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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Summary, Themes, Characters and Analysis

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  • 0:00 Strange Case of Dr.…
  • 4:03 Characters
  • 5:48 Analysis of Themes
  • 7:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

Expert Contributor
Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

In this lesson, we discuss Robert Louis Stevenson's short novel, ''Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.'' After we discuss the plot, we examine the principal characters, and analyze the important themes. A short quiz follows.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson, is about a man who transforms between two personae: Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. It is an example of the Gothic genre.

Gothic stories typically blend elements from horror stories with elements from Romantic stories. The persona-changing potions, murders, and eventual suicide in the novel are all examples of the horror elements at work in the text. The Romantic element in the novel comes across in the theme of science versus nature, since Romantic works often are seen as a rebellion against science's rationalization of nature. Gothic novels often explore the human psyche and supernatural phenomena, too.

The phrase 'Jekyll and Hyde' is sometimes used colloquially to refer to someone whose actions cannot be reconciled with each other.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde focuses on John Utterson, a lawyer and friend of Dr. Jekyll. The novel begins with John Utterson talking with his other friend, who has just witnessed an odd situation. A man identified as Edward Hyde ran over a girl, only to pay off her family later with a check from Dr. Jekyll. The situation is made even stranger because Jekyll's will has recently been changed. Mr. Hyde now stands to inherit everything.

John, believing that the two men are separate people, thinks that the cruel Mr. Hyde is somehow blackmailing Dr. Jekyll. John questions Dr. Jekyll about Hyde, but Jekyll tells him to mind his own business. Unfortunately, John cannot do that.

A year later, Mr. Hyde attacks someone else: he beats a man with a cane, resulting in the man's death. The police involve John because he knew the victim. John takes them to Mr. Hyde's apartment, where they find the murder weapon, which is a gift that John himself gave to Dr. Jekyll. John questions Dr. Jekyll about Mr. Hyde again, but Jekyll insists that Mr. Hyde has run away. He shows John a goodbye note from Mr. Hyde, but the handwriting is suspiciously similar to Dr. Jekyll's.

For a while, things seem to improve. Mr. Hyde does not reappear, and Dr. Jekyll seems happier. But then one of John's friends dies suddenly. Before he dies, however, the friend gives John a letter. He says it should only be opened if Dr. Jekyll either dies or disappears.

Dr. Jekyll starts acting even weirder and shuts himself up inside his laboratory. Eventually, his butler and John break into the laboratory, concerned because the voice they heard inside is not the doctor's. Once inside, they find Mr. Hyde dressed in Dr. Jekyll's clothes and dead. He has committed suicide. Next to his body is a letter.

After he goes home again, John reads both letters now in his possession. They reveal the truth about what has been happening. The letter written by his friend who died explains that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person and that they transform back and forth via potions. The second letter, written by Dr. Jekyll, explains the purpose of the transformation: Dr. Jekyll wanted to separate his good side and his bad side. He thought he could control it with the potions, but eventually the transformations got out of control and he would transform involuntarily without the aid of the potions.

Dr. Jekyll tried several things to stop the transformations, but nothing worked. He knew he would turn into Hyde permanently. The letter was his last conscious act as Dr. Jekyll. Since Mr. Hyde is dead, it can be assumed that, unwilling to face the consequences of his violent actions, Mr. Hyde decided to kill himself first.

Characters

John Utterson is the main character in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He is a lawyer and a friend of Dr. Henry Jekyll. He suspects something weird is happening between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but he thinks that Mr. Hyde is blackmailing Dr. Jekyll. Eventually he learns that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person.

Dr. Jekyll is a scientist who, while searching for a way to separate his good self from his bad impulses, creates a potion that transforms himself into a man without a conscience. Eventually, the transformations get out of control, and he soon needs potions simply to retain his humanity. When he runs out of ingredients for those potions, Dr. Jekyll realizes that he will change into Mr. Hyde permanently.

Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll's alter ego. He has no conscience and commits several violent acts. The persona of Mr. Hyde eventually overpowers Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Hyde kills himself in the end, unwilling to face the police.

Richard Enfield is a relative of John's, who witnesses Mr. Hyde violently attack a young girl.

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Additional Activities

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Essay Prompts

1. In the lesson, you were asked to consider the theme of good versus evil. Let's look a bit deeper at the idea of both good and evil in a single individual. Everyone has some degree of positive motivation and some areas in which we might fall short. To what degree do you think Jekyll and Hyde are two different people regarding their thoughts and behavior? To what degree are they one individual? Use specific examples from the novel in your essay.

2. Think about the literary element of point of view (POV). This novel is written using the limited omniscient point of view, allowing the reader to relate to Mr. Utterson because we know what he knows and understands his thoughts. Write an essay explaining how the novel would be different for the reader if it were written from the omniscient point of view in which we would know the thoughts of all the characters. How about if the POV was first person throughout the narrative with Dr. Jekyll as narrator. Which other characters contribute to the narrative?

3. Reflect on the idea of public reputation as an influence on behavior. Remember that Dr. Jekyll's original motivation for creating Mr. Hyde was to allow his dark side to emerge while protecting his reputation as a respectable physician. Think of a character from another novel, short story, or film that also acts out of fear of "losing face." Compare and contrast that character with the portrayal of Dr. Jekyll.

Discussion Questions

1. How does the author portray women in this novel? Does that view reflect general views of women in the Victorian era? You may need to do some further reading to have this discussion.

2. At what point in the plot does Mr. Hyde's existence become a problem for Dr. Jekyll? What is your first clue as a reader that the novel will end in death?

3. Think about the role of physical appearance in this novel. Why do you think Stevenson made the physical appearance of Jekyll and Hyde so different? Look up the concept of physiognomy used in the justice system during the nineteenth century. How might this idea relate to the novel?

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