Is there a theme of science run amuck in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Is there a theme of science run amuck in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Is there a theme of science run amuck in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? 

Is there a theme of science run amuck in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Science is most certainly a theme in Steveson's famous novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Let's see if we can decide whether the science is "run amuck" or not. The Victorian age had a preoccupation with the idea of science taken too far and removed too far from preservation of human dignity. This preoccupation was born of the strange new world they found themselves in, a world that seemed to obliterate religious belief and moral foundation through the advent of Darwinism and geology and other sciences that shook the world. This longstanding concern for human dignity is also illustrated by the earlier work Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus (1817) by Mary Shelley.

Dr. Jekyll tells in "Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case" that his research was in mystical and transcendental medicine:

And it chanced that the direction of my scientific studies, which led wholly towards the mystic and the transcendental, reacted and shed a strong light on this consciousness of the perennial war among my members.

Regardless of the alchemy-like field of Jekyll's scientific medical research, it was still very much in the category of scientific research at the time, or perhaps it is better to say it was feared by the Victorian conscience that it would become very much part of the category of scientific research. If we grant Dr. Jekyll the reputation that he claims of being admired, look up to and honored by his peers, we'll grant that in Stevenson's vision of this part of Victorian London, Jekyll's research was science.

We've now established a theme of science in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Is it run amuck? This bit is easier. Yes, it is run amuck. Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Hyde have on-going debates over the propriety of mystic and transcendental science versus traditional and established physical science. In "Dr. Lanyon's Narrative," Lanyon tells of Jekyll's vindictive words to Lanyon preceding his transformation from Hyde to Jekyll. As Vladimir Nabokov says in a famous lecture on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll never forgives Lanyon for scoffing at his outlandishly dangerous scientific theories and work.

Lanyon certainly thinks Jekyll's science is run amuck and Stevenson provides us with Dr. Lanyon's opinion in order to set up an authoritative counter balance to Jekyll's views, and that counter balance clearly tells that, yes, Jekyll's science is run amuck. Let's define this in light of the preceding discussion: it is run amuck by its disregard for and destruction of the sanctity of human dignity.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow! I think kplhardison is certainly the Stevenson expert! I can only highlight the extremely valid point that she made concerning the necessity or at least the usefulness of exploring this theme with Frankenstein in mind. Let us remember that during Victorian times one of the key challenges was the way that, as some insisted, scientific advances (which were incredible during this time) had proved the existence of God untenable. Of course, questions began to be asked about the necessary limits of scientific advances - would they become yet another growing Tower of Babel which would ultimately transgress some form of boundary and bring disaster? The debate is explored in both texts, and still is just as relevant today. Should Man play God and to what extent is he allowed to do so?

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