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Various Moral Themes in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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Robert Louis Stevenson’s ​’The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ ​was originally published in 1886 during the Victorian era. This was a period where almost every sphere of society was changing in some way, for better or for worse. The story is about a man who finds out a way to separate the evil parts of himself by drinking a potion he concocted in his laboratory. The book is of the third-person limited perspective of Mr. Utterson, who goes about the process of finding out that his friend Dr. Jekyll was actually the same as this evil man, Mr. Hyde. While on the surface it may seem like this is just a horror story about an entirely goodperson that turns into an entirely bad one, a closer look may reveal the underlying moral,unanswerable dilemmas that plagued Stevenson’s time as well as ours.

It seems as though Stevenson describes Dr. Jekyll as a time appropriate stereotype of what a moral, stand-up member of society looks like. He is described as large, distinguished, and obviously a doctor, well respected in Stevenson’s time as well as ours. Completing the typical arch duo would be Hyde, representing the most evil parts of human nature as well as having no redeemable qualities to speak of. Though this historically cut and dry interpretation may not have been what Stevenson intended at all, or at least not what the story has transformed into in modern times. Upon closer inspection, what once may have seemed like an obvious tale of the duality of good vs. evil, might carry a deeper, more complex connotation. A later theory that Hyde did not, in fact, represent pure evil would go on to be the basis of many stories regarding the transformation of a human into something else. The most recognizable of these Hyde inspired characters is almost certainly the ‘Hulk’, making appearances in comics, books, and movies for the better part of a century. “In contrast, though, adapted versions of Hyde have created a monster hero – a saviour whose lack of restraint serves as his strongest quality. These Hydes are still unpredictable and aggressive, but they use their volatility for good and maintain a moralistic agenda” (McCrystal 2018). The reason that ​’The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ ​might be misinterpreted so often is the constant reference of this archetypal duality, eventoday. With the instant access of social media allowing most individuals a window into near anyone else’s life, society has begun a culture of outrage. Snap judgements can be the cause of the declaration of one’s moral fiber, even if this judgement is made from three thousand miles away from behind a computer screen. There is no doubt this problem exists, but it is understandable to a degree. The idea of actual evil is so much more consequential than being decent, or ‘good’ in this context. “That is why the problem of evil is so much more compelling than the problem of good, for evil—especially one’s own—is assumed to be against the natural order of things” (Dalrymple 2004). If someone in the public eye does turn out to be the textbook definition of evil, it is pivotal that they are found out. Unfortunately, this results in as many or more false flags as actual cases of justice being served. Some like to think of the classic perception of Hyde as a false flag. Yes, he is a stark contrast to Dr. Jekyll, but as is surely known by now, contrarianism does not necessarily equal evil.

This same kind of black and white thinking is also apparent in the religious citations that occur throughout ‘​The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. “A religion that is dualistic admits not only that the universe comprises good and evil, or light and darkness, but also that though these are eternally opposed they are coeternal, coexistent, and equipotent” (Singh & Chakrabarti 2008). Various religions as old as civilization itself are notorious for having the same dualistic ideology most readers have while reading ​Jekyll and Hyde. ​ Before the reader is even properly introduced to Hyde, he is likened to Satan himself. ​’I never saw a circle of such hateful faces; and there was the man in the middle, with a kind of black sneering coolness—frightened to, I could see that—but carrying it off, sir, really like Satan’ (Stevenson 6). Another example of religion in ​Jekyll and Hyde ​is when Mr. Utterson calls Mr. Hyde a “juggernaut”. ‘Juggernaut’ is the Anglicized name for the Hindu god Jagannath, the “Lord of the Universe”. Jagannath, a form of the god Vishnu, presides over a massive temple in Puri, India alongside his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra”. It is also significant that a reverend was the one to popularize this usage of the word in the context of a violent, bloody, religious cult (Altman 2017).

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Addiction is another very popular moral theme in ​’The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. ​In fact, there are those who think that the entire plot was based on a dentist Stevenson knew that turned into a violent monster when he got high on morphine. “A recent theory is that Dr. Jekyll is based on Horace Wells (1815-48), a dentist in Hartford, Connecticut, whose pioneering work with nitrous oxide anaesthesia proceeded a very unhappy end. Disappointed in establishing the priority of his discoveries to those of a former colleague, Wells moved to New York, fell increasingly prey to self-intoxication with chloroform, and was arrested for throwing vitriol on a prostitute,apparently not the first such attack he had made when thus intoxicated” (Swearingen 2014).

Many people see the transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde by way of potion in its most basic interpretation, but this can easily be compared to addiction and substance abuse. Dr. Jekyll himself kept trying to stop taking the potion that turned him into Hyde, but the longest he was ever able to go without ingesting it was two months. This is even greater supported by Dr. Jekyll’s description of taking the potion, “The most racking pangs succeeded: a grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death. Then these agonies had begun to swiftly subside, and I came to myself as out of great sickness” (Stevenson 70) as well as the description when Dr. Jekyll briefly ceased consumption of the potion. “Now that the evil influence had been withdrawn, a new life had begun for Dr. Jekyll. He came out of his seclusion, renewed relations with his friends, became once more their familiar guest and entertainer” (Stevenson 34). When addicts are using, they really do become different people. This is describing the huge personality change one can undergo by just discontinuing their vices.

As the reader magnified this classic piece of literature, more and more is revealed. There are unapparent themes of good vs. evil, addiction, religion, and more. It is hard to know what exactly Stevenson was intending to portray when he initially wrote the story, but it has almost certainly taken on a completely different meaning than when it was first conceived. It is important that one gives this book the attention it deserves. There is so much more to obtain andappreciated than the simple and dated archetype of duality. Robert Louis Stevenson’s ​’The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ ​is a complex insight into the moral themes of the Victorian era when this classic piece of horror was written, not just a rewrite of the bored concept of the good guy winning out over the bad guy.

Works Cited

  1. Altman, Michael J. “The Origins of the Juggernaut.” ​OUPblog​, Oxford University Press, 1 Aug. 2017, blog.oup.com/2017/08/origins-juggernaut-jagannath/
  2. Dalrymple, Theodore. “Mr. Hyde & the Epidemiology of Evil.” ​The Free Library​, Sept. 2004, www.thefreelibrary.com/Mr.Hyde & the epidemiology of evil.-a0122326650.
  3. McCrystal, Erica. “Current Issue.” ​University of Toronto Quarterly​, www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/utq.87.1.234​.
  4. Singh, Shubh M, and Subho Chakrabarti. “A Study in Dualism: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” ​Indian Journal of Psychiatry​, Medknow Publications, July 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738358/​.
  5. Stevenson, Robert Louis. ​Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde & Other Stories​. Ann Arbor Media Group, LLC, 2006.
  6. Swearingen, Roger G. ​Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson: a Guide​. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  7. http://www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/utq.87.1.234
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738358/

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Various Moral Themes in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/various-moral-themes-in-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/
“Various Moral Themes in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/various-moral-themes-in-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/
Various Moral Themes in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/various-moral-themes-in-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/> [Accessed 3 Feb. 2023].
Various Moral Themes in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Feb 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/various-moral-themes-in-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/
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