On Poetry, Prose, and Videogames

JLawrence Kenny

Maniacal Monday: Mr. Hyde, from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

on September 13, 2011

Villains have a very important role in stories beyond being a driving point for the plot. No matter the villain’s backstory, no matter their plan, no matter their power, no antagonist was ever ALWAYS evil. The bad guy in the story always has a past that, while sometimes uncommon or unbelievable, is practically normal. It reminds us that everyone has the potential for evil actions somewhere deep inside them; one needs only to be pushed an inch too far or one too many times to start down the road to destruction and evil. Even the most innocent-looking person could be hiding a horrifying persona under their disguise of good, just waiting to be unleashed, and this is the primary focus of the book known as “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and its titular villain, Mr. Hyde.

Written by Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” is a truly great novel, incorporating elements of mystery, horror, and fantasy all in one mysterious story. It is the tale of a young lawyer named Utterson who narrates a slowly unfolding story of two men, that of Dr. Jekyll and his apparent new friend, Mr. Hyde. Whereas Dr. Jekyll is a socially acceptable and well-liked person, Mr. Hyde is the antithesis of acceptable, a vicious brute of a monster, who revels in performing evil deeds, ranging from violence to theft, and whose very visage is repulsive to any who look upon him. He lacks any sort of moral values or ethical constraints whatsoever, and eventually murders a man in cold blood and for no discernible reason. To make a long story short, in the end it is discovered that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are in fact the same person, made separate personalities by a special formula of Jekyll’s own design that was meant to completely repress his own immoral desires. However, the side-effect resulted in Hyde being created, who eventually began taking control over Jekyll as he gained more power, never stopping until the end where Jekyll takes his own life to prevent Hyde from being unleashed into the world.

The thing that is so frightening about Mr. Hyde is quite obvious when discovering the truth. His numerous crimes, including murder, are all horrific, and they are a wonderfully dramatic buildup to the big reveal. We almost immediately despise this character, as our first glimpse of him is through the eyes of the narrator as Hyde mercilessly tramples a young girl in the street, not caring for the mayhem he leaves in his wake, no matter what it is. His attitude regarding his crimes is abhorrent, as he shows no remorse for that which he does. Even his very appearance is immediately revolting to all those who meet him, even if they can’t quite pin down exactly what about him is so vile. He projects an aura about him that is devoid of anything positive; he is quite literally evil incarnate, though we don’t understand why just yet. Of course, the resolution of the play is almost as horrifying, if not more so, than the actions that occurred in the story when we discover that Hyde and Jekyll are the same person. Despite its implausibility, the fact that a person so evil as Hyde could be the suppressed evils that lurked beneath the surface of such an ordinary man truly is a shocker to the reader, and to see it so personified is truly disturbing.

So while I could wax on about the various interpretations of the novel, from its language to its message and back again, the aim of the book is clear, and frightening. Though Hyde’s actions are no more evil than many of the villains of which we know, and rather tame compared to quite a few, his true evil lies in the horrible secret of Dr. Jekyll. That we all have the capacity for evil. That we must always refrain from acting on our “evil” desires. And that, while we cannot act on those desires, neither can we ignore them or push them aside, lest they manifest themselves psychologically, and bring harm to ourselves and those around us. Stevenson did a marvelous job of bringing such a villain to life, and at conveying the drastic message so clearly. Just remember, dear readers, Evil may be fun, but it never pays… Unless you’re a CEO.

Next week: Count Dooku, from Star Wars Episodes II & III

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