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.
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.
Dr. Lanyon discovers the connection between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; he grows ill and dies. Before his death, he leaves John Utterson a letter detailing the connection between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Mr. Poole is Dr. Jekyll's butler. He helps John Utterson at the end of the novel, when it is clear that Dr. Jekyll has gone insane.
Inspector Newcomen contacts John Utterson to help him with the case, after Sir Danvers Carew, a client of John Utterson's, is murdered by Mr. Hyde,
Sir Danvers Carew is one of Mr. Hyde's victims.
Analysis of Themes
Good versus evil is one of the most significant themes in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel. Dr. Jekyll's desire to separate and rid himself of his evil side results in a potion that actually transforms him into a brute of a man without a conscience. Every time Mr. Hyde does something bad, Dr. Jekyll attempts to fix it, usually with money to the victim or the victim's family.
The novel was also written during a time when England was very obsessed with the notion of propriety. The repression present in English society during the time of the novel's publication is the motivating factor for Dr. Jekyll's search for a way to get rid of his 'evil' impulses. It is, sadly, not a successful search.
Another big theme in this novel is science versus nature. Dr. Jekyll uses science (potions) in an attempt to control his human nature. Due to one of the ingredients being contaminated with some unknown component, the potion successfully transforms him into the persona that comes to be known as Mr. Hyde. This is not scientifically possible, of course. It is, however, supposed to be a scientific transformation, albeit a more mystical type of science, since it is caused by ingesting a certain combination of ingredients.
In the end, nature trumps science because the potions stop being effective. Even before Dr. Jekyll runs out of the necessary ingredients, he starts to transform into Mr. Hyde without the use of any potions at all. This shows how human nature (and nature in general) will triumph over science.
Another interesting theme in the novel is the theme of appearances. Mr. Hyde is the same person as Dr. Jekyll, but instead of the transformation just resulting in a man without a conscience, the transformation actually results in a physical change, too. The internal characteristics are reflected externally. Unlike Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde is physically hideous. In addition to being ugly, he is unrecognizable as Dr. Jekyll, since even when John Utterson comes up against him on the street, he does not recognize him.
Written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a Gothic novel. In the novel, Dr. Jekyll transforms into Mr. Hyde, a man without a conscience, through the use of potions. Eventually the transformations get out of control, and his friends become aware of his situation. But they are too late to stop him, since Mr. Hyde takes over permanently and then commits suicide out of despair. The novel also explores the themes of good versus evil, science versus nature, and appearances.
When you are finished, you should be able to:
- Recall the elements of a Gothic novel
- Summarize the events of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Name the characters found in the story
- Discuss the themes found in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde