Many people know the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at its most basic level; an educated man creates a potion that transforms him into a creature that terrorizes London’s nighttime streets. This is correct in saying but the entire story and its multifaceted elements are missing. The story, or the novel the tale comes from was not just about a mad scientist; it was about watching a man of high aristocratic stature become consumed by the power of chemical addiction or “The story of Dr Jekyll and his alter ego Mr. Hyde illustrates a moralistic attitude to addiction” (Mathiasen 492). I use the phrase “chemical dependency” because it is never stated in the novel just exactly what Jekyll is ingesting (always speak in the present tense when discussing a novel). Before we get into all the heavy and dense material, let’s first see what we are dealing with as a book.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written in 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson. You might know him better from his romantic pirate novel, Treasure Island. The book (Jekyll and Hyde) was written very close to the death of the author and could not be more different than the books that he was known for. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a short read and depending on your edition, it can be under 100 pages. The edition I own is only about 88 pages but yet the story speaks volumes about mans inability to be sterile or controlled. The purpose of my article here is to talk about how this book is a look into addiction and how Stevenson showed a man’s degradation over time. I want to also attack the idea that it is not a battle between mans nature of good and evil. As a disclaimer, I want to let you all know that I neither condone nor condemn the use of drugs. This is not an anti-drug piece, this is an analysis, and this is an education.
Dualism is One Way of Looking at It.
“The large handsome face of Dr. Jekyll grew pale to the very lips, and there came a blackness about his eyes” (Stevenson 20).
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written in the 1800’s or what can be referred to as the Victorian era. This was a time of repressed emotions and trying to create a more conservative way of living, though these intentions were lost because humans enjoy feeding their carnal nature. Dualism is discussed mostly as a form of philosophy but in this context it will represent the parallel ‘other’ or life. The story must not be contextualized in the Victorian era but specifically, “The novel needs to be looked at in the context of its setting of Victorian London. Stevenson seems to make a comment not only about the dualism present in every individual but also in society as a whole, where the aristocracy that superficially was genteel and refined, had dark secrets to hide behind the high walls of the mansions in which they lived” (Singh & Chakrabarti 222). The public in this time were very proper in presenting themselves in society and providing facades to hide (Hyde)/shadow their true intentions. Stevenson must have been rather tired of the falsities that many had about themselves, he didn’t create this story to just be a take on human nature but also a satirical piece that damned everyone around him.
Dr. Jekyll is a prime example of the dualistic nature of society at that time, not good and evil (which I will talk about later) but a side of a person’s life that tries to remain hidden. So to jump the gun a bit, there are no ‘two’ paths but they are one. Dualism maybe the way Jekyll and the populace of the Victorian era lived their lives but their actions were their own, they all were one in the same. To look at the novel as a take on pure Dualism is wrong because “The reduction of Jekyll’s character to one of simple duality, however, is to oversimplify and misapprehend the enormity of the psychological affliction of Stevenson’s tortured physician, for Dr. Jekyll is not so much a man of conflicted personality as a man suffering from the ravages of addiction” (Wright 254). This is a tale about addiction to some sort of drug, though never specified, Collins Publishing have their theory, “It seems likely that the drug potion used by Dr Jekyll is representative of opium, which was taken in opium dens in London in the late Victorian era” (Collins VI). Regardless as to what it was Jekyll created the effects of the drug riddle the narrative and provide a harrowing look at the life of a person who is chemical dependent.
You know you’re A Drug Addict When….
“It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut” (Stevenson 4).
Throughout the novel there are detailed accounts of Hyde as a raving addict that resembles what most individuals would see on TV these days. The narrative of the book is a little odd and does not follow a purely linear path. The book is mostly told by a lawyer with the name of Mr. Utterson who UTTERS his suspicions about this Hyde and his relation to Jekyll. Dr. Jekyll creates a will with Mr. Utterson so that in the event of the his death, all his money would go to a Mr. Edward Hyde. Utterson is curious about this character (Hyde) and the murder of a well respected man in London propels an investigation. The climax of the story is Utterson finding Jekyll in a sorry state of disrepair, unable to be Jekyll and Hyde separately; he has become one in the same. At the end of the book, Jekyll gives his accounts of the lies and misdoings he did as Hyde and how he tried to cover it up. Jekyll speaks clearly but confesses that he is under the influence of the potion; the reader now sees that we can no longer trust Jekyll for he is Hyde. Jekyll, in order to rid himself of Hyde, commits suicide and that is the last we hear of the Doctor. This is not all too bizarre because, “The addict’s despair sometimes animates thoughts of suicide, however, especially if he is compelled to confront public ridicule, social humiliation, loss of his job, divorce, or other catastrophic consequences of his addiction” (Wright 259). Jekyll was caught for the murder of a man even though at the time he was “Hyde”, there was no other solution, and his addiction ate him. I want to look now at a few passages throughout the book to show Jekyll’s transformation from separate beings (Hyde and Jekyll respectively) to when his dependence consumes him.
Mr. Utterson goes one day to see Dr. Jekyll because whatever his suspicions may be, both of these characters are colleagues and see each other out of personal fondness. Jekyll is not himself though and our understanding of what is happening to the doctor begins to frighten us, “He did not rise up to meet his visitor, but held out a cold hand, and bade him welcome in a changed voice” (Stevenson 29). The public metamorphosis begins here, though Jekyll has already began to go down the rabbit hole months earlier. Jekyll not greeting Utterson or getting out of his chair represents a sort of depression; lack of the “substance” has created a “down” period. “In patients with mood disorders, co-morbidity with alcohol and substance dependence is high” (Mathiasen 492). Jekyll is doing no more but having a mood swing because his endorphins are not working at a level they are use to. Smokers can experience this same feeling, after not having nicotine in the body for some time; the user can feel a loss of energy or feel slightly depressed. Same can go with caffeine or anything that causes a slight sense of euphoria in the tiniest sense.
