Saturday, April 13, 2013

Inescapable Dualities

{excerpt from my British Literature research paper}

Dr. Jekyll demonstrates literally what many people experience figuratively.  The duality of human nature haunts the entire race.  Dr. Jekyll correctly discerns that every person possesses an inner Good and an inner Evil.  His philosophy breaks down when he attempts to separate his two sides.  He experiments with his heart and mind, thinking that he can always repent and negate any seriously immoral progress.  Initially, he enjoys the wretched integrity of being completely evil.  The experience is “more express and single,” he explains “than the imperfect and divided countenance I had been hitherto accustomed to call mine” (Stevenson 1711).  However, Evil is “alert and swift to seize the occasion,” “kept awake by ambition” (1711).  Jekyll realizes too late that he has gone too far, and stands “aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde” (1712).  Through Mr. Edward Hyde, Dr. Henry Jekyll ruins everything he has, is, and could be.

The most fateful and real danger of the struggle between one’s Good and one’s Evil comes when the boundaries between the two are blurred.  Hyde’s residence, where “buildings so packed together it’s hard to see where one ends and another begins” (Stevenson 1680) symbolizes this danger.  However, there is also danger in compartmentalizing the two sides too much.  One loses his sense of morality and responsibility when simply passing off wrongdoings as the problem of his “other self.”  “It was Hyde, after all,” Dr. Jekyll insisted.  “and Hyde alone, that was guilty” (1712-1713).  Eventually, unchecked evil over comes good, and there is nothing the good alone can do about it.  “He [Hyde] does not want my help” (1691), Jekyll confesses helplessly.  However, the tragedy of Dr. Jekyll’s transformation is not meant to dissuade one from acknowledging his evil nature.  Stevenson hides a truer meaning in one of his descriptions of Hyde’s grotesque residence by saying “no one had appeared to drive away these random visitors or repair their ravages” (1678).  The passage, and story as a whole, suggest that while it is good not to nurture one’s evil side, it is better to dealt with it actively.

In reality, can the inescapable dualities of human nature live in harmony?  Stevenson’s pointed gothic tale warns against reckless experimentation with one’s soul.  A person never believes he will be overcome by evil—until the evil is upon him.  Practically, this translates into one’s lifestyle.  Often, people who intend only temporarily to indulge their unwholesome appetites find themselves past a point of no return.  They have alienated loved ones beyond reconciliation; they have broken trust beyond repair; they have harmed their bodies past recovery.  While The Strange Tale of Jekyll and Hyde is only a story, the danger is painfully real.

Duality infects not only the entire human race, but every facet of life, from cities to virtues to the heart.  If even virtues such as loyalty and a thirst for knowledge can lead to negative consequences, is there anything truly good in life?  With Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson makes the point that everything is double-sided.  The great quest of life is not to separate and purge the world of evil, but to synthesize both sides of every element.  Temperance is perhaps the only one-sided virtue.  Absolute transparency leads to rudeness and alienation.  Absolute loyalty deteriorates into blindness and immorality.  Absolute pursuit of knowledge leads to destructive truth.  Absolute evil destroys both the good and itself.  However, without pretension, misguided loyalty, destructive knowledge, and Evil, no one would know the concepts of openness, difficult integrity, wise ignorance, and Good.  There is duality in everything.  Stevenson’s tale makes the reader question whether or not this is a bad thing, and whether trying to isolate either side might be just as destructive.  Without life’s negative side, the positive would mean nothing.

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