Two writers corroborated each other’s theories despite the years between them. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886 and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published the true account of The Gulag Archipelago in 1973 although he wrote it in the 1950s and 60s.
In The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn sums up the problem when he says, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
In his exploration of the topic Stevenson creates a character named Dr. Jekyll who experiments until he can separate his evil side, Mr. Hyde, from his good side. He is then free to choose who he wants to be and no one is any the wiser. Now he can do the things he always wanted to do without getting caught. However, gradually Hyde takes over, the evil growing stronger with time, until it culminates in his killing a man for jostling him on the street. Now Jekyll suffers regrets:
The problem of my conduct was solved. Hyde was thenceforth impossible; whether I would or not, I was now confined to the better part of my existence; and O, how I rejoiced to think of it! with what willing humility I embraced anew the restrictions of natural life! with what sincere renunciation I locked the door by which I had so often gone and come, and ground the key under my heel.
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.
Socrates taught us: ‘Know thyself!’
It is in knowing ourselves that we can make use of John Steinbeck’s exploration of the Hebrew word Timshel, a concept explored at length in his novel East of Eden. Translated to thou mayest, it means we were made to have the choice in what we do and how we respond to what is done to us. Timshel changes everything in our relationship with God. We are not puppets, we have free will, and that makes all the difference.
Perhaps the wind is dying down as our bus continues on.
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
Lee in East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Off the Beaten Path:
Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been made into movies, audiobooks, stage productions and a video game. An audiobook version can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcczA9Cwbow
A clip from the 1941 movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: https://youtu.be/4kmeixKc9yk
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. For an explanation of his ideas see The Gulag Archipelago and The Wisdom of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: https://youtu.be/t–pNU9ZfVE
John Steinbeck’s East of Eden can be found as novel, miniseries and movie. A clip from the movie: https://youtu.be/WpO_eNT9StE
Mumford & Sons explanation and recording of their song Timshel: https://www.songfacts.com/facts/mumford-sons/timshe