The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
My daughter and I acquired tickets to the musical Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which meant we had to read the book first. At the time, I didn’t realize the theatrical version had very little in common with the book besides the central premise. The musical was a bit too much love triangle and not enough mystery for my taste. I enjoyed the book more.
While reading the book, I recognized quickly that the cultural usage of the term “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is not used correctly. It is commonly used to describe someone with contrasting personalities, but Dr. Jekyll did not suffer from dissociative identity disorder or multiple personalities.
In other contexts, it is used to describe humanity’s struggle against good and evil, which is slightly closer to the truth. Dr. Jekyll does state in the book that, “man is not truly one, but truly two” and how his goal was to split himself into his two parts ‘good and evil’.
Contemplating this book over the last few weeks, I don’t ultimately think his desire was to split himself into good and evil. First, Christianity rejects the notion that good and evil are two forces at war with each other. While I’ve never read St. Augustine’s Confessions, it is often discussed in Catholic circles (hence the title of this post). In Book 7 of Confessions, St. Augustine ultimately argues that evil is not a force in contrast with good. All things God created are good, and when creation, through God-given freedom, turns away from the good (or God), we view this as evil. Evil in itself does not exist; it is the absence of good, which is perceived as evil. Sort of like how we can’t create darkness in and of itself, all we can do is remove light, which is viewed as darkness.
Many times ‘evil’ is created because humanity does not understand good (CCC 1792), but I don’t think Dr. Jekyll falls into this category. Dr. Jekyll was a highly educated gentleman living in the Victorian era. This was an era that held itself to high standards of respectability and was heavily influenced by Christian culture. Given this, Dr. Jekyll had a well-formed conscience that was written on his heart (CCC 27).
Dr. Jekyll wanted to reject God, but when he did this: he suffered. I don’t believe Dr. Jekyll’s goal was to separate his ‘good from evil.’ I think he wanted to strip his desire for God off of his heart. God has given humanity infinite freedom to choose to love Him (CCC 1730) or choose to reject Him (CCC 29).
God has written natural law onto our hearts. We are ultimately created for good. We may struggle due to original sin, but in some sense, everyone knows right from wrong due to natural law.
Dr. Jekyll noticed he had temptations that would turn him away from God. He wanted to entertain these temptations, but whenever he did, he felt terrible. He experienced guilt. Dr. Jekyll wanted to reject God without suffering the consequences of his actions. He no longer wanted to feel God tugging on his heart to return to choose the good. This was his goal in creating the potion. Ultimately, he was unable to do this, which is true for all of us. God will never stop drawing us towards Him, as this is the source of truth and happiness (CCC 27).
In the end, Dr. Jekyll had become a slave to sin (Jn 8:34 and 2 Pt 2:19), as Mr. Hyde begins to dominant. He loses all hope of being able to break free from sin and choosing God, and in his despair, he commits suicide.
As Christians, we need to remember that we don’t always have to be slaves to sin. It is never too late to turn around and choose God.
He will always love you and forgive you.