R L Stevenson's Split Personality Tale

R L Stevenson is better known for his swashbuckling adventure tales such as ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Kidnapped’ which have a light mood making them suitable reads even for young adults despite all the bloodshed and carnage. I for one used to just love 'Kidnapped' as a child. However ‘The strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is a different type of novel. Despite the much lesser bloodshed compared to the other two, it is a really dark novel. The high level theme is split personality which in current times is more in the realms of main stream psychological thrillers than science fiction. But R L Stevenson has dealt with the theme more like a science fiction.

This is the story of a scientist Dr. Jekyll who discovers a drug that can separate the good side of his personality from the evil side. Instead of adopting the good side, he embraces his evil side and exults in the joy of being pure evil without any moral constraints. Problem starts when the acts of evil start crossing boundaries and he begins to regret his actions when his regains his regular personality.


One area where this tale is different from the regular split personality story is that the drug results in a physical transformation as well and the two persona look like different people physically. So the evil persona Mr. Hyde transforms into Dr. Jekyll to escape the hands of law. In the Dr. Jekyll form, he deeply regrets his actions and starts dreading the transformation into Mr. Hyde. But the experiment goes out of control and he is unable to control his transformation into Mr. Hyde. He needs a constant dose of medicine to maintain his Mr. Jekyll persona. That brings the challenge of procuring the components of the medicine in the Mr. Hyde form in which he is a fugitive sought after by the police.

It is also a tale that is allegorical. It kind of reflects the conflict we face in curbing the evil that resides within us. All of us have a Mr. Hyde within us and are often tempted to indulge in him for temporary pleasure. But too much indulgence can result in Mr. Hyde taking over our entire self and lead us along the road to perdition.

Of course, this book is different from typical science fiction in some ways – this story neither weaves a story around the impact of a specific scientific discovery nor is it an exploration of futuristic, alternate or alien societies. It is more a philosophical, personal reflection kind of story. But then it does not get too reflective and pedantic like literary works. After all it is R L Stevenson! So we have a taut story line that keeps the reader on the tenterhooks that gives some food for thought at the same time.

I for one would definitely give this work its rightful place in the history of science fiction.

Coming up next Tuesday: Going back in time with Mark Twain

Comments

  1. An interesting novel, it teaches us how the evil in us a terribly potent force unless held in restraint.

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  2. You have captured the book and it's author in your brief but eloquent post. Genre and moral stories apart, the novel is a classic.

    And hey, literature nred not be too reflective and pedantic!

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    1. Thanks umashankar. You know best on literature. I have somehow always been more into science fiction and fantasy with only brief forays into other things.

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  3. I thought that this tale was also a moral lesson that giving in to evil even once would end up with it overwhelming your personality.

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