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 are some metaphors used in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

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For reference, I'll be using a pdf version of this text.

A metaphor is a comparison that does not use "like" or "as," as a simile would. Lacking these, it is a more direct comparison, and therefore a little more difficult to detect as you're reading. Stevenson uses metaphors to enhance his characters, invoke a sense of dread, or highlight certain aspects of the setting. Figurative language is especially helpful in describing the city of London and its pervasive fog that seems to be its own character within this text.

In "The Incident of the Letter," Robert Louis Stevenson uses figurative language to describe an exchange between Utterson and his head clerk, Mr. Guest, in which the former reveals his thoughts on Hyde while under the influence of wine. It's a foggy night in London, as Stevenson describes the place as a "drowned city" (35). While not literally drowning in anything, this metaphor provides the reader with an image of a city completely covered in a fog that is debilitating:

[...] and through the muffle and smother of these fallen clouds, the procession of the town's life was still rolling in through the great arteries with a sound as of a mighty wind (35–36).

A couple metaphors to notice in this passage: the fog does not literally smother the city, but this term reinforces its effect as a complete cover, nearly suffocating its inhabitants. Referring to the streets of London as the "great arteries" is a metaphor that gives the city a sense of humanity, as though the town were a living being, pumping and moving in spite of the murky atmosphere.

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A metaphor is a comparison of two things, often using a sensory image to describe an abstract concept. Usually it is differentiated from a simile, which is a comparison using "like" or "as," but a simile is actually a form of metaphor. Here, I will point out metaphors that are not similes:

Henry Jekyll writes in his "full statement of the case" that his soul is characterized by:

even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, [which] severed in me those provinces of good and ill ...

In other words, he is picturing the dual nature of good and evil, which he argues exists in all men, as in his case separated by a wide "trench" in his soul. We can visualize the trench, a metaphor, as a deep ditch dug into the ground, keeping apart the two sides of his nature.

Later, he writes:

I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck ...

In this case, he is using the metaphor of comparing truth to a shipwreck. The truth which has caused a metaphoric shipwreck in his life is the knowledge of the two sides of human nature.

Still feeling depressed, Jekyll writes:

the doom and burthen of our life is bound for ever on man’s shoulders ...

Here, he uses the metaphor of life's unhappiness and tragedy ("doom and burthen") as a pack bound on to the back of each individual.

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In the second chapter, "The Search for Mr. Hyde," Mr. Utterson wishes to see Mr. Hyde for himself, having heard Mr. Enfield's strange story and confirmed that Dr. Jekyll's will does, indeed, name Hyde as his heir. Thus, "Mr. Utterson began to haunt the door of the by-street of shops" in the hopes that he will catch Hyde entering his front door just across the way. Utterson is described as "haunt[ing]" this area, just as a ghost would, likely because he is attempting to blend in and not be seen until he wishes it, just at the moment when he can spring forward and address Mr. Hyde. In other words, the verb "haunt" allows us to understand that Utterson is compared, via metaphor, to a ghost.  

When Utterson does catch Hyde by surprise, "Mr. Hyde shrank back with a hissing intake of the breath." Again, the verb "hissing" helps us to understand that Hyde is being compared to a snake, a creature often linked to malice and deception. We are to understand that Hyde, too, embodies these qualities.

In the same chapter, Utterson speaks to Jekyll's butler, Poole, feeling sorry for the doctor. He says, "'my mind misgives me he is in deep waters!'" Dr. Jekyll is, of course, not really in deep waters, but he seems to be in big trouble. The comparison of his trouble to a flood conveys Utterson's sense of the danger these troubles seem to pose his friend and client.

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