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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

Jekyll and Hyde

Dr.Jekyll can’t drink his potion when he’s moving. So he can run but he can’t Hyde.

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was a book I read at a similar time to The Portrait Of Dorian Grey and probably kick-started my lifelong obsession with the idea of identity and human nature.

For those of you who don't know, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson and is a gothic novella. It follows Gabriel John Utterson who's investigating his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll. Dr Jekyll has created a formula which has seemingly spilt his identity between the civilised gentlemen Dr Jekyll and the barbaric and evil Edward Hyde.

Even if you've never read the book, I'm sure this is ringing a few bells.

Duality

So why choose to post about Jekyll and Hyde? The central theme of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is duality and it's probably one of the most famous examples of the explorations of this theme. But something about this idea has fascinated and inspired us for hundreds of years.

You can see it everywhere you look:

  1. The Hulk from Marvel comics.

  2. Smeagol and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.

  3. DC's Harvey Dent, a.k.a 'Two-Face' choosing which of his natures takes control with a toss of a coin.

  4. The paired Slavic gods Czernobog (which translates to Black God) and Bielebog (White God) in Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

  5. Jim Carrey's two selves in nice guy Charlie and bastard Hank in Me, Myself and Irene.

  6. In Angel, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off series, this is the whole driving force of Angel/Angelus's character.

  7. Yu-Gi-Oh! has this pretty much on the nose with their characters of Marik and Yami Marik, and Bakura Ryou and Yami Bakura.

  8. Light, the protagonist of Death Note, briefly loses all his memories of being a mass murderer and we see his 'Jekyll' self for the first time.

  9. Lolita implies this between Humbert and Quilty.

  10. The video game Bioshock Infinite has this all over the place, but I can't say anything else without massively spoiling the plot.

  11. In the Star Trek original series, episode “The Enemy Within” we see Good Kirk and Evil Kirk. But in a positive spin on the concept, it is shown that both sides need one another to function (as suggested by Sue Bursztynski!)

While this trope really kicked started in the Gothic age of the Victorians, we've always been aware of that duality of nature we possess as humans.

Smeagol/Gollum

In Victorian times, Jekyll and Hyde used science as a reason, because we were forward-thinking and in love with the mad scientist.

In the 1930s, with the rise of the Hulk, we blamed nuclear power, because we don't know anything about science. And we're still in love with the mad scientist.

This isn't to say that although this idea gained a lot of steam in the Victorian era, that we haven't been obsessed with it time immemorial. The whole idea of werewolves and vampires are key examples of the fear that the primitive side of us will break out of socially acceptable behaviour.

But in the Victorian era, we married these old beliefs to science, using the absurd 'science' of eugenics and Theosophy to attempt to show the difference between the 'civilized' and the 'uncivilized'. Because if the Victorian did nothing else, it was to bureaucratised and categorise everything, including each other.

In Lolita, a book heavily exploring psychology, it's played out as regrettable human nature. Me, Myself and Ireneis firmly in the world of the rational, portrays it as a mental break and schizophrenia.

And Bioshock is a bit of an outlier because it revolves around the many worlds theory. Very good game, by the way.

Shadow Self

This concept of a split nature, one good/civilised and one evil/uncivilised is so powerful, it's spawned many different tropes all from this root idea.

Nega Scott!

It's not a big stretch to suggest this is where the popular gaming trope of having your character battle themselves - only a shadow version.

A Shadow Archetype is someone who embodies the polar opposite values of the protagonist. Or the values they want to have but fear they fall short of. Someone who stands for everyone they hate. And often battles against this shadow is a way of confronting who you are and facing your fears.

The Evil Twin is another way this idea of duality is often played out - the idea that but for some small part of you, you could be as evil as your evil twin. After all, all the genetics are the same.

I hope this sort of mulling is as interesting to you as it is to me.

Did I miss any Jekyll and Hyde examples? I'd love to add to the above list if anyone has any suggestions!

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