Why do you think Stevenson chose to tell the story from Utterson's point of view rather than using Jekyll and Hyde from the beginning? How does this choice increase the suspense of the novel?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Utterson is a respectable Victorian gentleman. In fact, he's the very epitome of Victorian respectability. He's just the kind of man that people would instinctively trust, despite the fact that he's a lawyer and no matter how strange a story he has to tell.

As an upstanding member of the...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Utterson is a respectable Victorian gentleman. In fact, he's the very epitome of Victorian respectability. He's just the kind of man that people would instinctively trust, despite the fact that he's a lawyer and no matter how strange a story he has to tell.

As an upstanding member of the legal profession, Utterson has a reputation to maintain. And that reputation would be seriously damaged were he to spin us some kind of shaggy-dog story about the weird, sensational events associated with his friend, Dr. Jekyll.

Stevenson understands that the tale he tells has so many bizarre, fantastical elements in it that his readers may well conclude that his is yet another tiresome entry in the Gothic genre. But as Stevenson is uninterested in reviving a worn-out literary genre, and as he wants to say something about contemporary society, he chooses to make his narrator someone to whom his audience can relate, someone who finds the unfolding action every bit as weird, disturbing, and grotesque as they do.

So he recounts the action of the story through the eyes of a respectable, middle-aged lawyer. And Utterson—for it is he—acts as the reader's guide through the dark, seedy underbelly of Victorian London, through the fog-wreathed streets stalked by the unspeakable Mr. Hyde.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Eight of the ten chapters in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are, although written in a third-person narrative, focused through Mr. Utterson's point of view. One reason why Mr. Utterson's point of view is chosen is because he is a reliable narrator. Stevenson begins the story by emphasizing this point. Mr. Utterson is introduced as a lawyer, who has "an approved tolerance of others," is not easily agitated, and is not judgmental. These characteristics, and also his profession, mean that we can trust what Mr. Utterson tells us over the next eight chapters. When he describes strange happenings, we trust that he is not exaggerating. We believe that those strange happenings occurred in just the way that he describes, and this in turn makes the questions we ask about those happenings all the more curious. If we didn't believe what the narrator was telling us, then our questions would be less urgent and the suspense less gripping.

Another reason for having Mr. Utterson as the narrative point of view is that he becomes the detective. He declares in chapter 2 that "If he be Mr. Hyde . . . I shall be Mr. Seek." Having Mr. Utterson in this detective role, and the story told from his point of view, means that the reader also becomes a detective. We share the detective role with Mr. Utterson because we see things only from his point of view. We follow him and discover clues, one by one, along with him, knowing no more and no less than he does at any point in the story. Each clue generates more and more questions, to which neither Mr. Utterson nor we, the readers, know the answers. We get to share the suspense with him. We also, of course, get to share with him the moments of revelation toward the end of the story, which are our rewards for the detective work we have done alongside Mr. Utterson up until those moments.

If Robert Louis Stevenson had chosen Dr. Jekyll as the narrator from the beginning, or Mr. Hyde, instead of Mr. Utterson, the reader would have known straight away that Jekyll and Hyde are two manifestations of the same person, and the shock of that climactic revelation at the end of the book would have been lost.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrative structure of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is complex. The novel has a third person narrator who generally follows the viewpoint of Mr. Utterson and has full access to Utterson's thoughts, perceptions, and actions. Utterson is a good choice of narrator as he is intelligent, observant, and reliable.

Utterson, however, is not initially in full possession of the facts concerning the mysterious Mr. Hyde and must go through many steps, including reading documents, to ascertain what actually happened. The fact that Utterson does not know all the details of what is happening to Jekyll allows Stevenson to build suspense. Readers gradually piece together the story along with Utterson, encountering troubling incidents and pieces of information to increase suspense.

It should be noted that two final chapters which provide the resolution to the story actually are embedded narratives with first person narrators, namely "Dr. Lanyon’s Narrative" and "Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Stevenson likely chose to have Utterson narrate the story so that the audience would see the story unfold as he does, increasing suspense and tension as we must wonder with him what on earth is going on with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  If either Jekyll or Hyde were the narrator, there would be almost no suspense because either one would be able to explain to us, from the beginning, what the nature of their relationship is and how they are connected.  However, as it is, whenever Utterson is confused and suspicious, so are we.  Whenever he lacks information, so do we, and so Stevenson succeeds in creating a great deal more suspense by revealing the strange case to us as it is revealed to Utterson.  Then, as he pieces the full story together from Lanyon's narrative as well as Jekyll's letter, we see the big picture at the same time, finally relieving the tension for all of us. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team