When I was in junior high, I remember The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was assigned reading. It made no impression on me. I was familiar with the cartoon adaptations and narrowly interpreted the tale by that silly standard. It didn’t help that Stevenson kept Hyde’s experiences vague, which for the inexperienced reader gave no indication of the true brutality of Hyde’s actions. The look in his eyes, the fear in the eyes of those who chanced to come upon him surrounded him more with mysticism rather than sketching out a real person. He took on the child’s impression of a mythical monster instead of a corrupt human being. As a young teen, I might have judged Stevenson’s attempts in creating Hyde as rather poor. As an adult, I can read the reality right into the script. Descriptions, actions, speeches don’t need further explanation for me to gauge the type of life Hyde was creating for himself. Stevenson was writing about one of man’s worst fears—the consequences of developing an addiction to self that exchanges love for fellow man with a desire to control them covertly. Dr. Jekyll knew what the end would be. That extreme self-love, the disorder known as narcissism, subdivides a person into two very different entities.
When the reader meets Dr. Jekyll, he is a nonentity, hiding and unsocial. He wants no attention and seeks no help. He has given up. He’s a tattered mask awaiting the moment Hyde will rip him away and toss him aside, never to be worn again. And he is looking forward to this death with relief.
The promises of Hyde are very appealing to Jekyll at first, but they are empty promises because the pleasure that comes from Hyde’s sprees are short and never enough. They grow emptier as Hyde grows hungrier and more desperate. Hyde is the captor who doesn’t realize he will ultimately capture himself. Hyde has no ability to stop himself; he merely uses Jekyll as his security, believing he can stop whenever he wants.
Stevenson created a character that seemed wildly absurd at the beginning, but by the end he brings the truth home. We stare at the masks every day, sometimes others’ and sometimes our own. The question is: who will win? Jekyll or Hyde?