Literary Analysis pf Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson in the nineteenth century. One main character in the novel is Dr. Jekyll, who is reasonable and has morals, but he is two-faced. The other character is Mr. Hyde, who is aggressive, irrational, and evil since he is portrayed as responsible for the death of Sir Danvers Carew.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde novel can be explored further using other literary works such as “The Norton Introduction to Literature” by Kelly J. Mays. Therefore, the aspects of novel’s plot, narration and point of view, characters, historical context of the novel, and the concept of dual nature will be used to analyze the novel. Thus, examining the novel using the historical context, dual nature, and plot is essential.
The novel’s plot is developed over the ten chapters of the book. According to Mays, a story is referred to as the events that are recounted in a work of fiction (75). The plot is separated into five sections: the exposition, the turning point, the growing momentum, the recession of the action, and the ending. (Mays, 78). An exposition introduces the novel’s characters and their background information.
In the novel, the author presents a character named Mr. Utterson, a lawyer, who is asked by Mr. Enfield, his cousin, to look into Mr. Hyde, who had offended the girl, and this is seen in the first chapter. In the rising action part, a conflict usually arises as inciting incidences to prevail (Mays,79). In the novel, there is a conflict of interest between Mr. Utterson and Dr. Jekyll over the latter’s will and another conflict between Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll (Fumba et al., 17). For example, Hyde kills Sir Danvers, Dr. Lanyon falls ill and dies, Dr. Jekyll is the prime suspect, and Dr. Jekyll denies people entry into the laboratory (Fumba et al., 18). Thus, from the second part, conflicts are incited by certain situations.
The third part is the turning point characterized by intense emotional dispositions. In the novel, it is shown that Mr. Poole and Mr. Utterson eventually break into the laboratory and find the body of Mr. Hyde, who had committed suicide. They find a letter addressed to Mr. Utterson, and confusion erupts in chapter eight. The fourth part is the falling action gravitates toward releasing emotional tensions and resolution of conflicts (Mays, 80). In this part, Dr. Lanyon’s letter is the central focus point, which he had addressed to Mr. Utterson, who was not to open it until Dr. Jekyll died or disappeared.
From the letter, it comes to Mr. Utterson’s attention that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were the same people living in dual human nature. The fifth and last part is the conclusion which provides the reader with a stable situation where conflicts have been resolved and norms restored (Mays, 80). Thus, the chapters are presented in the above way to create a coherent and logical development of events. From the novel, this part is actualized where Mr. Utterson learns of Dr. Jekyll’s transformation into Mr. Hyde and what transpired.
Narration and Point of View
The novel, Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is told in three types of narrations. Third-person narration is portrayed whereby the unidentified narrator refers to the characters in he, she, and they pronouns (Mays, 170). An example from the novel is, “It seems she was romantically given, for she sat down upon her box, which stood immediately under the window” (Bowen and Stevenson, 35). According to Mays, the first-person narration uses a singular pronoun, ‘I’, hence, an internal narrator (170). An example from the novel is when Mr. Utterson identifies Sir Danvers’ body. He says, “I am sorry to say that this is Sir Danvers Carew” (Bowen and Stevenson, 38). The second-person narration is also depicted in the novel where the narrator uses the term ‘we’ during his narration. An instance is a dialogue between Mr. Utterson and Dr. Lanyon where the former says, “We are three very old friends, Lanyon; we shall not live to make others” (Bowen and Stevenson, 57). Therefore, three types of narrative are explored in the novel.
