What is the moral message in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson?

Expert Answers

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

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is a complex and interesting work that addresses the dilemmas posed by advanced scientific technology. It does not have a simple, singular, moral message, but rather makes its readers think through the problems of morality in a...

Unlock
This Answer Now

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

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is a complex and interesting work that addresses the dilemmas posed by advanced scientific technology. It does not have a simple, singular, moral message, but rather makes its readers think through the problems of morality in a society which was simultaneously becoming less religious and experiencing rapid technological change.

The first moral issue the reader encounters is that of whether scientific advances that offer easy ways to change our natures are fundamentally problematic. Dr. Jekyll is essentially trying to make himself a better person by use of drugs rather than self-discipline and moral effort. This shortcut does not turn out well and is prescient in the way it anticipates the issues people now face with the developments of many psychoactive drugs and genetic modification. Essentially, it suggests that taking shortcuts without considering consequences can result in morally bad outcomes.

Next, the character of Mr. Utterson confronts readers with the question of whether moral neutrality is possible. In many ways, Utterson is a character who exemplifies an even more pure scientific detachment than Jekyll, preferring to observe than to act. Eventually, though, he both exemplifies and realizes that inaction can be as immoral as action and that to stand by as evil happens is to be complicit in it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are any number of moral messages in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but one of the most prominent is that we shouldn't take people at face value. As always, it's their moral character, not their outward appearance that really matters.

Take Dr. Jekyll, for example. On the outside, he's the very epitome of respectability; an educated, socially-prominent man, he's the last person anyone would suspect of carrying out such foul, wicked deeds. But therein lies the problem. People attach so much importance to outward appearance that they don't realize what may be going on beneath the prim and proper exterior of the social elite.

An additional moral message to consider is that one shouldn't suppress one's inner emotions as so many people in Victorian England did. If one were a psychoanalyst, one might argue that Mr. Hyde is the inevitable result, the hideous by-product, of Dr. Jekyll's chronic inability to deal with the myriad disturbances buried deep within his subconscious. Dr. Jekyll is unwilling or unable to deal with his complexes (and at the same time is no longer able to repress them), and they've exploded out of him in a volcanic eruption of murderous hatred and evil.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The moral message throughout The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde concerns the value in controlling one's inherently wicked tendencies. Throughout the story, Robert Louis Stevenson explores the duality of human nature via Dr. Jekyll's struggle to destroy the evil side of his personality. In Dr. Jekyll's attempt to rid himself of his wicked nature, he develops a potion that is supposed to split his personalities into two. However, Dr. Jekyll discovers that there is no foolproof way to separate a person's good and bad qualities completely. As the reader learns, no one can truly conquer their inherently wicked nature, but there is hope in controlling one's impulses. According to Christian theology, man is born into sin and is inherently wicked; however, there is hope in gaining salvation through believing in and following Jesus Christ. A significant part of Christianity and other religions relies on tenets that influence individuals to control their desires and wicked impulses. As Dr. Jekyll discovers, unrestrained evil can have disastrous results.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The moral message of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that man's soul is paired with both elements of good and evil. These basic elements cannot be separated because man is defined by the conflict within his inner nature and how he deals with this duality.

In his statement Dr. Jekyll acknowledges that this duality exists.

I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I labored...at the furtherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering....With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence,...I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth...that man is not truly one, but truly two. (Ch.10)

The scientist Dr. Jekyll is so tempted that he experiments with separating his evil nature from the good. However, in this attempt to remove the troublesome part of his nature, Jekyll eventually discovers that without goodness to temper this intrinsic evil in human nature, man is overcome by his lower elements. This separated lower element of Dr. Jekyll, whom he calls Mr. Hyde, commits evil for pleasure, and in the new freedom of separation, the acts of evil become more and more egregious. Eventually, this evil nature overtakes Jekyll's better self, and he is destroyed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One moral message of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that it is necessary for the individual to wrestle with his or her own dark side; there is no shortcut or easy way to escape having to do this.  When Dr. Jekyll tries to separate his dark side, the side of him that wants to engage in immoral or unethical behavior, from his good side, he finds that -- over time -- he begins to lose control over the evil part of himself.  It becomes more and more powerful, and he can no longer fight it successfully.  He had been hoping to destroy this side of himself and find an easy way to avoid having to struggle with it.  He learns, too late, that the struggle would have been far better than attempting to rid himself entirely of the darkness.  This makes it seem as though such darkness is actually a fundamental part of every individual and that there is value in learning to control one's sinful or evil impulses.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team