In today’s chat about The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I’m going to focus on one discussion question. There are so many ways to tackle this story but the one that I think defines all of the others is this:
This book is the ultimate story of good vs. evil. Do you think that people can be defined in these terms? Do you think that an act can be defined as good or evil?
Reading this book in high school, I would have said yes, a person or an act can be “good” or “evil.” I thought, as many people do, that in order to be a “good person,” you have to perform good deeds. You need to “make wise choices,” as my mother always told us. I believed that your actions were measured on some sort of proverbial scale and THAT was how you determined good versus bad. I considered myself always on the side of “good,” as most of us do, and anyone that made me mad or even just annoyed me? Bad, of course. When I made a bad choice, it was a mistake; when someone else made a bad choice, it went straight to that scale.
As I transitioned into my adult life, I realized that people were not just a sum of their actions. I learned that good people can make bad choices, even a lot of them, but still have the potential to do good. I considered a person’s potential and underlying nature to be the most important aspect when weighing them on the “good” vs. “bad” scale.
Now, I find myself questioning the very definitions of “good” and “bad.” Sure, some actions can be rigidly defined as such: helping an elderly lady across a busy street vs. pushing the same elderly lady down and stealing her groceries. But rarely are actions in real life completed under such artificial constraints. Most of the time, people act with a countless number of competing demands. Maybe their situation necessitated their less-than-desirable actions. Maybe I didn’t see the entire picture of their circumstances, which might explain the actions that I thought would certainly be weighed on the “bad” side of their scale. For example, that car that cut me off the other day? Maybe they were on their way to the hospital to help an ailing relative. So when I honked at them, who was really the “bad guy” in that scenario?
Do I think that people and actions can be defined as “good” or “evil” by themselves? No, not without knowing more of their context. Even then, am I really in a position to decide? For that reason, this might be the scariest of the books that we are reading this Halloween. It has scenes of gruesome horror, sure. But the scariest part of all might be the depiction of “good” and “evil” and the fact that some people really think it’s that simple.