Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Good and Evil in the Human Nature


I still remember the plot of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a world novella that I read over ten times as a secondary school student. The novella is a classical work that has deeply influenced literature, as well as the views of numerous thinkers about human nature. It tackles the most significant duality of life: good and evil.

"Dr. Jekyll was finely raised in a respectable, rich family, but he always felt reckless from the inside. His lifestyle and upbringing forced him to tame this recklessness, so he felt he was leading a dual life".

Since the dawn of time, good and evil have been in a constant war against each other, with victory bouncing from on side to the other. Deep inside, however, we believe that good will eventually prevail; this belief is inspired by movies, novels, and religious convictions. A corrupt man who steals from the poor should eventually be punished, while a courageous hero who rescues innocent people should eventually be rewarded; yet, do any of us know what "eventually" refers to exactly?

The constant war between good and evil might have been obvious before because each side manifested itself in an independent being; but, what if both are manifested by a single entity or person?

"Dr. Jekyll thinks that a human might not be one being, but two, or maybe more. He, thus, develops a medicinal formula to separate the two beings inside himself; as a result, Mr. Hyde emerges".

The Human Psyche

Psychiatrist Jihan Abdel-Hamid, a member of the American Psychiatric Association, explains that the human psyche is structured into three parts: the id, ego, and superego.

The id is the earthly, primitive and instinctual, part of the psyche, which can be "virtually" described as evil. It is what urges one to do the things s/he desires to do regardless of its legitimacy; for example, one might desire to take over a valuable thing because s/he needs money. Conscience is the element that tames desires, urging us not to take over what is not ours.

Here comes the role of the ego; to regulate the relationship between desire and conscience, to avoid conflict. If the conscience wins all the time, it would continuously reprove the person, and s/he might become compulsively obsessive. If the ego wins all the time, a person would become wanton, irrepressibly wreaking havoc.

"The unpleasant, scrawny Mr. Hyde emerged, walking the streets at night, causing problems, committing crimes, and finding pleasure in harming others. Jekyll's conscience tortured him for Hyde's deeds, but these same deeds satisfied something inside him".

The Social Impact of Early Age on the Human Psyche

Psychiatrist Jennifer Konst indicated that many people who suffered in the early stages of their lives, specifically as children, from negligence, poverty, or mistreatment, fight to overcome these obstacles, putting forward their best, which reflects on their life choices. On the other hand, some people receive the best quality care and attention; yet, their life choices go from bad to worse.

Dr. Konst asserts that we are all born with an instinctive rejection of good and an evil motive for destruction, corruption, and revenge; yet, she also believes that everyone carries the seeds of good, which can grow into love, care, and help.

The scientific reasons behind human motives

Everything that has an impact on the human psyche is represented by brain chemicals. It is natural for one to feel happy when s/he sees a pleasant natural landscape, hears kind words, or eats a delicious meal. This happens due to the fact that all external factors stimulate the secretion of serotonin, the hormone responsible for feeling happy. On the contrary, serotonin secretion decreases when one experiences moments of weakness or failure, and therefore, feels down or sad.

Dopamine, on the other hand, is a hormone and a neurotransmitter at the same time; it is produced in two regions of the brain. The dopamine produced in the first region is responsible for movement; the dopamine produced in the second region—with which we are concerned—is responsible for feeling rewarded, victorious, and happy. These are the feelings that we experience when we get something done, pass an exam, or eat some chocolate; they are also the feelings experienced by those who satisfy their "evil" desires through beating, killing, or stealing. The way the brain satisfies its need for dopamine differs from one person to another; it could be through either good and legitimate deeds or illegitimate, evil ones.

"As Hyde's persona grew, gaining power, Jekyll chose to give up the evil inside himself, fearing that it would engulf him. He did not drink his formula for two whole months, but he kept thinking of going back to it".

Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Travis Langley stated that good and evil are much deeper than white and black, quoting Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher who revolutionized the traditional notions of good and evil in his book Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (1886).

In his opinion, Dr. Langley thinks it is harder nowadays to distinguish good people (heroes) from evil people (villains) than it was in the past; flaws are evident in heroes, as are humane aspects in some villains. All humans—including the heroes of ancient myths—have weak points, such as failure, jealousy, malice, and lust for revenge. Even mythological heroes fought with each other; what is good in that?

Sometimes, we put aside the good inside when it goes against our feelings, ambitions, or interests; it is, thus, normal to find heroes fighting each other in pursuit of gain or even the admiration of the public, for example.

"In a moment of weakness, Jekyll drank the formula again, and it became too difficult to control the evil inside. It was inevitable for him to put an end to his life, killing both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".

White and black no longer symbolize good and evil; there is a grey area in-between, indicating the potential of having both in our nature. The conflict between good and evil will last until the end of time, and they will continue to exchange victory; however, it is always important that good wins at the end.




*Cover image source: link.

**This article was published in the SCIplanet, Summer 2020 issue.

***The Arabic version of this article was developed as part of the Goethe-Institut science journalism project “Science Storytelling”; the project is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.

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