Order, Duality and Darkness

“If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also.”
— Dr. Jeckyll, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”, page 23.
(Dr. Jeckyll’s two friends chat with him from the street below, only to see him suddenly lose control and slam the window in their faces. Who does not have a Mr. Hyde looming in the darkness within?)

How amazing the power of order! The right order, of course; that which only a great writer achieves. For what is writing but finding the correct sequence of words amidst the chaos of possibilities? If you give a typewriter to a monkey, they say, and let him pound the keys for the whole of infinity, he will almost surely compose the “Iliad“. Yet man-the-thinking-ape needs only a handful of years to create his masterpieces. It’s not just about words or sentences or characters or plots. It’s almost like some premeditated crime, with all its malign machinations embedded into words, anticipating its consummation in an awe-inspiring passage. It was writing about darkness — and thinking about the darkness within — that I remembered “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and one of the best scenes I have ever encountered.

There is this loving old man — Dr. Jekyll — intermittently affected by some kind of gloom depression. And there is his “associate” — Mr. Hyde — a macabre, grotesque, disgust-transpiring short man that kills people by trampling over and clubbing them. The duality is neatly visualized by the divided house “they” live at: one side clean and welcoming; the other, untidy and sinister. Robert Louis Stevenson needs only two consecutive sentences to depict such spiritual alterations: one showing the apex of a good mood; the other destroying it at once.

And so it is that Jekyll has enjoyed two months of peace, only to suddenly lock himself in loneliness. Eventually, even his best friend refrains from attempting visits, and we feel he will never again emerge from seclusion.

It is with great relief that we find Dr. Jekyll leisurely at his window, still looking disconsolate, but being kind to his friends down on the street. They urge him to come outside, but Jekyll won’t dare leave the house. He happily agrees to chat from there, though, smiling with contentment.

“But the words were hardly uttered, before the smile was struck out of his face and succeeded by an expression of such abject terror and despair, as froze the very blood of the two gentlemen below.”

How shockingly unexpected! Stevenson masterfully prepares us for this sentence, and when it comes, as abrupt as the chapter itself, with its only two pages, something is struck out of our face too.

Then, in the very next sentence, the window is instantly thrust down and his friends leave, walking briskly in silence, as if running away to where “still some stirrings of life” might remain. One utters the desperate words “God forgive us, God forgive us”. The other just walks away, still in silence.

What a sharp divide we are made to feel! We cross a threshold between happiness and sorrow, good and evil, light and darkness, a frontier we all have inside, but which we do our very best to pretend doesn’t exist, to convince ourselves we have under control.

Yet it is order — not duality or darkness — that I think of now, while writing these words.

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