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The Strange Trial of Mr Hyde coverBy Lorna Derksen


AS ARTHUR PAUL PATTERSON writes in his introduction to Watershed Online’s Frankenstein pages, it isn't the gross out, gory stuff of horror that shakes us to our bones; it is the searing truth of its indictment that nails us against the wall saying, "here, look at this horrific spectacle - this is you!"

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll is the respectable doctor whose experiments manufacture a craggy monster-like man prone to evil acts. Just as it is easy as readers to focus on the depravity of Frankenstein's monster, forgetting his absent creator, we're compelled to detest the crude Hyde and sympathize with Dr. Jekyll.

More jarring than these initial responses are the penetrating studies which peel the apparent away to reveal the lurking truth - the truth that horrifies. In The Strange Trial of Mr. Hyde, John Sanford employs Jungian psychology and Christian thought to flip our assumptions about good and evil on their heads. Is Dr. Jekyll, outstanding citizen that he is, more responsible for the evil unleashed by Mr. Hyde than Hyde himself? Is there something about Jekyll rather than Hyde that needs to be destroyed?Jack Palance as Mr. Hyde

Sanford answers yes to both these questions and explains how what appears to be good can mask evil and how what appears to be evil can be used for good. Sanford creates a mock trial in which Counselor Mapleson argues not against the injustice of Hyde's actions, but against the sole responsibility placed on Hyde as the author of his evil. Sanford indicts Jekyll, the creator of Hyde, as the greater evil.

Using Jungian terms, Sanford explains that we live out of two centers of personality, the ego and the Self. The ego is the center of our conscious personality, the part of us through which we encounter the world. The Self is a larger reality which encompasses and energizes the ego. The Self, which some liken to God, provides a larger framework in which the ego can view reality - offering creativity and a sense of meaning in life. The ego and Self are meant to have a relationship in which each supports and serves the other, resulting in a whole person.

Many of our egos, however, are not interested in sharing the limelight with the Self. A relationship with a meaningful source might mean the diminishment of the ego's control, something we don't want to concede. And so we live out of an egocentric ego resulting in a selfish and false existence.

pull-out quotationDuring the trial, Mapleson points out how concerned Jekyll was with his reputation: he sported numerous degrees on his calling card, went to great lengths to be seen as a decent, reputable man, and after one of Hyde's more destructive bouts, even became religious. To support such a fine reputation, something has to be sacrificed; in Jekyll's case it was anything that would suggest he was less than pure. In short Jekyll sacrificed his authenticity. Acknowledging that all of us are a mixed bag of finer and weaker traits, we wonder where he stuffed those less than pure qualities.


Enter the Jungian concept of the shadow, all those qualities that could have become part of the structure of the ego but were repressed. What we mistake for Jekyll's goodness is only a mask that has been distorted and brought into the service of the egocentric ego. Below this mask lies the shadow, hidden away. But unless the dark side is included, a person cannot be whole.

When Hyde emerges we are appalled by his evil acts, but he is merely the manifestation of the absence of good. Sanford argues that the blame for Hyde's evil lies with Jekyll's false ego which, having distorted what it ought to be, has produced evil. It is the egocentric aspect of the ego intent on destroying wholeness that is the locus of evil. The argument continues that Hyde's evil is used by the Self to destroy that which is truly evil: Jekyll's egocentricity. Jason Robards as Mr. Hyde

For Jekyll this split between ego and shadow resulted in a cyclical existence of apparent good and blatant evil. This is where the story touches my life. It has been my experience that the messy cycle of good and evil is not hard to get caught up in. When the wheel plummets downward, I mope, depressed after having done something selfish and often harmful. My greatest fear is that I've been found out. Now what will my friends think of me, those to whom I have been cruel, from whom I cannot hide. I must repair, be kind, save face. I read of better ways to live and am inspired, feel convicted and recommit. I will be generous, consider others, and do what is right. But soon, at the pinnacle of the wheel, I find myself on the park bench with Dr. Jekyll, comparing my kind acts to the selfishness I see in others. It is only a matter of time before righteous judgment morphs into a hairy beast. And she appears, my Ms. Hyde to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting passerby.

It's chilling to recognize one's habitual patterns in one of the most horrific of classic literature's characters. But it would be melodramatic to claim, as Jekyll does, that we with this pattern are the worst of sinners, the greatest of victims. To varying degrees most people probably resist trusting the Self. Sanford insists that the ego must be willing to submit to what amounts to something like the will of God within the personality. Just as the refusal to acknowledge the Self yields a disintegrated being, hard-hearted in its separation from itself and others, the healing of this chasm depends on the devotion of one's being to the Divine. Sanford writes, "...therefore the hearts of men must be seized by a devout emotion. They must be shaken by a religious awe in the face of eternity - with an intuition of the One Creator of all living beings, and united through the strong feeling of fellowship."

Devotion to the Divine conjures up images of acting piously, doing the right thing in the presence of the all-knowing, all-judging One. A god-image like this, however, is surely a projection of the ego's own demands for moral perfection. Devotion to the Divine may require a new image of the Divine. Sanford helps the construction of a new image by referring to the Self as the source of our deepest convictions. The Self is creative, seeking to bring about ever new and more creative forms of life and consciousness. This is not a judging God but a mediatory function that allows us to transcend our basic instincts for self-congratulation.

pull-out quotationBut Sanford also cautions that the morality of the Self in our awareness emerges only as we grow in consciousness. Our consciousness grows as we make choices including the choice to be honest with ourselves about ourselves. So courage as well as knowledge are necessary.

In trying to imagine how Jekyll might respond to Sanford's analysis, it is difficult to imagine that he would accept the responsibility for courting evil. In cynicism we might see a similarly hopeless plight in our own struggle with evil. In facing our lives honestly we offer hope not only for ourselves, but for the egocentric archetype that prevails in our world. In acknowledging our desire to split the 'bad' from the 'good' in us, and then in humble recognition and openness to the guiding principles of the Self, we will inch toward wholeness. Then we will be able to see the horrific spectacle of ourselves in horror's lens and admit, yes, this is me, but only a part seeking authenticity.



Sanford, John A. The Strange Trial of Mr. Hyde: A New Look at the Nature of Human Evil. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987. 182 pages.

Photos from "The Complete Dick Smith Filmography" site found here.


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