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Character Analysis of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

We could consider Dr Henry Jekyll and Mr Edward Hyde as one single entity: they arguably exist as one form. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella, the accomplished scientist Dr Jekyll transforms into the monstrous Mr Hyde through a potion.

We are presented with a protagonist that has two sides:

  • Jekyll’s side of the character signifies the human struggle with temptation and curiosity
  • Hyde embodies dangerous impulses and darker human qualities

Dr Jekyll’s persona

The main protagonist is kind and mild. In chapter three, Jekyll’s appearance is described as having “every mark of capacity and kindness… a blackness about his eyes” perhaps foreshadowing the darkness that will soon shroud his entire body by creating ‘Hyde’.

At the time, society would have thought very highly of a scientist like Jekyll, but Stevenson subverts this idea, and instead sows doubt in the reader’s mind. By the end, this character is trapped in his tragic downfall, and he writes a letter expressing his remorse. Perhaps Stevenson chooses this ending to suggest that science should not be pushed too far.

Mr Hyde’s persona

Mr Hyde is described as a “creature,” emphasising that he is supposed to be something monstrous, following animalistic instinct. Readers of the time were fascinated by the concept of the gothic and supernatural – things unexplained – and Hyde’s persona seems to be about appealing to this interest.

Hyde is described as having “something abnormal and misbegotten in the very essence of the creature.” The use of the word “essence” might hint at Jekyll’s lingering presence within Hyde. Hyde’s violent and primal nature is further emphasised with descriptors like the simile “ape-like fury,” pointing to his animalistic tendencies. Throughout the novella, words such as “savage,” “trampling,” and “shattered” consistently build a theme of destruction and violence associated with Hyde’s character.

Mr Utterson

Mr Gabriel John Utterson serves as the narrator, and readers might consider him reliable. In the opening chapter, he is described as “lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow loveable.”

As Jekyll’s friend, Utterson remains loyal, but this loyalty is shown to be a detriment to society. Perhaps Stevenson is providing some sort of critique on the gentlemanly way of society, where people were afraid to stand up for their suspicions (or flag up wrong-doings of any respected figures).

As a lawyer, the character represents the search for truth, which is not achieved when he does not follow up his intuitions about Jekyll. His statement, “If he be Mr. Hyde, I shall be Mr. Seek,” highlights his commitment and inquisitive nature. We also learn, early in the novella, that Utterson upholds a close relationship with his cousin, Enfield, since they walk together every Sunday.

Dr Hastie Lanyon

Lanyon stands in contrast to Utterson because he is willing to distance himself from Jekyll. Also, Lanyon focuses on science that is logical and materialistic, whilst Jekyll pursues metaphysical (more mystical) science.

Lanyon also represents the conflict at the time between religion and science, with Lanyon balancing his scientific pursuits with religious thoughts. He declares, “[Jekyll] began to go wrong, wrong in mind, such scientific balderdash.” The repetition underscores how “wrong” Lanyon believes the doctor to be. The term “balderdash” also implies how dismissive Lanyon is towards Jekyll’s work.

Sir Danvers Carew

Only present in the novella for “The Carew Murder Case,” Carew’s character solidifies Hyde’s violent capabilities. When Carew is murdered (chapter four), his bones are “audibly shattered” when he is “trampled” to death by Hyde.

Stevenson’s use of graphic imagery in this scene causes readers to feel sympathetic (towards the innocent and elderly Carew), and highly fearful of Hyde’s growing ferocity. The murder provides tension for the rest of the novel, where readers might wonder what Hyde will do next.

Mr Richard Enfield

Enfield is a plot device, used to ignite and unravel Utterson’s interest in figuring out who Mr Hyde is.

As Utterson’s cousin, Victorian readers would have been familiar with Enfield maintaining a good public appearance by taking a walk with his cousin. However, the character shows that even the respected gentlemen would engage with gossip: Enfield has no interest in uncovering Hyde, yet is happy to keep talking about him:

“the more it looks like Queer street, the less I ask.”

Poole

Having lived in Dr Jekyll’s house for twenty years, the servant is a loyal and somewhat short-tempered character. He aims an interrogative at Utterson:

“do you think I do not know my master after twenty years?”

Poole

This character shows the class structure: he is there to serve, but is protective using the possessive “my” in reference to his “master.”

At the end of the novella, Stevenson breaks class norms by having Poole break into the laboratory with Utterson. However, this remains an act of loyal protection for Jekyll, whereby Poole is concerned by his master’s changes:

“I don’t like it, sir…”

Poole

Ultimately, Stevenson writes the novella to explore and examine the consequences of complex human desires.

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