illustration of a face with two separate halves, one good and one evil, located above the fumes of a potion

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson

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What is the conflict in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

While the biggest conflict in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is Jekyll's fight to prevent Hyde from overtaking his identity and his life, he is also involved in external conflicts with Gabriel Utterson and Dr. Lanyon.

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde features both internal and external conflicts.

The central thematic conflict is internal: Jekyll versus his own animalistic, evil impulses which are personified in the character of Mr. Hyde. Jekyll wishes to separate his wickedness from his everyday, upstanding persona. This wickedness is expressed through Hyde, allowing Jekyll to indulge himself while keeping his Jekyll persona untainted. However, Hyde soon proves stronger than Jekyll, with the latter unable to control when his Hyde persona takes over. Eventually, he commits suicide to prevent losing himself to Hyde entirely.

Other conflicts are external. The novel tells the story largely from the perspective of Gabriel Utterson, Jekyll's lawyer, who investigates the doctor's strange behavior and initially believes Hyde to be a blackmailer leeching Jekyll's bank account. As a result, he unwittingly puts himself in conflict with Jekyll/Hyde. Jekyll yearns to keep his second life a secret, while Utterson wants to understand Hyde's parasitic attachment to Jekyll.

There is also conflict between Jekyll and his former friend Dr. Lanyon. Lanyon severely disapproves of Jekyll's theories regarding good and evil, finding them ridiculous. This disagreement destroys their friendship. Lanyon espouses a rational, even simple view, of the world, while Jekyll seeks to push beyond what is known. The conflict between these characters ends in the death of Lanyon, who is so traumatized to learn that Jekyll and Hyde are the same man that he cannot bear to live in the light of what that fact suggests about human nature.

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Dr. Jekyll's conflict is that he wants to be both wholly good and wholly bad at the same time. He realizes that these two sides of his nature can't be reconciled.

He fully wants to be the morally upright, dedicated, virtuous, exemplary man that most of his friends believe him to be. However, he also dislikes having to control his darker, more aggressive, and more atavistic (primal) instincts. He wants this more dangerous part of himself to have freedom, too.

Therefore, he does experiments that allow him to separate his good and bad sides—his superego and his id, in Freudian terms (though Freud was not yet on the scene)—into two separate people. Dr. Jekyll represents his good, socially acceptable side, while Mr. Hyde embodies his selfish, evil, and murderous side.

Unfortunately, being more primitive and ruthless, Mr. Hyde gains the upper hand. This leads Dr. Jekyll to a second conflict: what can he do to stop Mr. Hyde and his anti-social behavior? Dr. Jekyll is caught between the need to commit suicide, which would kill the Mr. Hyde part of himself, and the desire to stay alive.

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The primary conflict in the story is character vs. self : Dr. Jekyll vs. Mr. Hyde, who is simply the darker side of Henry Jekyll. Rather than try to control his desire for pleasure or to break social rules, Dr. Jekyll attempts to rid himself of the part of his character, the part of his nature that tempts...

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him to do so. He doesn't want to live with the discomfort of self-denial (denying himself pleasure) or personal hypocrisy (espousing one set of values publicly while conducting himself by another set privately), so he simply attempts to shed the part of himself that desires to do things which are socially unacceptable. This way, he does not have to exercise self-control or discipline because he'll no longer have the urge to things he is not supposed to do. Things don't go as planned because, it turns out, the part of him that wants to do dark deeds actually becomes stronger than the part of him that wants to resist. In this way, Jekyll really loses in this conflict; he loses to his own human nature.

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The conflict in Robert Louis Stevenson's Gothic novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the struggle between Dr. Henry Jekyll and the dual nature of his personality. As a Victorian, Dr. Jekyll enjoys the reputation and recognition of the best social sets. He is known as a man of prudence and intelligence, which is what earns the respect that he gets from his upper-class peers.

Yet, it is quite obvious that there is a dark side that Henry Jekyll wishes to experience, and he does not openly attempt to do it because of his fear of breaking the iron-clad rules of decorum that dominate the overall psyche of the Victorian society where he lives.

To be able to indulge in the pleasures of sin and innate secret desires, Jekyll abides by his Promethean nature of desiring to change the natural order of things and creates a way to transform himself into another man: Mr. Edward Hyde; one who does as he pleases and responds only to his own wants and operates under his basic Id.

Hence, the conflict: In wanting so badly to protect the outer image of Dr. Jekyll, and also in wanting so badly to indulge in the sins of Mr. Hyde, Henry Jekyll does not take into consideration that both personalities would still need to be under control. Mr. Edward Hyde is never controlled, and is left to act as badly as he wants. It is this freedom that grants Hyde the power and the strengths that make him so much stronger than Dr. Jekyll. Conclusively, Hyde's inherent and sinful nature (perhaps ALL of our natures, as well?) is much more powerful than the monitored and well-manicured persona of Dr. Jekyll that the world sees.

The resolution begins when Hyde starts taking over and dominating the persona of the man. Hence, whenever Jekyll is able to go back to being himself, he immediately locks himself in his lab. The experiment of the dual personality has gone completely awry and, from what the reader learns, the man kills himself...under the personality of Hyde. We learn about the resolution through Lanyon's letters which also represent one of the most climactic moments of the novel.

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