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Understanding The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Following the story of a respected scientist, Dr Jekyll, Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella exposes the fascinating idea of pushing scientific boundaries through the ‘creation’ of Mr Hyde. Published in 1886, the narrative is primarily told through the character of Mr Gabriel John Utterson, who is a lawyer and friend of Jekyll’s.

Utterson witnesses some unusual behaviour from his esteemed friend Jekyll. He also notices a concerning relationship with the violent, malicious character, Hyde. This ‘Mr Hyde’ has been causing tragedy on the streets of London, ‘trampling’ a young girl and instigating chaos.

As we go further into the mystery, Utterson realises that Hyde is Jekyll’s ‘second self’, and becoming this character allows Jekyll to indulge in his wicked, instinctual tendencies without facing consequences. However, over time, the transformations become uncontrollable and Jekyll can no longer suppress the emergence of Hyde.

Stevenson wrote this novella to explore human duality, impulse and moral duty at a time when industrialisation, scientific progress and social behaviour were drastically changing.

Character List

  • Dr Henry Jekyll: A respected doctor and scientist who has developed a potion that separates his human side from his evil side. This allows him to live out his darkest impulses as Mr Hyde. His struggle with this dual existence forms the central conflict of the novel.
  • Mr Edward Hyde: Dr Jekyll’s evil alter ego, who is unleashed after consuming a special potion. He is physically smaller, younger, and described as deformed and repugnant but extremely powerful and unrestricted by morality or societal norms.
  • Mr Gabriel John Utterson: A lawyer and a close friend of Dr Jekyll’s. He is the main narrator of the story and is known for his strong sense of morality and loyalty. He unravels the mystery behind Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
  • Dr Hastie Lanyon: A doctor and another of Dr Jekyll’s old friends. He values rationality and science, but the shock of witnessing Hyde’s transformation into Jekyll affects him profoundly. It leads to his eventual death.
  • Mr Enfield: Mr Utterson’s cousin and a companion for his Sunday walks. He first narrates an experience of seeing Mr Hyde trampling a girl, sparking Mr Utterson’s interest in Mr Hyde.
  • Sir Danvers Carew: A highly esteemed and kind man who is brutally murdered by Mr Hyde. His murder amplifies the police and Mr Utterson’s pursuit of Hyde.
  • Poole: Dr Jekyll’s loyal butler who becomes increasingly concerned about his master’s odd behaviour and isolation. He ultimately assists Utterson in breaking into Jekyll’s laboratory.
  • Inspector Newcomen: A police officer involved in investigating the murder of Sir Danvers Carew.
  • Mr Guest: Mr Utterson’s clerk and a handwriting expert who notices the similarity between the handwriting of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Chapter 1

Utterson, who is a lawyer, and his cousin, Mr Enfield, often go for walks together on Sundays. They are quite different from each other, but they enjoy their quiet walks. One day, they pass by a creepy-looking building with a worn-out door. This door and the building make them talk about a scary story linked to a man named Hyde.

Enfield tells Utterson about when he saw Hyde trample over a little girl late at night. Hyde’s strange and unpleasant look made everyone around, including a calm doctor, very upset and angry. To avoid trouble, Hyde was forced to give the girl’s family £100. He got this money from the creepy building, making people wonder about his connection to it. The cheque he used also had a well-known and respectable name on it, making people curious about how Hyde knew this person.

Utterson seems to know more about Hyde and the person whose name was on the cheque. He is clearly bothered by the story and wants to know all the correct details from Enfield. However. they both agree not to talk about Hyde and his story again, leaving a mystery about Hyde and his connection to the respectable person.

Chapter 2

Utterson is quite disturbed by Enfield’s story about Hyde and checks Dr Jekyll’s will, which shockingly states that in the case of Jekyll’s death or disappearance, all his wealth should go to Hyde. This bothers Utterson deeply, as he cannot fathom why Jekyll would leave his wealth to such a disagreeable man.

Seeking answers, Utterson visits Dr Lanyon, another friend of Jekyll’s. However, Lanyon has not seen Jekyll in a long time, claiming that he is meddling in “scientific balderdash.” Also, Lanyon does not know Hyde.

Utterson becomes obsessed with meeting Hyde. He patrols the streets near Jekyll’s house nightly, hoping to encounter him. Finally, he meets Hyde and is disturbed by his ugly and deformed appearance and hostile aura. Hyde reluctantly shows his face to Utterson and gives him his address before quickly departing into the laboratory with a key. This occurrence leaves Utterson more disturbed, contemplating the nature of Jekyll’s relationship with Hyde and fearing for Jekyll’s safety and reputation.

Utterson tries to visit Jekyll, but the servant informs him that he is out, and Hyde has a key to the house. This shocks and worries Utterson even more, making him ponder over the secrets Hyde might be holding and the danger Jekyll might be in. Utterson fears that Hyde might harm Jekyll to inherit his wealth sooner and resolves to protect Jekyll.

Jekyll’s residence symbolises the duality present in the novella: it has “a great air of wealth and comfort”, but it also conceals a secret laboratory. This symbolises the hidden, darker aspects of Jekyll’s existence.

Chapter 3

Jekyll hosts a dinner party, attended by Utterson among other guests. After the gathering, Utterson stays behind, intending to discuss Jekyll’s will with him. He is known for being a trustworthy and well-liked man, and it is common for him to stay back and share private conversations with his hosts. Jekyll is described as a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, showing traits of understanding and kindness. He has a noticeable warmth and affection for Utterson.

Utterson directly mentions Jekyll’s will, a topic that visibly disturbs the doctor. He also brings up Hyde and expresses his concerns, which are dismissed by Jekyll, who becomes visibly distressed. Jekyll insists that he can rid himself of Hyde whenever he chooses. He asks Utterson to promise to support Hyde and secure his rights should anything happen to him, emphasising that it’s a matter of great personal importance to him. Although reluctant and clearly displeased with Hyde, Utterson reluctantly gives his promise to aid Hyde for Jekyll’s sake. This highlights his unwavering loyalty and trust in Jekyll.

In Jekyll’s earnest plea to Utterson, he says:

“I only ask for justice; I only ask you to help him for my sake, when I am no longer here.”

This line portrays Jekyll’s deep and mysterious connection with Hyde and foreshadows the unfolding complications in their relationship. The assurance that Jekyll can dispose of Hyde at will raises questions about the nature of their association.

Chapter 4

Nearly a year later, a brutal crime shocks London. The city is in turmoil over the brutal attack on the well-respected Sir Danvers Carew. A maid witnesses the crime and recognises the culprit as Hyde, who attacks an aged gentleman with a cane, brutally murdering him. The crime scene is unsettling, with the broken cane and the victim’s belongings scattered around. On the body, an envelope is found addressed to Utterson.

When shown the broken cane, Utterson instantly recognises it as one he gifted to Jekyll. This therefore links Jekyll to the heinous act committed by Hyde. He and Inspector Newcomen visit Hyde’s residence to find it deserted, but it had clearly been recently ransacked, hinting at Hyde’s sudden getaway. A burned chequebook and scattered belongings suggest that he made hurried attempts to erase traces.

Nevertheless, they find a substantial amount of money in Hyde’s bank account, which intensifies the mystery surrounding him. The investigation continues, but the lack of acquaintances and the differing descriptions of Hyde complicate the pursuit.

Utterson’s decision to go to Hyde’s house, saying, “If you will come with me in my cab, I think I can take you to his house,” marks a pivotal point. It reflects his involvement and eagerness to uncover the mystery surrounding Jekyll and Hyde.

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