession with keeping good and evil separate push him to try a strange potion that will give life to Mister Hyde, that is his opposite, abandoned to impulses and pleasure.
The transformations imply not only a division, but a search, on the part of Jekyll, to satisfy those pleasures and desires forbidden by society. The physical description of the two characters is also significant: while Jekyll has a graceful appearance, Hyde is described as a caveman, considered unpleasant and savage by society.
The work is an escalation of intrigue and magic until the spectacular epilogue, when, through a note from Doctor Jekyll, we discover the truth. Not just the truth about potions, but the truth of human nature, which is the acceptance of the impossibility of separating the good and evil that live within us.
Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde are true, equal and opposite at the same time. Theirs is a return journey, an exploration of human nature that reaches a clear conclusion: we must not want to separate good from evil because the two dimensions are part of us and both make up our identity.