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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Discussion Topic

The relationship and fascination between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel

Summary:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are two facets of the same person in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel. Dr. Jekyll is fascinated by the freedom from moral constraints that Mr. Hyde represents. This duality allows Jekyll to explore his darker impulses without guilt, ultimately leading to a struggle for control between his respectable self and his malevolent alter ego.

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Describe Dr. Jekyll's fascination with Mr. Hyde's lifestyle in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Before Dr. Jekyll created the drug that would separate the good and evil sides of man, he actually lived a dual life. He pretended to be an upright person, but he occasionally "laid aside restraint and plunged in shame." According to Jekyll's letter, when Jekyll became Hyde, he was aware of Hyde's experiences and remembered them when he returned to his Jekyll persona. On the other hand, Hyde was only vaguely aware of Jekyll when Hyde was in the ascendancy.

Stevenson is quite abstract about the dissipation Hyde participated in—other than to describe the violence against the child and the murder of Sir Danvers Carew. Jekyll's letter states that Jekyll, both while in the form of Hyde and after returning to the form of Jekyll, relished Hyde's "heady recklessness" and his livelier spirit. What appealed to Jekyll was the freedom Hyde possessed; he lived only for his personal pleasures and wasn't encumbered by rules, conscience, or other people's expectations for him.

At one point, Jekyll had to make a choice which persona to take as his own. He begrudgingly chose the persona of the "elderly and discontented doctor," and said goodbye to the "liberty, the comparative youth, the light step, leaping impulses, and secret pleasures that I had enjoyed in the disguise of Hyde." The fact that he didn't destroy Hyde's clothes or give up Hyde's house in Soho revealed his ambivalence; he was fascinated by the life Hyde led and wasn't fully convinced he wanted to abandon it.

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What makes the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fascinating in Stevenson's novel?

One major way in which Stevenson makes the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so fascinating is through his use of point of view.  Stevenson employs a third-person limited omniscient perspective; this means that the narrator is not a participant in the story and can report the thoughts and feelings of only one character, and, in this case, that character is Mr. Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's lawyer and friend.  Because we can only learn about events based on what Mr. Utterson sees and hears, the truth about the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde remains a mystery to which clues are only revealed bit by bit.  We are put into Utterson's position by being just as in the dark and confused as he is, and so our interest is piqued just as Utterson's is.  Were the story written from Dr. Jekyll's perspective, there would likely be nowhere near as much mystery, and thus we would not find the relationship nearly as fascinating.

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Describe the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel.

In Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll tells Utterson at the very beginning that Jekyll and Hyde are tied closely together, but he will give no details.

'...there is one point I should like you to understand. I have really a very great interest in poor Hyde...I do sincerely take a great...interest in that young man; and if I am taken away, Utterson, I wish you to promise me that you will bear with him and get his rights for him.'

Utterson agrees, though having met Hyde, he has found him rude and unlikeable.

Some time later a horrendous crime is committed. Sir Danvers Carew—a gentleman—is murdered one night. A maid, looking out her window as is her custom, notices two men speaking. The first is the old gentleman and the second she recognizes as Hyde. All of a sudden, Hyde attacks the old man and bludgeons him to death with his cane. The matter is brought to Utterson's attention.

'And perhaps you can help us to the man.' And [the officer] briefly narrated what the maid had seen, and showed the broken stick.

Mr. Utterson had already quailed at the name of Hyde; but when the stick was laid before him, he could doubt no longer; broken and battered as it was, he recognized it for one that he had himself presented many years before to Henry Jekyll.

Though the reader cannot be sure what the connection is, the stick which Utterson had given as a gift to Jekyll has become a murder weapon in the hands of Hyde.

When Dr. Jekyll's letter is read at the end, we learn of the "creation" of Hyde.

I drank off the potion...There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new...I felt younger, lighter, happier in body...

I knew myself...to be more wicked...and the thought...braced and delighted me like wine...I was suddenly aware that I had lost in stature.

I determined...to venture in my new shape as far as to my bedroom...and coming to my room, I saw for the first time the appearance of Edward Hyde.

This segment describes the first time Jekyll takes the potion he has concocted. He describes what his body goes through during its metamorphosis, how different he is in nature (he feels wicked and reckless) and stature (he is shorter, but feels much younger).

And...

Hence, although I had now two characters as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still the old Henry Jekyll...

And Hyde continues to appear:

Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde; but the situation was apart from ordinary laws...It was ...Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired; he would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered.

By holding Hyde responsible for his acts, Jekyll is able to maintain a quiet conscience. However, one night Jekyll goes to sleep as himself, but wakes as Hyde without taking the potion. From then on, Jekyll must continually take the brew to remain himself.

I...sicken and freeze at the mere thought of [Hyde], when I recall the abjection and passion of this attachment...I know how he fears my power to cut him off by suicide...

Jekyll hates Hyde, and Hyde knows his existence rests in Jekyll's hands. Jekyll decides that when he becomes Hyde again, he will not change back to Jekyll; he knows Hyde will commit suicide rather than be hanged for murder.

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