How does Stevenson create menace and suspense in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Stevenson's style is one distinct way he is able to communicate menace and suspense in the narrative. Nabokov noted this in his analysis:  "Stevenson had to rely on style very much in order to perform the trick, in order to master the two main difficulties confronting him: (1) to make the magic potion a plausible drug based on a chemist's ingredients and (2) to make Jekyll's evil side before and after the"hybridization" a believable evil." Nabokov's point helps to explain how menace and suspense are enhanced in the narrative.  Stevenson constructs a narrative where one recognizes the validity of both expressions of reality.  Stevenson's style is one where he continually alludes to the duality that exists within the human predicament:  "I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why ... He gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point ... I can't describe him." By constructing a reality where a sense of that which is socially accepted is offset by a "haunting sense of unexpressed deformity," Stevenson is able to construct menace and suspense.   The stark reality of both visions of reality is where Stevenson is able to communicate a sense of menace and suspense.

Along these lines, menace and suspense is evident in trying to figure out which force will win.  The socially acceptable force of Henry Jekyll is challenged with the “murderous mixture of timidity and boldness" in Hyde.  Both forces are shown to be equally dominant.  As much as one wants to embrace Jekyll because he reaffirms social structures, one is repulsed by Hyde.   Menace and suspense are displayed in the ongoing challenges within both personalities.  At some point, the reader understands that only one will win.  Which one becomes the source of menace and suspense.  If Hyde wins, to a great extent, redemption is denied.  When Jekyll realizes the need to commit suicide, the reader's fear and their own perceptions of internal suspense and menace subside.  Exploring the presence of both dynamics, what Jekyll would call "the agonized womb of consciousness," is where menace and suspense reside. In a world where singularity is sought and in a reader that embraces singularity from duality, Stevenson enhances menace and suspense because one of these forces must win.  Menace and suspense exists in how such agony is resolved.

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