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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Term Definition
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson clearly formulates the psychological possibility that a given person may lack an integrated character, to the point that he may seem like a radically different person from one situation to the next. Narrowly, it could be interpreted as a prescient portrayal of serious mental illness. More broadly, though, it could also be read as a general comment on the fragmentation of the modern personality. 

Introduction To Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an 1886 novella by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). Commonly referred to simply as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the novella has long served as the benchmark for split personality themes in suspense and horror storytelling.

The story centers on the mysterious connection between the brilliant physician Dr. Henry Jekyll and an evil, homely lecher known as Mr. Edward Hyde. Lawyer John Utterson, who knows the doctor, is first drawn to this mystery following a neighborhood disturbance in which a young girl is traumatized by a sinister, shady man. The perpetrator is soon found to be Hyde, who buy's her family's silence with assets tied to Jekyll's name. Utterson discusses the matter with Jekyll, but notices something odd about the doctor's complexion. A year later, Hyde is witnessed killing a man, but evades capture. Jekyll is questioned further about the now-wanted man as similarities are noticed by others. Eventually, the doctor withdraws from public. When Utterson hears that Jekyll has secluded himself in his laboratory, the lawyer goes to confront the doctor, only to find a dead Mr. Hyde in Jekyll's clothes, as well as a letter revealing how the two were actually one. 

The Story Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In popular culture, the story is associated with split personality disorder, a rare mental condition in which two distinct personalities inhabit the same body. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde represent two opposite personalities: one reserved and kind, the other lecherous and evil. Even though they share the same body, neither personality has control over the other's actions. The impact of Steven's novella on discussions surrounding dichotomies of this nature has made the phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" synonymous with everything from split personalities to wild mood swings.

The novella has also been viewed as a window into the inner-conflicts of Victorian culture, where the polite social facades of many individuals often masked darker thoughts and tendencies within. Ostensibly, Dr. Jekyll is a brilliant, upstanding man of good fortune, but his alter ego flaunts societal conventions in every conceivable way; repeatedly crossing legal limits until he commits the ultimate crime. However, there are aspects of Hyde's behavior—fearlessness, sexual bravado—that Jekyll privately envies, but must suppress due to the social mores of his day. Scholars have viewed this as a prime literary example of Freudian theory where thoughts banished to the subconscious manifest through conscious behavior. Other readings have interpreted a human vs. animal dichotomy, with Hyde's antics representing an animalistic break from Jekyll's societal-bound constraints.

Movies Based On Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The story has been adopted to numerous plays and more than 123 films since the advent of motion picture. The dual role was most famously played by Academy Award-winning American actor Fredric March in Paramount Pictures' 1931 horror feature Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Originally released before the enforcement of the Hays Code, the film had to be trimmed down by eight minutes for its 1936 re-release to theatres. 

Other notable big-screen adaptations include a 1920 silent starring John Barrymore, and a notorious 1941 MGM remake of March's version starring Spencer Tracy in a performance that was widely panned. Perversely, MGM purchased all rights to the 1931 film in order to bury it and make their own version the official motion picture of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Believed lost for many decades, the Paramount film was eventually found and restored at full length, and today stands as the definitive take on Stevenson's novella.

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