illustration of a face with two separate halves, one good and one evil, located above the fumes of a potion

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Start Free Trial

How is madness dealt with in the novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jekyll's madness—if it is that—is portrayed as a progression similar to that of addiction.  It begins with choices Jekyll makes, becomes more attractive and harder to resist, and ends up being completely out of his control. 

When Jekyll begins his experiments with turning himself into Mr. Hyde, he does so because he wants to have fun.  He wants to be able to engage in his "undignified pleasures" (music halls? brothels?) without being recognized.  At this point, he still feels he is in control of Hyde and can stop becoming him any time he wants to.  As he tells Utterson, "I can be rid of Mr. Hyde any time I wish."  This corresponds to the early stages of addiction: the addiction is an occasional pastime and the person does not feel it to be a major influence on his or her personality.

However, it is worth noting that at the moment when Jekyll turns into Hyde, he feels a euphoric sense of freedom and power, the sense that can he do anything he wants to, completely without inhibition.  Instead of scaring him, this feeling is pleasurable to him in his Hyde state. This corresponds to a drug high. 

When Hyde starts committing serious crimes, Jekyll realizes that he needs to stop his excursions as Hyde.  His Jekyll self is appalled and ashamed by what he has done, and also Hyde's crimes are starting to potentially endanger Jekyll's reputation.  So Jekyll tries to quit "cold turkey."  He even promises Mr. Utterson that he will never see Hyde again. 

At first, Jekyll feels good about having quit cold turkey.  However, after a month or two he begins to be tempted to become Hyde again. This temptation eventually becomes unbearable, and when Jekyll finally gives in to it, he finds that his Hyde self is stronger and more evil than ever as a result of having been repressed through willpower.  Hyde is so "hungry" at this point, and his emotions so strong, that it is a tossup as to which is the "real" Jekyll: Jekyll or Hyde.

Not long after this, Jekyll starts turning into Hyde spontaneously, without having to take the potion.  At first it happens only once in a while; soon it happens whenever he lets his guard down.  The first time it happens, it scares Jekyll and he races home to change himself back into Jekyll.  But the potion for changing himself back starts to get less and less effective, requiring bigger doses and not always working the first time.  This corresponds to the stage of addiction where the high is harder to attain or may not even be present at all, but where the withdrawal symptoms are so bad that the person is living from dose to dose of the drug just to keep themselves from the suffering of withdrawal. 

By this time, Jekyll's household servants have realized that something is seriously wrong.  He is locked in his study, desperately sending them out to pharmacy after pharmacy to find ingredients...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

for a potion that will actually work to return him to his Jekyll state.  His whole life now revolves around managing Hyde.  It is no longer fun to be Hyde; it is torture to go back and forth. 

Ultimately, he is unable to manage Hyde.  The thing that started out as a lark has led to his death.  It shows that the psychology of addiction can operate even without an addictive substance.  Arguably, what Jekyll was addicted to—mind and body—was not the drug that turned him into Hyde, but rather Hyde himself—the freedom and power of being totally evil without discovery.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team