Jekyll and Hyde: An interpretation.

Firstly, one can draw a parallel with the mythology of the werewolf which has preceded the Jekyll and Hyde tale for some centuries. Indeed, one might consider Stevenson’s superb story as a post-enlightenment rendering of the werewolf mythology; a Cartesian splitting of the mind and body.

Traditionally, the werewolf motif has been seen as the splitting of the tame and the wild, good and evil, human and bestial, and a host of other dualistic concepts, but we must always remember that these conflicting personalities exist in the one person; it examines the conflict that exists as part of the human condition. Good and evil, human and bestial, these are weighted terms that, immediately, bring negative baggage. We could, instead, term them intellectual and instinctual, cerebral brain and limbic brain or left side/right side brain.

There is a splitting of these concepts in post-enlightenment thought and a heavy emphasis placed upon the intellect, the rational and the logical. The instinctual aspect has been subjugated, pushed into the shadows, but it never goes away, for it is a part of us.

This has an important message in terms of spiritual development; it is the conflict of these two human aspects that causes much illness and disease. The emphasis placed on one to the detriment of the other. Western society, particularly, since the eighteenth century has aligned itself to the rational/intellectual, the head. As a result the other aspect of our psyche; the instinctual/intuitive, the body, has been pushed out, seen as less important. It can be seen by the fact that in the Jekyll and Hyde story, the “good” man, the rational man, who resides firmly within social normality changes into the “bad”, the animalistic, the immoral. The concept is never explored the other way round, unless we consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which could be read from the point of view that Dr Frankenstein, the rationalist, modern doctor is, fundamentally, immoral and separated from the moral code of his society and it is the monster that is, in fact, imbued with the desire to express an ethical presence and wants nothing more than to be accepted. As Chantal Bourgault du Coudray points out in her book The Curse of the Werewolf, see list on lens the romantic/metaphysical poets and gothic literature expressed a need to counter the dominant enlightenment thinking of the time; it was the Hyde to the rationalists Jekyll.

Returning to the Jekyll/Hyde concept: The fact is that both aspects need to be assimilated into the personality, a balance is required for the healthy expression of what it is to be human. Too much weight, on either side, is unhealthy. Both can be seen in our modern world and the results are, destructively, obvious. Reliance on science to cure all ills, a pushing of nature into the background as unimportant. Criminality, war, inner and outer conflict: All caused, partly, by a repression of parts of the human psyche and an imbalance.

In the traditional rendering of both the original Jekyll and Hyde and most of the werewolf mythology when the “beast” is killed, the human dies too, (in deference to our societies celebration of the intellect/headmind we might note in passing that they usually change back to the “good” aspect at the moment of demise). The point being that they are co-reliant, one needs the other to exist.

The most recent retelling: Steven Moffat’s excellently written Jekyll on BBC1 is an intriguing concept. After two episodes who can know how it may end, but it, definitely, adds a few more layers to the idea.

Despite Hyde’s obvious immorality and violence he has attributes that are useful to Jackman, only he is truly capable of fighting the unknown corporation in the black vans. Jackman would be easy meat on his own; reporting these people to the relevant authorities will not really cut it. In episode two Hyde defended Jackman’s children, despite refusing to accept this as his motive.

The most innovative part, in my opinion, is that Steven Moffat has the two personalities talking to each other, firstly through the creative use of modern recording/surveillance equipment and then, more poignantly, actually conversing in their head. This brings it right back to the idea that it is one human being dealing with and trying to assimilate different aspects of their psyche.

To conclude, plainly in the material discussed the character traits are drawn to their extremes: physical changes, etc; in each one of us the conflict is more subtle, but the real message on a metaphysical level is our individual and collective need to recognise, honour and incorporate the two aspects of our psychology: The intellectual/rational with the instinctual/intuitive. Head with heart. To much weight to either side causes disruption and imbalance, disease and ill health both psychological and physical, as both are inter-dependant and need the other to experience a full and balanced life.

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