I was very excited to read this. I never have before, but who doesn’t know the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
It was interesting to read and see it written from Mr. Utterson’s (Jekyll’s lawyer) perspective. His whole dilemma was to try and find out what trouble his beloved client was in with this cretin of a man named Hyde. The book is very short and ends with Utterson and Poole (Jekyll’s servant), finding Hyde on the floor of the lab after he presumably committed suicide. The last two chapters are letters to Utterson to explain the situation–so you go through the whole book not knowing that Hyde was a part of Jekyll. I liked that (even though everyone today knows that)!
I’ve always seen Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as the contrast between good and evil. But that’s not necessarily it. In the movie, The League of Extraordinary Men, we see the character of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde as well as Dorian Gray. If you haven’t ever read the Portrait of Dorian Gray, click here for synopsis. Dorian’s portrait is the epitome of evil–it takes on age and whatever sin Dorian does in his life. That is the difference between good and evil.
Mr. Hyde is not evil and Dr. Jekyll is not good. Hyde is more of an exploration of a part of Jekyll. You could say it was a study of split personality disorder. Just like other books written in the late 1800s were early novel “studies” of psychological disorders. After all, that is when psychology started to gain popularity. We have Dorian Grey looking at complete indulgence, we have Sherlock Holmes looking at what would become known as autism and Asperger’s. Hyde only appears a few times and acts differently than Jekyll is known too. At first, Jekyll could control when Hyde appeared via a potion. But, as the novel progresses, Hyde’s personality overpowered Jekyll’s. You can see that with people who really are diagnosed with split personality disorder–depending on the environment and stress-level of a person determines which personality holds more power.
But, what I like to think of even more is the concept of Yin and Yang. Especially because Dr. Jekyll, in his letter to Utterson, explains that he became curious if he could give in to the “selfishness” part of him.
Yin and Yang is not good and evil. Yes, it is light and dark, but it is also tranquility and chaos, self-lessness and selfishness. Aggressiveness vs. passiveness. Energy vs. sloth. Male vs. Female (not saying that Jekyll or Hyde are female, just the point that it is two halves of one whole.)
What I really like is the connection of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Yin and Yang that the cartoon series Jackie Chan Adventures does. In this cartoon, Jackie Chan, his trouble-making niece, and his traditional Chinese uncle hunt for 12 talismans (12 animals of the zodiac) that have different powers. The tiger talisman has the power of spiritual balance–it splits its holder into Yin and Yang. In one episode, Jade, the niece, is acting as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in a school play and Jackie accidentally gets split again with the talisman. Great juxtaposition!
I will definitely be teaching my students about Yin and Yang and split personality disorder before we get into the actual book.