After reading On the Genealogy of Morals, A Discourse on Inequality, and Leviathan, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was a very welcome change! I’ve always been much more into reading novels like Frankenstein or Robinson Crusoe over philosophical texts. Despite the fact that this was my first time actually reading the original version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, I had actually encountered the storyline before in cartoons. So no, fortunately my childhood did not suck!
I think one of the questions Stevenson asks is: Are humans naturally good or evil? Mr Hyde represents the “evil” side to humanity whereas Dr Jekyll is the “good” side. Now, over time, the identity of Mr Hyde subsumes Dr Jekyll despite the fact that the former is a great deal shorter than the latter. Dr Jekyll struggles to retain his “good” persona as he is continually tormented by his inner Mr Hyde. Is Stevenson trying to say that the evil eventually triumphs over the good because of Mr Hyde emerging as the dominant personality? He’s rather ambiguous because Dr Jekyll kills Mr Hyde by committing suicide. Dr Jekyll does “triumph” over Mr Hyde in one way, but had he gone on living, Mr Hyde becomes the alpha figure.
Another theme that occurs in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a theme already covered in Frankenstein, where the pursuit of creating another life has fatal consequences (aka. people dying). The creation in Frankenstein kills Victor’s bride, father (indirectly), brother and friend. Mr Hyde murders a popular politician. Isn’t it odd how we’re reading such novels in university? These books practically scream at the reader: DO NOT VENTURE FURTHER IN THE PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE, whereas university is seen as an institution for advanced research and learning! People enrol in university courses for the sake of learning, and clearly, these books convey the message that this is a dangerous thing to do.
The “monster” in this novel is slightly harder to define than Frankenstein. In Frankenstein, it was easy to sympathize with the “monster” because he was born good but turned to crime because he was denied human understanding and companionship. Mr Hyde was “born” evil. He had Dr Jekyll’s affections but he ignored them. Is the monster Mr Hyde, who is composed of a person’s innate evilness, or is Dr Jekyll to blame for creating him? Or is the real monster curiosity, which drives us to pursue knowledge we shouldn’t have? The great thing about novels is that they’re much easier to carry a discussion with because the answers are more debatable, whereas books on philosophy (aka. Plato’s “Republic”) in a way force the reader to view things in a certain way.