Jekyll, Hyde, and Problematic Representations of DID

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) is often critically interpreted as a commentary on repressive Victorian society. The ‘good’ Jekyll feels the pressure to conform to rigid social expectations, and proceeds to ‘act out’ in the form of Hyde – the beastly, murderous alternative personality who begins to take over Jekyll’s life.

Another, perhaps more literal reading of the text explores the idea of Jekyll and Hyde as an early interpretation of someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Here, we see two or more alternative identities existing in one body. The study of this condition began in the Victorian period; Stevenson is known to have had in interest in it. April Edwards goes into further detail on this in her blog Victorian Science Fiction: https://blog.uvm.edu/scalexan-vsf/the-strange-case-of-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/our-critical-review/

The problem with this interpretation is that it feeds into the negative stigma already surrounding DID. Representation of DID in literature and media is welcome (about 1-3% of the population live with it, which is a substantial amount). Issues, however, arise in the tendency to misrepresent the disorder, especially in a Horror and Science-Fiction context.

The idea of the evil alternative identity spawned in Jekyll and Hyde has permeated many popular culture representations of DID since, the most well known example being that of the 2016 movie Split. The un-tameable beast often depicted in media has become a trope that many assume actually exists in people with DID. This unfounded fear represented onscreen leads to the stigmatization and ostracisation of real people living within the DID community.

While I can accept that the Victorian’s may have been ignorant to the psychological roots of the disorder, I do not agree that modern artists have the right to perpetuate the stigmatization of DID for the sake of a horror trope. Robert Louis Stevenson may not have known better, but after 130 years you would think we should.

If you’d like the learn more about reactions to Split from the DID community, I’d recommend checking out the DissociaDID System’s video on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7InIpe88eoQ