Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is more than just a simple horror story- it contains thoughts and feelings that everyone, especially when it was released back in 1885, could connect with. It was one of the most popular books ever published at the time, selling 40,000 copies in its first 6 weeks. It is still popular today, with many stage and film versions, and the fact that ‘Jekyll and Hyde nature’ is a figure of speech, meaning two-faced. Another key to its success was the novels accurate reflection of Victorian society- respectability versus crime and prostitution, the rift between the rich and the poor, and mainly the great divide between good and evil.
The story has many reasons behind its success. One of the most important features is that the reader has to wait right until the end to discover the truth behind Jekyll’s experiment on himself. This allows Stevenson to build up suspense throughout the novel- it leaves the reader wondering why a respectable man like Jekyll would be in league with an evil man like Hyde. Another factor is how Stevenson tells the story using more than one narrator- Utterson mainly, but also Jekyll and Lanyon. This allows Stevenson to tell the story from more than one point of view. Stevenson also uses his description of settings to create an atmosphere throughout the story. He also increases the possible symbolic meaning of Jekyll’s experiment- Perhaps most importantly; Jekyll is playing God in a way by tearing his two sides apart, creating an actual split personality- one of good, and one of pure evil.
The first main point of that I wish to discuss is how suspense is used throughout the novel. One main issue with suspense is how Jekyll’s evil side, Mr Hyde, is never described in much detail. It seems that no one knows exactly what Mr Hyde looks like, thus making him more mysterious. Enfield says, “I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why” (p7) about him. Hyde is suggested to look like a person that people just hate. Maybe he has deformities or abnormalities about him, which is shown by Lanyon’s description of him on p37;
“Rather, as there was something abnormal and misbegotten in the very essence of the creature that now face me.”
Because Hyde is never truly defined, it makes the reader think that there is something wrong with Hyde’s personality, or Stevenson could be leaving Hyde’s appearance to the readers imagination.
Another issue to do with suspense is the strange, dark and mysterious connections between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and how it keeps the reader guessing what the connection is throughout the novel. The first connection is when Utterson finds Jekylls will, in which he leaves all of his possessions to Hyde. Utterson believes that Hyde must be blackmailing Jekyll using a dark secret from Jekyll’s past against him. This gives the reader the sense that Jekyll has a darker side to him than he is letting on (which turns out to be true.) The next connection is when Jekyll says, “The moment I choose, I can be rid of Hyde.” This is a strange way to describe someone, and makes Hyde sound like an addiction that Jekyll is trying to kick. Also, it makes you think- if Jekyll can get rid of Hyde at any time, why doesn’t he?
Another connection is the letter from Hyde, but it is written in Jekyll’s hand. Utterson may suspect Jekyll of ‘Forging for a Murderer’ or may still believe that Hyde is forcing Jekyll to do his bidding.
The last night is probably the strongest evidence of the connection between Jekyll and Hyde. Utterson visits Jekylls house to discover what has been happening to his friend, and he is left wondering, just like the reader, who is behind the door- Dr Jekyll, or Mr Hyde.
The second point I wish to discuss is how settings are used throughout the novel to enhance the mystery surrounding the story. One good description is used when Mr Utterson is looking for Hyde after the incident with the little girl. Stevenson uses the simile, ‘The streets are as clean as a ball-room floor,’ to show how desolate the streets were at that time.
‘Very silent’ and ‘small sounds carried far’ build up a sense of eerie silence and mystery about the emptiness of the streets, and these feelings build up tension towards a big further event in the book. The scene is almost as weird and unnatural as Hyde himself, and this setting builds up to the appearance of Hyde. Another major description is the scene before the murder of Carew, from the maid’s perspective. She makes it seem very innocent, and the description of the scene as, ‘cloudless’ and ‘brilliantly lit by the full moon’ makes the night seem amazing, which is a massive contrast with the horrific murder that takes place there, making it seem even more shocking.
Furthermore, Utterson’s description of the morning after the murder makes Soho seen like some kind of hellhole. ‘Muddy ways,’ ‘slatternly passages,’ ‘…some city in a nightmare,’ all make the city seem dark and disturbing, as though the evil of Hyde has changed the city completely. The other description that is very effective is that of the last night, which Utterson when Utterson was trying to find out what had happened to Jekyll.
‘The pale moon, lying on her back as though the wind has tilted her,’ gives the scene a very strange and dark atmosphere, as if there is something wrong with nature itself. ‘The wind made talking difficult, and flecked blood into the face.’ Talking is a very easy thing to do, so it must have been some kind of unnatural wind, therefore continuing with the sense that there is something wrong with nature itself, and the ‘flecked blood…’ makes the setting more dark, disturbing and maybe becoming violent.