Historical Context and Setting
The novel is set at the end of the 19th century in London. It was written during the Victorian period when people were expected to act in accordance with unwritten rules and regulations in society (Fumba et al., 13). The Victorian era had a common belief that human beings had a dual nature, represented by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Fumba et al., 14). During this period, there is a division between the social strata depicted by Dr. Jekyll, who is in the middle class and Mr. Hyde in the lower class. Dr. Jekyll lives in a townhouse in an estate characterized by similar houses (Bowen and Stevenson, 26). At the same time, Mr. Hyde lives in Soho, a downtown market in London, which is known as a hideout for robbers, lower-class people, and prostitutes (Bowen and Stevenson, 22). From the title, the word case is used in the novel to refer to the scientific experiment conducted by the supposed Dr. Jekyll. Consequently, the concept of science is significant in the book. When the word strange is used, it depicts a scientific case that is out of the norm that is supernatural in some way.
Significantly, the action in the novel occurs in Victorian England. This is because Jekyll wants the freedom which Hyde enjoys. Accordingly, the novel’s theme appears as if it reflects Victorian England’s craving for development and changing arrangements. It is interesting to observe that the Victorian setting in London influences Hyde’s creation (Bowen and Stevenson, 26). Therefore, Jekyll attempts to use Hyde to change his way of life and the routines of Victorian England.
In every fictional story, there are two types of personages; the major and minor characters. In the novel, the major protagonists are Mr. Utterson, who is a lawyer in London and a trustworthy man, as seen when Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll leave him letters. The second main character is Dr. Jekyll who is a doctor and scientist and holds the opinion that every human being has a dual nature (Stevenson, Louis, and Glasser, 113). He has done experiments on his assumption in the laboratory and succeeded in detangling his evil side as a person named Hyde; however, in the long run, he dies. The third main character is Mr. Hyde who is depicted as Dr. Jekyll’s dark persona. He is described as a troglodyte as when he is first introduced in the novel; he is an ugly, deformed and caveman. The meaning of the word “troglodyte” explains the strange appearance of a man who is different from the average person. He causes fear in those around him; this is demonstrated when Utterson encounters Hyde late at night and is frightened afterward.
The minor characters in the novel are Mr. Enfield, Mr. Utterson’s distant cousin and Dr. Lanyon, a doctor and Jekyll’s closest friend. Other minor characters are Poole, Jekyll’s servant, Mr. Guest, who is Utterson’s clerk and handwriting expert, and Sir Danvers, an old member of parliament and Utterson’s client. For example, Poole performs his duties given to him by Jekyll (Stevenson, Louis, and Glasser, 113). The significance of this minor character is to reinforce Jekyll’s actions. Therefore, the main protagonists are central to the conflict of the primary plot and the story. Secondary personalities support the central characters but have less influence on the narrative.
Stevenson describes the duality of human nature, observing that everyone has a good and a bad aspect of their personality. At the same time, the critical factor is the behavior and decision a human being makes. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is a respected, intelligent scientist; however, he has a negative aspect of his identity. This side of his personality is inactive, but she determines to activate it through her experiments (Stevenson, Louis, and Glasser, 113). Thus, readers can see Mr. Hyde committing cruel acts of violence against others. Through this change in Jekyll’s nature, Stevenson illustrates the duality of human nature and the idea that everyone is capable of satisfactory and evil acts.
The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a fictional story written in the nineteenth century. It mainly revolves around Mr. Hyde, a troglodyte, as he does not seem to care about his reputation. He commits terrible acts of violence, including killing Sir Danvers and hurting a girl he meets. Through science, Dr. Jekyll creates an evil man who discovers his dark side. Mr. Hyde is depicted as a primitive animal that has zero regards for the societal set rules and regulations. The dual nature of Dr. Jekyll, therefore, asserts that there are two sides to a person, good and evil. If the evil side is let loose, chaos and deaths are likely to develop. Significantly, the fictional story establishes many literary techniques, such as telling it from different persons or dividing it into secondary and main personages.
Bowen, Carl, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896, p 1-141.
Fumba, Norman et al. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Study Guide. Department of Basic Education, 2019.
Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature. 13th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2019, p. 75-730.
Stevenson, Robert Louis, and Brian Glasser. “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Medicine and Literature. CRC Press, 2018. 105-118.