How does Stevenson create a sense of intrigue that engages the reader's interest in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A mythopoetic figure, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde fascinates readers because of the human wonder about good vs. evil: Can they be separated? Can evil be summoned? Stephen Gwynn calls the novella

...a fable that lies nearer to poetry than to ordinary prose fiction.

Indeed, it is a penetrating psychological work that Robert Louis Stevenson has written. One critic writes,

...the notion of evil and the frailty of conscience coincides here with Stevenson's imaginative treatment and literary craftsmanship to form a work of remarkable power....

Indeed, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde creates intrigue that engages the reader's interest through various techniques.

  • Imaginative Intensity

In Chapter II, the lawyer Utterson dreams of the ghoulish man he has seen trample a child and continue on. As he dreams, he has wild imaginings:

Or else he would see a room in a rich house, where his friend lay asleep... and then the door of that room would be opened, the curtains of the bed plucked apart, the sleeper recalled, and lo! there would stand by his side a figure to whom power was given, and, even at that dead hour, he must rise and do its bidding.

Of course, the descriptions of the changes that transform Jekyll into Hyde are also intense, as are Jekyll's struggles to surpress Hyde.

  • Narrative Pace

The changes that occur in Dr. Jekyll as he tests his evil side are swift, too swift. As Jekyll finds himself transforming into Hyde unexpectedly, he must procure more of the chemicals needed. At this point in the narrative, the pace of the novella quickens. In Chapter X, for instance, Jekyll writes in desperation to his old friend Dr. Lanyon to supply him with necessary chemicals. Dr. Lanyon brings the drugs to Jekyll and describes how Jekyll "sprang to it" and the terrifying movements against hope.

  • "Delicious Horror"

In Chapter I, the lawyer, Mr. Utterson, relates to Mr. Enfield,

I saw... a little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of may be eight or ten.... Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner; and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground.... it was hellish to see. It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernault.

Later, of course, the horror increases as Hyde, the evil side of Dr. Jekyll overtakes the man. He writes in his statement that he is doomed to "a dreadful shipwreck." He writes that both sides of him are at war, "polar twins" that struggle.

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