The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a Gothic novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886. The novel deals with themes such as mystery, the duality of the human being and the supernatural. In this summary, you will learn the key characters and themes of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The novel starts with a respectable lawyer named Mr Utterson and his friend Enfield on their weekly walk. Enfield tells the story of a disturbing creature named Mr Hyde that trampled a young girl and bribed her parents with a cheque signed by a reputable gentleman.
Utterson goes home and notices that one of his clients and close friends, Dr Jekyll, has left all of his property to the strange Mr Hyde. Motivated by nightmares of a strange figure in a distorted version of London, the lawyer visits Dr Lanyon (Jekyll's science partner). Lanyon says he no longer works with Dr Jekyll due to a dispute over Jekyll's experiments.
Mr Utterson tries to check on Dr Jekyll who is not home, though Jekyll's butler (Poole) tells him that Mr Hyde has keys to Dr Jekyll's home. Later on, Dr Jekyll hosts dinner and Utterson asks him about Mr Hyde, but Dr Jekyll promises he won't see Mr Hyde again.
A year later, it is found that Mr Hyde murdered Sir Danvers Carew, a well respected man and Utterson's client. Utterson grows suspicious of Mr Hyde as the murderer. So, he goes to Dr Jekyll to make sure he is not hiding Mr Hyde. Dr Jekyll shows him a note written by Hyde apologising for the problems caused.
Utterson visits Lanyon who is dying from shock and he gives Utterson a letter that he can only open after Dr Jekyll's death. Meanwhile, Dr Jekyll refuses any visitors. Poole (Dr Jekyll's butler) concerned by Dr Jekyll, visits Utterson and tells him that Dr Jekyll has been locked in his lab and something is wrong with him.
Mr Utterson and Poole go to Dr Jekyll's house and a voice that sounds nothing like Dr Jekyll insists that they should not enter. They break the door and find Mr Hyde wearing Dr Jekyll's clothes and dying after ingesting poison.
The narrative shifts to Lanyon's letter that reveals his death was caused by the shock of witnessing Mr Hyde turn into Dr Jekyll. The last chapter is a letter from Dr Jekyll explaining how he had created a potion that separated his good side from his uncivilised dark side, Mr Hyde.
DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE
The character of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde shows the dichotomy of the nature of man and his corruption. On one hand, Dr Jekyll represents the civilised self. On the other hand, Mr Hyde represents the evil part of the self that is repressed by the human being.
Utterson represents the Victorian society. He is a man of manners and reputation. His loyalty is what makes him investigate the relationship between his friend Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Lanyon is the first person to see Jekyll's transformation. As a scientist, he cannot bear the result of Jekyll's experiment. He embodies scepticism and rationalism.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are two faces of the same coin. The relationship between these two characters illustrates the dichotomy of good and evil that is present in all human beings; everyone is capable of performing either a good or a bad side. For this reason, Dr Jekyll despises Mr Hyde and the power he has over him. Dr Jekyll believes Mr Hyde is able to do horrible things, which is why committing suicide is his only way to stop him.
Stevenson presents the theme of friendship through the relationship between Mr Utterson and Dr Jekyll. It is the bond of Mr Utterson with Dr Jekyll that motives him to pursue the case to help his friend.
Good and evil is a recurrent topic in the novel. The good side of human beings is reflected in civil and public life, as well as reputation. On the other hand, the evil side is portrayed through desires and passions. For example, Dr Jekyll is a common human being with a good and a bad side, however, his experiments lead him to activate that bad side (Mr Hyde). This shows how evil thoughts exist inside everyone, even if those thoughts are repressed.
The novel portrays how Dr Jekyll consciously splits himself into two different characters. In this way, he can maintain his good reputation as Dr Jekyll while revealing his dark side as Mr Hyde. The split self is also a representation of the shift between the natural and the supernatural due to Dr Jekyll's experiments.
During the Victorian period, many changes were taking place as a result of the Industrial Revolution; so society was adapting to the two different realities from natural farming to new technologies.
Self-control is depicted through the characters of Utterson and Enfield as they try to maintain sanity and common sense despite the circumstances. For this reason, Utterson and Endfield avoid gossip since they think it ruins their reputation.
For instance, when Utterson suspects Dr Jekyll might be hiding Mr Hyde, he does not share his suspicions to protect his friend's reputation. Self-control also illustrates the need of the Victorian society to maintain a facade or appearance that often hides a vile underside.
"And yet when I looked upon that ugly idol in the glass, I was conscious of no repugnance, rather of a leap of welcome. This, too, was myself... This, as I take it, was because all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil."
Good and evil
In this chapter, Jekyll describes what is like to turn into Hyde. When he looks at himself in the mirror, he embraces the fact that, like every human being, there is both good and evil in the nature of the self.
"With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two."
The split self
In Dr Jekyll's final letter, a significant theme is exposed: human nature is made up of dualities and oppositions. Dr Jekyll's truth summarises in the idea of a fragmented man and soul.
"Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection, and began to look round me and take stock of my progress position in the world, I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life."
This quote portrays how Jekyll was already living a split life even before Mr Hyde appeared. He had to satisfy his needs in secret and also repress them to maintain self-control and keep his clean reputation in the eyes of the Victorian society.
Question: What is a recurrent topic in The Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
Answer: Good and evil is a recurrent topic in the novel. The good side of human beings is reflected in civil and public life, as well as reputation. On the other hand, the evil side is rendered in desires and passions.
Question: What does Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde represent?
Answer: The character of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde shows the dichotomy of the nature of man and his corruption. On the one hand, Dr Jekyll represents the civilised self. On the other hand, Mr Hyde represents the evil part of the self that is repressed by the human being.
Question: What is The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde about?
Answer: The novel deals with themes such as mystery, the duality of the human being and the supernatural.