Stephen King points to this short novel as one of three novels that define modern horror, the other two being Dracula and Frankenstein. To King’s thinking, Stevenson’s quickly written tale of split personality is the best example of the werewolf archetype in modern fiction. And who would know better than King?
But most people’s vision of Jekyll and Hyde is either of a bipolar personality (a term most people don’t really understand) or someone who turns into a mindless monster, being a virtuous soul the rest of the time. That actually is nothing like the titular Jekyll and Hyde.
Stevenson’s classic is about Victorian repression and one man’s attempt to chemically get around it. Dr. Henry Jekyll, we eventually learn, is stifled by Victorian England’s labrynth of mores and social requirements. He uses a potion to transform himself into a completely different person, one who cares not about social strictures, who can go out drinking and carousing and partaking of London’s whore houses with absolutely no consequences.
So when we meet Edward Hyde, he’s a charming bastard. And I do mean bastard. In his first appearance, Hyde’s coming home from a night of partying and carousing when he thoughtlessly tramples over little girl. (What the little girl was doing out at 4 in the morning really says that her parents is a bit disturbing, but hey, they’re not trampling her, are they.) Hyde is clearly a sociopath, but he’s a reasonable sociopath. He offers to pay the family to care for the girl.
But later, in a fit of irrational rage, Hyde beats a popular Member of Parliament to death, again in the wee hours of the morning. So is Hyde a monster?
Actually, Jekyll is. He confesses to two of his closest friends that he was looking for a way to get around Victorian society’s repressive customs. So he chemically created Edward Hyde to allow him to go out and party and whore around and basically be as scandalous as he wants to be without tainting his sainted image. In other words, Jekyll wants to have his cake and eat it, too. Only Hyde has a small problem. He’s really just another side of Henry Jekyll, and when Jekyll is Hyde, Jekyll’s inner psychopath breaks out to roam free.
So really, Hyde is not Jekyll’s problem. Jekyll is Hyde’s.