Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a Religious Parable


A classic of English literature, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894), has a story that is very Christian in spirit. This is The Strange Story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 1886.

From the point of view of literary scholars, this is an interesting mixture of gothic novella and science fiction, but, in my opinion, a deep religious parable. Nicely done, disguised as gothic, without obsessive morality - but very serious and very convincing.

The protagonist, the London doctor Jekyll, is a rich, respected, respectable man, although not without sin. An ordinary lover of carnal pleasures, of which there are always and everywhere. However, the doctor has much more advantages than disadvantages - he is friendly, responsive, helps the sore and the poor ... And the doctor makes an amazing discovery at the junction of chemistry and mysticism: it turns out that it is possible with the help of special drugs to divide a person into two of his spiritual components: light and dark. Simply put, to decompose an ordinary person, in whose soul everyone is mixed, into an angel and a demon. And to each provide a separate body.

Dr. Jekyll's motivation was understandable: in addition to purely scientific curiosity, he wanted to get rid of his inner duality. He, a respected, public person, had to suppress his dark principle, refrain from all kinds of excesses ... and it was difficult. I was drawn to spicy food. And here's a great idea: to isolate everything vile, low, sinful from oneself, give it, this “second self,” a separate body, and let it go to hell. And he himself, as they say now, is in a white coat. Get rid of your inner darkness - not by destruction, but by separation. 

However, something went wrong. Dr. Jekyll really managed to isolate from himself a dark beginning into a separate personality (that same Mr. Hyde), but, firstly, the body still remained one for two, only transformed at the moment of transformation: Mr. Edward Hyde was smaller and younger than the elderly massive doctor. And secondly, the most important thing did not work out: Dr. Jekyll was still the same as he was before his discovery, good and evil still fought in his soul.

Could it have turned out differently? Jekyll himself explains it this way: “If higher motives had led me to my discovery, if I had dared to do this experiment, being dominated by noble or godly feelings, everything could have turned out differently and from the agony of death and rebirth I would have risen as an angel, not the devil. The remedy itself did not have a selective ability, it was neither divine nor satanic, it only opened the prison of my inclinations and, like the prisoners in Philippi, the one who stood at the door burst out. The good in me then dormant, and the evil was awake, awakened by vanity, and hastened to take advantage of the opportunity - so Edward Hyde arose.

And then Dr. Jekyll, in his true guise, did good deeds, and after taking the drug, he let his dark beginnings go free. Mr. Hyde, naturally, plunged into the abyss of debauchery, with each new walk he went deeper and deeper, and ended with the fact that in a state of unreasonable rage, he killed a venerable elderly gentleman. As they would now write in the police report, "on the basis of a sudden feeling of hostility."

Good Doctor Jekyll, of course, was horrified by the tricks of his second self, Mr. Hyde, more than once vowed to end this business and never take the drug again. But then it turned out to be a very predictable thing: “But time dulled the acuteness of my anxiety, a clear conscience became something familiar, I began to be tormented by agonizing desires, as if Hyde was trying to break free, and, finally, in an hour of mental weakness, I again composed and drank the magical drink".

Still shot from the film "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", 1931

In the end, it came to the point that the good Dr. Jekyll was already involuntarily, without any "tincture" turning into the evil Mr. Hyde, and he had to specially drink the drug to regain his former appearance and consciousness. And each time the remedy worked worse, it had to be taken more and more often, and then a big trouble happened: the old ingredients ran out, and it was no longer possible to create this remedy from the new ones, something was missing. As a result, Dr. Jekyll managed to write down his confession and turned into Mr. Hyde - who, fearing imminent arrest and trial, soon committed suicide.

Here's a sad story. And, despite its fantastic appearance, it is very real. This happens to many of us - albeit not in the literal sense of the word.

But here we must first clarify something. Christian doctrine tells us that human nature is damaged by sin, and this damage that happened to Adam and Eve is inherited by all their descendants. This damage (or, using a poetic image from the prayer of St. Antiochus, included in the evening prayer rule, the "seed of aphids") manifests itself in our mortality, and in diseases, and in "inclination" (from a very accurate Church Slavonic term) to sin. That is, in order to do good and not to do evil, you need to actively work, you need to strain your will, but to sin, no effort is required, it comes out by itself.

And that is why the soul of each of us is split, it is torn apart by opposite impulses. The Apostle Paul wrote about this very penetratingly in his epistle to the Romans: “For I know that good does not live in me, that is, in my flesh; because the desire for good is in me, but I don't find it to do it. The good that I want I do not do, but the evil I do not want I do. If I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do that, but the sin that dwells in me. So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. For according to the inner man I find pleasure in the law of God, but in my members I see another law, opposing the law of my mind and making me a captive to the law of sin that is in my members. Poor man I am! who will deliver me from this body of death? " (Rom. 7: 18-24).

And this is where the temptation arises: to separate the good and the bad in oneself and lead a double life. If you cannot cope with sin, then do not suffer, sin. Only so that it is imperceptible. Find options. Make amends for your secret sins with all visible benefits - in the hope that there, behind the grave, all this will somehow be balanced.

Such hope can be naive. I immediately remembered a story from my student days, when I helped one teacher I know to take her five-graders on a hike. There, on the campaign, they were instructed to cook porridge, and they poured too much salt into the pot. What to do? We need to somehow balance! And the children poured sugar in there to overcome the salinity. But they overdid it, it turned out too sweet, and then they added more salt. And so they added salt and sugar, until all the reserves were used up. The porridge had to be thrown away.

Still shot from the film "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", 1931

So it is with an attempt to atone for their sins by good deeds (for example, charity, donations to the temple, and so on). For eternal life, it is not even these sins themselves that are terrible, but the holes that they burn in the soul. To sew up a hole, Christianity knows only one way: to resort to the sacrament of repentance and further refrain from this sin.

But it's so difficult, for so long ... it is much more pleasant, on the one hand, to realize your dark inclinations, to feed your inner beast, and on the other hand, to maintain an appearance of decency. Not everyone is ready to rush headlong into all grave problems: in front of people it will be uncomfortable, and troubles with the law are quite possible. But if secretly, somehow anonymously ...

It must be said that modernity provides much more opportunities for this than the traditional society, where each person was in sight, each was built into a horizontal system of ties - family, neighborhood, professional, confessional. In the 19th century, and even earlier, everything also happened - bigamists, for example, but then it was less common, it was technically more difficult. Now it is much easier, now it is called "unpublished civil relations." Or, for example, a person alone with his family is one, but in the company of friends he is completely different. In one place there is a hare, in another - a wolf. Plus the Internet, where you can find anything you want, for every taste, and which gives a person anonymity (or rather, the illusion of anonymity, but not everyone understands this). Experienced users of social networks do not need to prove this, they see all sorts of trolls and virtuals.

Still shot from the film "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", 1920

But this double life, this artificial division of oneself into "good" and "bad" halves leads exactly to the same thing that happened in Stevenson's story with Dr. Jekyll: the dark beginning wins, the further, the more difficult it becomes to keep in check, and in in the end, it breaks loose and destroys a person.

"Who will deliver me from this body of death?" - wrote the Apostle Paul, giving his addressees the answer: Christ. And Christ really delivers if you sincerely want and sincerely ask for it. But what kind of sincerity can be if you have a double life, if you rely not on Him, but on your prudence, resourcefulness, dexterity? Doctor Jekyll, too, realizing the horror of his situation, did not rely on Christ, but on a miracle drug. And it was unable to help.

Original article: «Странная История Доктора Джекила и Мистера Хайда» Как Глубокая Религиозная Притча (Russian)

Robert Louis Stevenson