Collins publishing and I suspect that Jekyll is using an opium like substance to get high, this passage may support that, “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 began to swiftly subside, and I came to myself as out of great sickness” (Stevenson 70). If one were to talk to a heroin addict (or observe one), the person might tell you that they experience something like this every time that they shoot up (heroin is an opiate). Stevenson is never clear though as to what it was that was in the potion that Jekyll ingested but we can all make assumptions given the evidence. His appearance too, as Utterson finds him one night, is that of a opium addict, “He was dressed in clothes far too large for him, clothes of the doctor’s bigness; the cords of his face still moved with a semblance of life, but life was quite gone; and by the crushed phial in the hand and the strong smell of kernels that hung upon the air, Utterson knew that he was looking on the body of a self-destroyer” (52).
Jekyll/Hyde killed a man out of anger because the man did not have what he needed. An act of rage like that is what an addict does when they can’t get their way. The murder is what eventually leads Jekyll to confess (and the fact that everyone found out he liked to play Hyde at night) and “Some abusers commit criminal acts while under the influence; many live with feelings of guilt and shame. Certainly secrecy and loneliness factor into the addict’s life, as is the case of Dr Jekyll” (Mathiasen 492). During this time of drug abuse, Jekyll is absent from his friends and maintains a small social life, like the passage earlier in which Utterson goes to see him, friends have become more of an annoyance now. Jekyll servants are alienated as well and they are only asked to run and grab more ingredients and chemicals from pharmacies. The biggest sign of addiction is when the person’s dependence begins to interfere with the lives of others. Jekyll asks his friend Lanyon to go and buy materials for him for the potion for he needs it to live, “Jekyll’s appeal to Lanyon is characteristic of the victim of addiction who, in turn, victimizes others by manipulating their loyalty, affection, or sense of obligation and duty to personal advantage” (Wright 262). Asking for money or asking anything related to the addiction is a way to manipulate a friend’s love for personal gain. That is the largest problem of an addiction and anyone who gets to this point needs help for they cannot control themselves. We can sum up this section with a quote,
“This domination of the individual by his narcotic, the relentless escalation of his craving for larger measures of the drug, and his involuntary subservices to the effects of that consumption are concentrated and perhaps most dramatically illustrated in Stevenson’s novel by the protagonist’s terrifying revelation that he, even without ingesting his fantastic substance, has once been overcome by its terrible potency” (Wright 261)
Jekyll in the end understood that he was Hyde and not separate, that is when he knew that he was out of control and the only help he needed was death. Next, I want to dismiss the idea that the book was about “good” and “evil” for these are old biblical notions and they book is a take on how both of these elements are not separate in the human mind.
Good and Evil Is So Old Testament.
Many biblical stories have shaped the way in which people see good and evil, notably Satan temping Eve in the garden and Cain and Able (one brother being pure and the other harboring ill feelings). Don’t write off the bible as religious propaganda (though it’s used as such), look at the stories without their connotations, and look at it as a piece of literature. Good and evil is very defined in these old stories (fables) but we understand that people are more complicated than that. Many argue that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a discourse on good and evil and how we all have it lurking inside us. Bullshit. If Jekyll was so pure and good, than why did he create the potion in the first place? He did not create it as Hyde; he was sober and knew what he was doing, every time! Do you know what I am saying? A man might fashion a knife as a husband but kill his wife as a murderer, was he any different than before? Let us go to the text for some examples, like when Jekyll is explaining his condition in his testament in the end, “I had now two characters as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still the old Henry Jekyll…” (Stevenson 73). One of the characters was not wholly good and wholly evil, one was evil and the other was just a man, a mixture of both. Now many might say, “You can’t read into everything like that!” Of course you can, this is literature, it is all about linguistics and how words are used. We don’t have anything but the words; we can’t assume anything without proper evidence from the text.
We must remember too that, even though Jekyll and Hyde start out as two characters, they merge as one. This is the acceptance that the addiction is who Jekyll is and not some other life that he lives. He accepts this notion at the end, “But the hand which I now saw, clearly enough, in the yellow light of a mid-London morning, lying half shut on the bedclothes, was lean, corded, knuckly, or a dusky pallor, and thickly shaded with a smart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde” (76). Jekyll was Hyde and vice-versa, not that evil had taken over him but that choices led to self-destruction, and the “wholly” evil self will devour the other self if one is not careful. Look at it in a Freudian sense, there is the id, the ego, and the superego. They all reside in us and even though none are purely good or evil, if one of them were to get out of hand, we could become a person no one ever thought we could be.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a wonderfully short read that will not only give you the creeps but looks at who we are when the curtains are closed or when no one is looking. Similar to the Victorian horror novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, they both explore what people did when society was not around or they thought no one was watching. The Victorian era was filled with people who had two lives, one in the light and the other in the shadows. There are not two sides to us; we are all both good and evil at once. Don’t ever run and Hyde from that.
Collins, Classics. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hammersimth, London: Collins Classics, 2010, iii-viii. Print.
Mathiasen, Helle. “Dr. Jekyll Impaired.” American Journal of Medicine. (2009): 492. Print
Singh, Shubh, and Subho Chakrabarti. “A study in dualism: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Indian Psychiatry. 50.3 (2008): 221-223. Print.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hammersmith, London: Collins Classics, 2010. 1-88. Print.
Wright, Daniel. “The Prisonhouse of My Disposition’: A Study of the Psychology of Addiction in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Studies in the Novel. 26.3 (1994): 254-267. Print.