The third point I wish to discuss is how different people’s points of view are used throughout the novel. Stevenson uses Utterson’s point of view to tell the story- a respectable man, and a good friend of Jekyll.
He found out things that connected Jekyll to Hyde, and he tried to cover them up to keep Jekyll’s respectable nature intact. This suggests that in the Victorian world that Jekyll lived in, reputation was more important than the truth.
The first time Utterson ‘protects’ Jekyll is when he is talking to his friend Enfield about the events that transpired that day involving Mr Hyde. He does not admit to Enfield that he in fact already knows the name of Hyde- we discover in the next chapter that it was Utterson himself that wrote Jekyll’s will, in which he left everything to Hyde. Utterson tries to keep everything to himself- it’s in his nature.
‘No, sir, I make it a rule of mine: the more it looks like Queer Street, the less I ask,’ shows his views on keeping secret, and not asking questions. Later on, Utterson wonders whether Jekyll could have a dark, murky past that Hyde is using to blackmail him, and he feels sympathy for him; maybe Utterson also has a dark past, and he can relate to Jekyll. This could be the reason why he is so keen to protect Jekyll’s reputation- to atone for his past sins.
Another sign of Utterson’s secretive nature is when he recognizes Jekyll’s walking stick at the scene of the Carew murder, but he keeps this knowledge hidden from the police. The death of Carew has made Utterson even more suspicious of Jekyll; “Henry Jekyll forge for a murderer!” but he still does not let on to anyone else. Utterson’s whole being can be seen as a metaphor for the whole of Victorian society, with all the secrecy.
The final point I wish to talk about is how Stevenson expands the significance of Jekyll’s experiment, finally revealing to us, from Jekylls point of view, that Jekyll and Hyde are in fact the same person. Stevenson links his experiment to a split in Jekyll’s character. Jekyll aims to keep his respectable and his darker sides separate, so that one side need not worry about the other. The significance of this is that Jekyll already seems to have two sides before the experiment. This news is not such a surprise to us though- Jekyll and Hyde have always been so similar, and they were never very separate. This is seen earlier in the book when Jekyll is in a rage over Lanyon (Hyde taking over) and also when he tries to tempt Lanyon into viewing the transformation back into Jekyll whilst he is Hyde.
Jekyll always seems to be in control- he talks through Hyde, and he controls Hyde. The experiment has perverted Jekyll’s original intentions, no longer is he just two sides, but he seems to want his evil side more, as if he needs Hyde, which links back to the earlier point about Jekyll’s addiction (where the only way out is his demise in the guise of Hyde.) Jekyll has a ‘Certain inpatient gaiety’ which is the side he wants to be kept hidden, and wants to ‘Carry my head high’ as his good side.
This is also evidence that Jekyll was already split before the experiment. His idea of completely separating the two sides of his nature to get rid of the conflict going on within himself is disturbing. He seems to think that cutting loose his evil side, which would have no conscience and could do anything, (shown by the murder of Carew) is the logical explanation to resolve his problems. He doesn’t even seem to consider what the effect of releasing a purely evil being could be. The whole idea is symbolic of Victorian society- if you try to suppress your bad side, it can become stronger, and slowly take over your life.
Jekyll’s first sensations of becoming Hyde are that of pain, followed by enjoyment- his body feels happy, it feels free. It suggests that Jekyll thinks the experiment was a complete success: “I felt younger, lighter, happier in body.” This feeling could be compared to taking a drug- at first, it feels good, but it slowly becomes a burden until Jekyll can no longer deal with it. Releasing his bad side has freed Jekyll, but it has cost him his life. Later on in the story, he begins to spontaneously change into Hyde. This shows that the evil inside of him is growing; the addiction is becoming worse. Hyde is becoming the more dominant side, and Jekyll now has to take the potion to change back. Jekyll has tried to keep these two sides in balance for so long, and now Hyde is taking over.
Hyde could even be seen as the new Jekyll- taking the potion to mask himself from the truth. By originally taking the potion to become Hyde, Jekyll released his true self, condemning himself to death. The end of the story is ambiguous to us- we don’t know which side was in control when they died- Jekyll could have wanted to kill Hyde, Jekyll could want to kill himself because he was stuck as Hyde, or Hyde killed himself so that he didn’t have to atone for his sins. Another reason could have been that Hyde wanted to kill Jekyll- he was hidden away for so long, and Jekyll was ‘so much better’ than Hyde. Hyde could have wanted to make sure that Jekyll stayed hidden forever, just as he had been.