What it Means to be Human

The narrative of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde exudes tension. This theme (tension), which we’ve been analyzing in different forms and measures all semester long, bellows from every page as it composes not only the predicament of this novella, but the predicament of every human life.

It is the internal warfare between good and evil that wages within the breast of every human being. This combat, which Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde highlights, constitutes the fundamental friction responsible for every other character tension we have noted in previous books. This battle, inherent to man, propels the plight of Dr. Jekyll and rouses every reader.

From the first introduction, Mr. Hyde is presented as a creature bereft of humanness, as he is described as “troglodytic”. This description aligns with the theory of de-evolution that was circulating during Stevenson’s time. De-evolution surmised slum inhabitants, but more specifically criminals, were the pinnacle of biological human regression. Within this context, Hyde represents an erosion of human nature.

The textual allegations of Hyde being sub-human raises the reverse question: what does it mean to be human? As one traces his de-evolution, one can likewise discern what true human nature means, for it is against this standard that Hyde’s behavior appears starkly fallacious and inhuman. These two subjects— the definition of humanity and the definition of inhumanity— prove inseparable.

In his narrative, Jekyll himself pinpoints perhaps the cardinal characteristic of human nature: the very duplicity with which he struggles. He laments how his transformation to Hyde “severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature” (76). Furthermore, Jekyll contends it “the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were thus bound together—that in the agonized womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling” (77). In his attempt to separate these natures, then, Jekyll takes a deathly stab at his humanity. To be only wholly good or only wholly evil would eliminate the humanity from that being. If humans were morally perfect, with no inclination towards evil, they would be gods but not humans. If humans were solely desiring of evil and had no inclination towards what is good, they would be devils. The ability to discern between right and wrong, the inner conscience of man that compels us towards what is right and burdens our hearts and minds with guild when we have done wrong, is largely what it means to be human. In his final descent, as Edward Hyde takes over Dr. Jekyll more completely and as he becomes only evil with no inclination towards good, he becomes a “child of Hell” with “nothing human” within him (88).

While every human struggles with the internal combat between right and wrong, redemption, as Jekyll finds, cannot be found formally detaching these two natures. His discovery poses another question: if detachment proves not the redemption of this dilemma, what redeems us? While duplicity marks human nature, there is also a longing within every breast to be redeemed. This desire to be redeemed, in some shape or form, also cardinally constitutes what it means to be a human.

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