The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a novel that was written in 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson. It can be understood in many different ways as it is not confined to just one genre of writing and style. Not only does the novel explore the darker side of the human nature and the duality and diversity that was present throughout the Victorian period in Britain but also the changing in beliefs at the time, for example Darwin’s theory of evolution; this was hugely influential towards the changing beliefs of scientists and, likewise, the public.
A reflection on this indecisiveness is shown through the need to have a good reputation, it was very important that a ‘proper’ gentleman such as Utterson maintained a perfect reputation in terms of social status and class otherwise people would have seen him as a lower being. Furthermore, the difference between good and evil is also explored by the novel, and how maybe everyone has two sides to them; being divided in the way that Dr Jekyll is.
The reader can interpret the narrative as either a simple detective thriller, a horror story about a doctor with mixed personalities, or a gothic narrative; in this Dr Jekyll is a representative of Victorian London and the society, the rich and the poor, good and bad, and duality. The narrator of the story is Utterson, he is also the main character and he creates a third person perspective. However, there are many more people that have their say and that contribute to the story, as well as documents and statements for the reader to take into consideration; such as witness accounts, wills and instructions.
By making the reader analyse these key features Stevenson is trying to get the reader more involved in the text; also, the style of writing gives the impression that you are in a court case with several sides to the story coming from many different peoples’ perspectives. This sense of a courtroom is strongly supported by the fact that there are several people giving their side to the story. Stevenson uses Utterson as the narrator as it is a key aspect of how a Victorian reader would have understood the novel.
This is because Utterson was trustworthy and comforting to the Victorian reader due to his logic and professionalism. Utterson’s professional background would have been greeted by Victorian readers as it was someone they could relate to; he was a gentleman with a strong reputation which was good for a Victorian for both the social and business sides of life. However, Stevenson allows the characters in the novel to become caught up in what they’re doing, straying away from his portrayal. One example of this is Enfield as the reader never finds out just what he was doing the night when he first saw Mr Hyde.
For a normal, modern reader this would not have been a big idea as privacy plays a key role in life nowadays; but for a Victorian reader this would have made them growingly suspicious, questioning Enfield’s trustworthiness and reliability in relation to his story. Furthermore, when Enfield says; “I was coming back from some place at the end of the world, about three o’ clock of a black winter morning”, this makes it seem like Enfield is keeping something from you; what he has been doing. When hearing this, Utterson does not question Enfield’s whereabouts that night as he didn’t want to be nosy.
This heightens the respect that the Victorian readers have for Utterson as nosiness was considered a bad trait. The fact that Stevenson is building up trust for Utterson is important as we learn a lot about the plot and opinions in the novel through him. Utterson is the base at which the Victorian reader would have judged people on and hypothesized the different aspects of information as they were brought up. It is through him that the reader can read between the lines as to what the novel might be trying to express about Victorian life.
Another important character in the novel is Mr Hyde. It is Hyde who ties strongly with Darwin’s The Origin of Species and the idea that there was a missing link in evolution. At this point in time Victorians were only just getting over the fact that science had proved religion wrong therefore they were stunned as to what to believe. This uncertainness would have scared even the highest-minded gentleman and Stevenson is attacking that fear by making Hyde look like the missing link in evolution. His hideously deformed and discreet appearance adds to his mysteriousness as a character.
It seems unlikely that someone like Hyde could survive in Victorian society for one minute let alone the amount of time Hyde has spent getting away with the crimes he has committed. There is obvious contrast between Hyde and most of the other characters in the novel including Dr Jekyll and Utterson, traditionally Jekyll would have been the hero and Hyde would have been the anti-hero. However we see in the latter of the novel that this certainly isn’t the case. At the start of the novel the contrast is clearly shown; with Hyde being described inhumane; “… like some damned Juggernaut… e wasn’t like a man”, but as the novel progresses the reader finds it harder to distinguish between the characters’ personalities. It gets to the stage where the reader begins to question weather perhaps Hyde is the hero here as at least he is honest with himself and what he is. This shows again that duality is one of the central themes of the novel and it is not just reflected in the characters. Inconclusively, the settings and surroundings are also extremely important when it comes to showing duality and the division in society that was present at this time.
Pretty much the whole novel is set in a dark area, with the occasional patch of fog; it is only towards the end of the novel when Utterson begins to think he understands Jekyll and Hyde that we hear about daylight. The use of fog is also an important device as shown in the opening chapters, when the fog is lifted it is a metaphor for the fact that Utterson thinks he knows about Hyde; so the fog clears on his personality, however the fact that the fog then comes back down on Utterson is a hint to the reader that Hyde is still shrouded in mystery and fog as Utterson is wrong in his thoughts on the situation.
Wind is also used as a metaphor as it is common for Utterson to change his ideas when the wind is blowing. Wind is also used when Utterson seems to be going in the wrong direction either in terms of ideas or in terms of getting sidetracked with a red herring. The descriptions of London that Stevenson uses are to set the scene as well as give a sense of atmosphere and suspense. He uses a wide range of literary techniques to try and expose the character’s feelings as well as what the reader should expect from either this chapter or setting.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’s house is also an important literary device. It is used as a trope as it is a recurring image of the duality in society as well as the fact that Utterson always refers to it in the novel. The building represents Hyde in the way that it sticks out from the other buildings in the way that Hyde sticks out from society. Whereas all the other buildings are discreetly modest in appearance, this building is described as ugly and bland as if it is not well looked after.
This is shown when Utterson describes it as a “Sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. ” Stevenson uses the building as a metaphor for Hyde as he stands out from society in the same way that this building apparently thrusts forward from the others as if it too is separate. This is in addition to the obvious fact that the building is abnormally ugly which is the same case with Hyde.