Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and the pursuit of the self

Fiction is not always fictional

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/Fandango MovieClips

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/Fandango MovieClips

Anay Contractor, Contributor

Our world is predicated on duality in the physical, social, and mental senses. We have the North Pole and the South Pole, right and wrong, and the inner and outer selves. No matter how much grayness we may perceive, we seek solace in definitiveness and sureness. We prefer to present ourselves according to some arbitrary set of social norms, ostensibly sleeping well knowing we are ‘normal’ and not some social pariah. However, at times we may experience personal duress, not knowing what our true self is in the pursuit of some societal ideal. We don’t know if our inner self — our true feelings and desires — deserve recognition or whether they should anchor our outer self. This dilemma of the self is explored in depth throughout many avenues in literature, including Robert Louis Stevenson in the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde represent the duality of human nature — our outward display of social ideals, norms, and desires contrasted with our primal self with highly endogenous passions and desires. The case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is naturally an extremity; not everyone (I hope) is dangerously evil and untethered. But what it gets at is the inner struggle we have: do we pursue what makes us truly happy, unaffected by social norms, or do we resign to presenting ourselves as an agglomeration of social ideals? The fact is, we are so concerned by right or wrong that we forget to think about ourselves and what makes us tick when we wake up in the morning. That drive from within is in part formed by external forces that are so enmeshed with our inner being which yields differentiating truth from a fabricated reality a difficult task. 

This is not to say that we are constantly in a state of mental flux. But, whenever our mind’s fibers are drawn and quartered, this provides detriment to our mental health and emotional well-being. Across the world, we see such vignettes in this aspect on a daily basis. Talented women constrained by patriarchal forces. Brilliant creatives forced to work a job they have no interest in to provide stability. The dreamers, unorthodox thinkers, and trailblazers brought to the ground by social gravity. 

Granted, there are shortcomings to this perspective. It’s very easy to say ‘follow your dreams and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’. Additionally, there are so many social, political, and economic factors we must consider. But we should strive to change this. Our institutions are built on fulfilling premade roles and functions that we have no idea about. There’s a lack of institutionalized moral hazard for the common man. We shouldn’t have to choose between living a completely free and passionate life with absolutely no insurance or a life of monotony, structure, and well, insurance. There needs to be room for everyone because each person is inherently unique and beautiful with their own aspirations, desires, and interests. We must balance the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde within each one of us in order to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and intellectually-conducive environment.


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