The term “Jekyll and Hyde”, now a part of our common language, can be found in most dictionaries. Random dictionary definitions of “Jekyll and Hyde” include: 1) “One who has quasi-schizophrenic, alternating phases of pleasantness an unpleasantness.” 2) “A person having a split personality, one side of which is good and the other evil.” 3) “This phrase refers to a person who alternates between charming demeanor and extremely unpleasant behavior.” This concept revolves around the experience of Dr. Jekyll, enabled by drinking a potion, into living as his own living side, whom he names Hyde. Stevenson intended Jekyll’s character to be pronounced Je (French word for “I”) Kill (Je-Kill = I kill), as an indication that the doctor wanted to isolate the evil portion of himself, appropriately named “Hyde,” meaning low and vulgar hide or flesh which must hide from civilization. When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the story Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he portrayed man’s evil nature as a portion of his total makeup, and showed that the evil portion will often express itself more forcefully and powerfully than do the other aspects.
Throughout life, a person can develop a sense of the conflict that actually involves one’s good and evil natures. Often a person’s current actions reflect their childhood experiences. Jekyll, described by Stevenson, born wealthy, grew up handsome, honorable, and distinguished. Yet, throughout much of his life, he commits secret acts which he thoroughly regrets. Early in Jekyll’s development, Stevenson had him recognize a “profound duplicity of life…so profound a double dealer” and “that man is not truly one, but truly two.” Intellectually, he evaluates the differences between his private life and his public life and, ultimately, he becomes obsessed with the idea that at least two different entities, maybe even more, occupy a person. Jekyll’s reflections and his scientific knowledge lead him to contemplate the possibility of scientifically isolating these two components. With this in mind, he begins to experiment with various chemical combinations. When Jekyll discovers the correct formula and drinks it, he is approaching a hardy fifty years of age; after his transformation into Edward Hyde, he feels younger, lighter, and more sensual, thereby indicating the appeal of the evil side. At that point, he acknowledges “the thorough and primitive duality of man.” He sees the necessity to try to separate the two selves, to hide that shameful part of himself from the world, and therefore stay in control of his evil nature.
Dr. Jekyll’s dominant evil side, also apparent in every person, brings disgust from other’s around him. Dr. Jekyll’s evil side, Mr. Hyde, commits several appalling acts throughout the novel, including mere acts like trampling over a young girl, to gruesome acts like murdering a man. Acquiring no respect by anyone he comes in contact with, Mr. Hyde is looked down upon in distaste: “There was something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked.” Women around him, upon looking at Hyde, suddenly seem “as wild as Harpies,” and even the apothecary who is “as emotional as a bagpipe” turns sick upon seeing Hyde and has a strong desire to kill him. The reader becomes entranced with a person who can evoke such horrible responses in many different kinds of people.
As with many instances of man’s amoral tendancies versus his angelic tendancies, Jekyll and Hyde themselves have a strange relationship with each other. Jekyll hates Hyde for the ascendancy that Hyde has over him, and Hyde hates Jekyll both because of Jekyll’s hatred and, more importantly, because Hyde knows that Jekyll can destroy him (Hyde) by committing suicide, but, during the act of Jekyll’s dying, Hyde regains dominion so that Utterson and Poole find the body not of Jekyll, but that of Hyde. At this point in the novel, the reader becomes perplexed about theliteral separation of the two components of one man, Dr. Jekyll.
All people share this battle between good and evil within their own subconsciousness. The dominion of the winning side proves apparent to the onlooker, thus confirming that one’s actions are encouraged by a single forceful portion that characterizes the entire person. The evil represented by Hyde only makes up a portion of the entire person Jekyll has become. Evil, good, and many other qualities will ultimately be discovered to encompass the entire person. Jekyll and his experiments prove that our existence has two parts—one good and one evil. This story proves a timeless representation of the struggle felt within every individual between one’s good side versus one’s bad side. Any person can reflect upon this story to be reminded of the role an evil side can play, and therefore, prevent it from dominating one’s inner self. If we allow the evil to overcome the power of control, that will in the end, destroy each of us.