The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores the duality of people, and how each one of us has both a good and bad side. Dr. Jekyll, in an experiment attempting to separate his darker urges from himself, creates Mr. Hyde; a creature representing all of Jekyll’s negative thoughts and impulses, while remaining free of guilt or conscience. Though it is clear what the story means to say about humanity, the question remains of whether or not Dr. Jekyll is held accountable for the crimes of Mr. Hyde.
Firstly, it must be taken into account that Dr. Jekyll’s experiment was just that an experiment. It is referred to several times throughout the story as such. The fact that it is an experiment already tells us that he did not fully know or understand what would happen, he merely wanted to explore ways to separate himself from his inner dark side. This curiosity, at its core, is not morally wrong of him. Everyone is capable of darkness, and everyone has darkness in them, but wanting to separate from that and find a way to make it no longer a part of you is an inherently natural and good thing.
Now that it is established that Dr. Jekyll’s original intentions were not inherently bad, the other potential reasons why one could believe that he is at fault can be explored. One argument that can be made is that the severity of Jekyll’s crimes, such as the murder of Sir Danvers Carew and the brutal trampling of a young girl at the start of the story, prove that Dr Jekyll has violent tendencies himself. Though these crimes are inexcusable, they cannot be concretely blamed on Dr. Jekyll.
The story does imply that Hyde’s impulses were the same as Jekyll’s, as that is the reason for the experiment, but the outcome of said experiment the separation of the two sides of Jekyll’s psyche are not to be ignored. Dr. Jekyll and the darker parts of his psyche were effectively separated into two men. This is an important fact, especially considering that Dr. Jekyll has committed no known crimes before the experiment.
Other characters in the story even describe him as a gentle and soft-spoken man, which they surely wouldn’t have thought if he had the same tendencies as Mr. Hyde before the experiment. This further provides evidence of the distinct separation between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Therefore, it is difficult to blame the actions of Hyde onto Jekyll himself, as he only found a way to separate the two parts of himself. It is not his fault that it happened to become something far beyond moral. He became unable to control himself after the situation had already become severe, and was essentially lost between his two identities, no longer himself.
One important thing to touch on is Dr. Jekyll’s heavily implied mental illness. For him to have these dark impulses that we later see Mr. Hyde act on, he must truly be struggling with heavy personal issues and dark thoughts. This sort of revelation is something that can completely change one’s perspective of a person, especially once it is taken into account how they deal with those struggles. Dr. Jekyll used the experiment to find a form of escapism, which later extended beyond his control. We know what happened and what Mr. Hyde ended up doing, but the important thing to note is where exactly Dr. Jekyll was coming from when he decided to continue with the experiment.
If Dr. Jekyll was truly experiencing mental illness and struggling with violent impulses without acting on them, it is reasonable to assume that he felt an immense pressure on himself to stay moral. Those who struggle with mental illness often eventually pressure themselves into actions that aren’t exactly safe or without risk. Once a person’s mental health begins to decline, it is easily for them to fall into a trap of self-hatred, which can lead to impulsive and self-destructive actions with potentially dangerous consequences.
Once this is all considered, it becomes easy to empathize with Dr. Jekyll and his decision to continue with the experiment. It becomes less reminiscent of a mad scientist who refuses to consider consequences, and more of a man who did what he felt was best under his extremely difficult circumstances.
Dr. Jekyll, when you begin to analyze him and his role in the events of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, becomes a complex man who was struggling with himself to the point of inadvertently creating a path of chaos and destruction. Although the outcomes were tragedies, The heart of Dr. Jekyll and his intentions were not unreasonable or morally evil, and for that, he should not be considered guilty.