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Unrestrained evil awaits the reader within this brief novel. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is a novel dealing with human duality and theories to that effect. You already know this Victorian-era story: good Dr. Jekyll brews himself some potions in his laboratory, and after drinking them his body deforms and he becomes the evil Mr. Hyde.
We see much of the action through the eyes of witnesses to Hyde’s corrupt deeds. Hyde is a brutal antagonist; he represents a man at his very worst, from his hideous sneer to his violent gaze. Hyde slinks around the city for some time before finally succumbing to his nature, and committing murder.
We meet Jekyll early on, but he remains a cryptic figure until we get a glimpse of his confession, in the form of his journal. Jekyll was experimenting with what some theorists call man’s “dual nature”, the idea that each man has a good side and an evil side. Alas, Jekyll’s experiments worked a little too well…
The enduring strength of this story is a tribute of sorts to the superior storytelling skills of Robert Louis Stevenson, also well known for his “Treasure Island”. This novel is direct and to the point, yet never does Stevenson gloss over the horrors of Dr. Jekyll’s fate. The novel contains just as much detail as is needed, and most of the storytelling packs a wallop with very few words. Stevenson’s descriptions of the horrors of Hyde are complex and satisfying. The reader can almost feel Hyde staring at them with his hateful, penetrating eyes; they can watch Hyde expressing his contempt for humanity needing only his angered stride as proof of his malice. Jekyll’s pain comes through nicely as well; his personal horrors are brought home with climactic flair.
Even knowing what was going to happen, I loved reading this story. To me, the story is a warning against both leashing your inner “beast” and letting him out. While I do not believe in the “duality of man” theories, I do subscribe to the notion of men needing to vent frustrations rather than tethering them. A person’s life is not either / or in the case of emotions; emotions of all sorts are a part of every man’s life, and rational people need to know how to constructively provide their emotions with an appropriate outlet.