Would you have ended Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in a different way?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is a passage late in Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, an appendix of sorts titled "Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case," in which the now-exposed physician explains the path he chose in life that resulted in the tragedies associated with his alter-ego, Edward Hyde:

"I hesitated long before I put this theory to the test of practice. I knew well that I risked death; for any drug that so potently controlled and shook the very fortress of identity, might, by the least scruple of an overdose or at the least inopportunity in the moment of exhibition, utterly blot out that immaterial tabernacle which I looked to it to change. But the temptation of a discovery so singular and profound at last overcame the suggestions of alarm."

Stevenson was known to have struggled mentally over the topic of his novella, with the moral implications at the heart of his story representing very serious and valid quandaries regarding scientific experimentation and human nature. The passage cited above is reminiscent of Mary Shelley's classic of Gothic horror Frankenstein, published 68 years earlier, in which the young, gifted scientist, Victor Frankenstein, contemplates the moral implications of his determination to pursue the possibility of reanimating dead tissue, but ultimately rejects those reservations in favor of pursuing his research. Whereas Victor Frankenstein will sacrifice his life to destroy his creation, however, Dr. Jekyll remains firmly committed to the notion of investigating the darker side of human nature. 

It is, to some readers, precisely that rejection of an easy, morally incorruptible resolution to the questions raised by Stevenson's protagonist(s) that endear his story to those readers. Dr. Hastie Lanyon's discussion of his encounter with Jekyll/Hyde encapsulates the perspective that rejects such moral ambivalence: "As for the moral turpitude that man unveiled to me, even with tears of penitence, I can not, even in memory, dwell on it without a start of horror." Jekyll, however, remained firmly on the fence and, in that, Stevenson's ending remains, to this reader, the most intellectually satisfying. Any viable alternative ending, such as the triumph of "good over evil" suggested by the death of Hyde and redemption of Jekyll would have represented the triumph of mediocrity, such as that injected into so many Hollywood films during that industry's so-called "golden age," when studio bosses made directors include happy endings to stories the preceding tales of which logically negated any such resolution. The death of Jekyll/Hyde would have provided for a potentially satisfying ending, but, again, Stevenson chose the more ambiguous and intellectually satisfying path of leaving the reader pondering the ultimate fate of the character. Jekyll's irreversible transformation into the hideous character of Hyde provides a more interesting ending for Stevenson's story than any pat resolution that represented the triumph of good over evil.

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