Who are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are two—or one, depending on how you look at it — characters in an 1886 novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The novel is considered a classic of Victorian literature and a harrowing allegory about the duality of human nature, and in most English speaking nations, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are familiar literary figures. Psychologists often use the story to illustrate the symptoms of dual personality disorder; Dr. Jekyll is the original, or neutral personality, while Mr. Hyde is a secondary and evil personality.

People who behave erratically are said to have Jekyll and Hyde personalities.
People who behave erratically are said to have Jekyll and Hyde personalities.

The basic plot of Stevenson's book is that Dr. Jekyll becomes curious about human nature, and obsessed with the idea that every person actually contains two people; an angel, and a demon. In an attempt to isolate these two personalities, Jekyll develops a potion which brings out the personification of evil in himself: Mr. Hyde. He looks physically different than Dr. Jekyll, with a smaller, twisted body which is in keeping with Victorian notions about physical appearance and moral ability.

Dr. Jekyll becomes obsessed with the idea that every person actually contains two people; an angel, and a demon.
Dr. Jekyll becomes obsessed with the idea that every person actually contains two people; an angel, and a demon.

Whilethe shape shifting is at first undertaken as a scientific experiment, he begins to be obsessed with the character of Hyde. In the guise of Mr. Hyde, he wanders the streets committing various heinous crimes, ultimately murdering someone and discovering that he cannot turn back into himself without a counter potion. He takes the counter potion to conceal his identity from authorities, but ultimately runs out of the supplies needed to make it and realizes that he is doomed to life as Mr. Hyde, so kills himself in his laboratory.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde addresses a number of themes, not just about good and evil but about Victorian society in general. Victorian life tended to be very dualistic, with heavy social expectations placed on prominent members of society such as doctors. As Mr. Hyde, Jekyll could live out his socially inappropriate fantasies: and this ability ultimately consumed the otherwise neutral character. We are never shown the purely angelic side of his personality, suggesting that perhaps the only personality embedded deep within us is a violent and animalistic one, aware of moral codes but choosing not to obey them.

Someone who experiences violent mood swings or behaves erratically is sometimes said to have a Jekyll and Hyde personality, in reference to the book. Even those who have not read Stevenson's book are familiar with the characters, because they have pervaded popular culture thanks to the book itself in conjunction with stage and film adaptations. The book is often required reading for students to get them thinking about human nature, Victorian society, and what makes a book an enduring classic.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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I have what they know as a personality disorder. It runs in my family. I've had scenes. I was about 20 or 21. I'm now 28, and sometimes I do find it hard to keep my anger in. Sometimes it just feels like coming out. It's like a kid wanting to come out to play, but it's not the same. I do find it hard to talk to people, but when I'm angry, I'm not me; it's like I am another person, like the anger person. It can last up to to a couple of days, but then I'm O.K. after. Why am I the way I am? I don't like it one bit, but I just can't help it. I just feel so angry nearly all the time. I am seeing someone for my Borderline Personality Disorder, but just don't know what to think. Let me know. Thanks.


You're both vaguely right.

Deacon Brodie was an Edinburgh cabinet maker who would make copies of people's house keys and break in with his gang of burglars in the early 1800s.

He was caught and hanged. Even though he did pay the executioner to let him wear a steel neck brace in the hope he might survive, but he still died.


The doctor lived in london and bought stolen corpses. the guy you're on about was a cabinet maker in edinburgh and he didn't hang.


Actually - the story is based on a real life doctor who lived in Edinburgh. He was a respected surgeon, and while his patients were sleeping he would take their keys and rob their houses. Eventually he was caught and hanged for his crimes.

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