Episode 47: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (Part 2)

Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde Themes

“As we think in our hearts, so are we.”

(Proverbs, 23.7)

The Twins

Most cultures have a fascination with the phenomenon of twins. Jekyll and Hyde can be understood to be a strange type of twin. 

Castor and Pollux were twins in Classical Mythology, both had the same mother (as would be expected): Leda, but each had a different father. Castor’s father was Leda’s mortal husband and was thus mortal, while Pollux was the son of Zeus, and thus an immortal. When push came to shove and Castor was killed, Pollux shared half his immortality with his twin. 

We see in Tolkien, the half-elf brothers Elrond and Elros choose their kindred, Elrond to be an elf and thus immortal and Elros to be human and thus to die. In fact the symbol of the twins runs through our culture: Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, Osiris and Set. 

Very often one is bad and the other good. Most often, stories about twins involve a moral choice. 

The psychologist Carl Jung felt this motif revealed an archetype in human nature itself. Jung (Collected Works XX, 217n) mentions the old apocryphal legend that Jesus (the believer) was twin to Thomas (the doubter). 

Chevalier and Gheerbrant (trans. John Buchanan-Brown) in their Dictionary of Symbols (1994, p1047) talk about different pairings of twins; one dark, the other light, one good, the other evil, and they say that they represent the contradictions in a person’s nature and his or her moral struggle to overcome them. 

Stevenson’s discussion of this theme addresses the morality, but as well as being philosophical, he manages to demonstrate it through its human and dramatic aspect and show the suffering that such a struggle within a person’s nature can bring.

It is not so simple as good fighting against bad. Jekyll wants to be both evil and good at the same time and to enjoy his evil with no penalty. His solution is to create, or more correctly, liberate Mr Hyde. Jekyll gets away with his guilty, but tempting pleasures while he can, but when he fears that Hyde will cause him to be punished, he tries to do away with Hyde, but he has fed the beast too much and it has grown too strong, and in the end, it is Hyde’s evil that proves the stronger. Rather than sharing his immortality as Pollux does for Castor, Jekyll chooses to share his death with Hyde, killing himself and thus killing them both.

The idea is that in each of us is a mortal and an immortal part. They are always together but never completely one. We see this in Castor and Pollux but also in Jesus and the Christ, who were both man and god in the same body. We see a version of it where Jekyll is the mixed man, very mortal, fond of both his sensual pleasures and his pious reputation, and Hyde who is uncombined, younger, more vital, his senses sharper, but wholly made of shadow. 

The Elixir

Stevenson’s Tincture that changes colour and foams and bubbles has been portrayed many times on the television and movie screens. You can even get your own alcoholic version in The Alchemist bar in Manchester and now elsewhere.

It does seem to link back to the Elixir of Life of the Medieval and Renaissance alchemists, which they also called a ’tincture’ in that it is transformative. The Elixir of the alchemists could reputedly turn lead into gold, bring that which was dead alive once more and transform man into god.

Jekyll’s elixir turns man into monster. 

It is also interesting that in an old Irish story, the druids gave the great warrior Cú Chulainn an elixir of forgetfulness so he would forget his love for a woman who was not his wife and therefore not fall into sin. In a sense, Jekyll’s elixir allows him to forget his moral nature, and partake of Hyde’s excesses and abominations with an unblemished conscience, at least so long as he is Hyde. At first thought, Jekyll’s problem is that his elixir does not allow him to forget his sins when he has returned to being Jekyll, but actually, he enjoys the things he does at Hyde, until he is in danger of being caught and then he begins to regret them. 

Temptation

Jekyll is tempted by sinful pleasures, but also so is Dr Lanyon. 

When Hyde comes to Lanyon, he teases him with offering to allow him to remain ignorant of what is really going to happen, but Lanyon cannot resist. He has to know. 

Hyde tempts Lanyon with the knowledge of the elixir; it’s reminiscent to a modern reader of the Lord of the Rings and the way the Ring tempts all who come across it to power, and their choice reveals their true nature. Lanyon chooses knowledge, and suffers greatly for it in the end. Another echo here is perhaps Adam and Eve eating from the food of the Tree of Knowledge, which God had forbidden them to do. Consciously, or unconsciously, Stevenson, lapsed Calvinist as he was, seems to be evoking this choice. Lanyon is no Aragorn or Samwise Gamgee it transpires. More a Boromir.

I am not convinced that at any deep level Jekyll is sorry for what he has done, indeed he says that he cannot call Hyde ‘I’ and refers to him as ‘him’ thus keeping Hyde’s crimes at arm’s length and avoiding responsibility. Jekyll is only sorry that it didn’t work out.

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