“It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure … on the thought of the separation of these elements. If each … could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable” (Stevenson 43).
This quotation comes from the last chapter of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is Dr. Jekyll’s explanation to Mr. Utterson of what has been going on throughout the novella. He goes back in his memory to his younger days when he was “driven to reflect deeply and inveterately” on what he had discovered as the duality of man (42). Jekyll states that he was “radically both” good and evil – moral and amoral – and that exposing both so equally was not a display of hypocrisy but rather a display of a man earnestly exhibiting two dimensions of his character (43). Further reflection on this idea led Jekyll to the notion that he should be able to separate the two sides of man, not only mentally but also physically. By this, he intended to create one fully evil man and one fully good man, believing that this separation would make life “relieved of all that was unbearable” (43). Clearly, Jekyll’s plan did not unfold as he had planned and desired.
As he physically separates his two natures, he creates Edward Hyde, a completely evil and amoral version of himself; however, his self from before, Dr. Jekyll, remains the same – mostly moral but also imperfect and a mix of good and evil. This seems to suggest that Jekyll did not originally have two equal halves of good and evil as he believed. In addition to only being able to separate his fully evil self, that evil self – Hyde – slowly takes over Jekyll’s entire existence. This further suggests that Jekyll’s evil nature was and is stronger than his good nature. He writes of the freedom and pleasure he felt when living as Hyde. There were no consequences and no regrets. Unchecked power can never last forever. While he remained one true “person,” the Hyde within Jekyll grew stronger and kept Jekyll from being in control of the transformations.
A typical theme of the Victorian era, altering nature and trying to “play God” tends to not end well. As an author writing in the 19th century, Stevenson shows his belief, through this novella, that nature, in its own imperfections, is perfect and should not be altered. The nature of man – whether it is intrinsically good or bad – is a mix of good and evil for a reason, and that when men try to alter their own nature, it shows the great failings of man. But when men choose good over evil, it shows the great capabilities of man. Jekyll did not choose to be good. He chose to allow his evil nature run free and, as he believed, without consequences. As he learns by the end of the novella, the consequences of Jekyll’s actions and desire to relieve life “of all that was unbearable” are extremely great, eventually leading him to cause – an inadvertently want – his own death (43). Jekyll eventually learns – only too late – that the nature of man is something with which not to tamper.