The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

One of the earliest and most enduring criticisms of Stevenson—that he wrote only children’s books—has perhaps arisen from confusion about his method. Although his essays, adventure and travel stories, and poems all demonstrate an ambition to produce serious and important art, the childlike imagination that infuses all of his works has been misperceived by some as merely childish. The fact that Stevenson, as an adult, had the ability to recapture the emotions and sensations of childhood and at the same time explore the ambiguities of human motivation made him a powerful and imaginative writer.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a serious romance, a genre usually intended for the instruction of the young. As a writer of romances—nineteenth century stories depicting the truth of the human heart—Stevenson successfully adapts a novel about adults into a thriller that challenges young people to consider the ambiguity of human nature. He was interested in psychology, and he excels at penetrating façades and exposing the ambiguities underneath them. The several narratives that tell the story of Jekyll and Hyde present differing views of reality and prepare the reader for the chief ambiguity in the novel—Jekyll’s attitude toward Hyde. Stevenson uses extensively the idea of the double, or Doppelgänger—the theory that an individual’s character is composed of two parts, a reasonable self and evil twin or shadow, which are constantly at war—that forms the split center of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Yet, Jekyll and Hyde (Jekyll’s double), although split, are not two. Sharing one body and one brain, they do not separate but assume a change in form in which Jekyll is replaced by Hyde, who was within Jekyll.

Jekyll, whose existence makes Hyde possible, has rejected Hyde for more than twenty years—the chemical potion representing only his most dramatic step. Hyde is slowly transformed from one who tramples a child impersonally and without conscience to a selfish, cruel creature who is consumed with malicious hatred of Jekyll. Meanwhile, Jekyll continues his dissociation from Hyde. He considers the possibility of destroying Hyde altogether, accelerates his performance of altruistic deeds, and refuses to acknowledge Hyde as a portion of himself. Hyde is enraged at his treatment by the person to whom he owes his life, and he becomes increasingly evil. He assumes control at will, and Jekyll,...

(The entire section is 603 words.)