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Free Study Guide-Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson-Synopsis
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In one sense, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novel of discovery, and hence its structure is appropriate to a novel of discovery. The first chapter, in which Enfield narrates to Utterson the incident of Hyde's trampling of a girl, serves as an exposition for the entire novel. Utterson's discovery that the man stipulated in Jekyll's will is apparently a cruel monster will send him in search of Hyde and lead to the rise in action of the plot.

Utterson, as he explores the strange relationship between Jekyll and Hyde, is the filter through which the reader receives much of the tale. Although he is an eyewitness to many important events, there is much information that he cannot or does not obtain. Thus, for most of the novel, the reader only knows what he knows. What Utterson cannot know, Stevenson only hints at. The reader thus participates in the mystery in much the same way that Utterson does.

The climax of the novel is reached through the catastrophe that annihilates Jekyll and Hyde together. Hyde, fearing capture, commits suicide, and Poole and Utterson find his still-twitching body. There is no sign of Jekyll, however. Poole and Utterson are utterly confused, and the reader is left to wonder and piece the story together so far. The action falls in the final two chapters as the mystery is revealed.

The outcome of the protagonist's transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is tragic. Jekyll finds it impossible to overcome Hyde's hold on him; thus, his scientific discovery, which should have been an act of triumph, leads to his tragic death.


Major Themes

Stevenson's novel psychologically explores the dual nature of the human personality. It suggests a co-existence in the human body and soul of goodness, morality, and idealism along with evil, depravity, and sadism.

Stevenson's protagonist, Dr. Jekyll, manages to isolate and separate his evil side from the whole, creating in the process two very different people; Jekyll, who represents not pure good, but the whole of a person, and Hyde, who represents pure evil, and contains little, if any, of Jekyll in him. These two characters stand in stark contrast to one another; both Stevenson, through the novel, and Jekyll, in his narration of events, depict them as separate beings with separate motivations. Yet, they are inevitably synthesized into one being. At times, it is hard to separate the two characters apart, and this is Stevenson's intention. Does Jekyll, for example, take the drug after he has forsworn it because he secretly yearns to be Hyde but cannot or will not admit it, or does he do so because Hyde is simply too powerful? Is Jekyll responsible for Hyde's behavior? And is there any measure of Jekyll in Hyde that acts as a check upon Hyde? The simplest explanation is that Jekyll, as a composite being, has both good and evil in him, and his ill- deeds and mistakes in judgment are due to the influence of the evil side. Yet the reader need not fully accept Jekyll's explanation, and it is unlikely that for Stevenson, the problem was fully resolved. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores the nature of the human soul, but it does not offer any easy answers.

This refusal to judge on Stevenson's part is part of what makes the novel so powerful. Jekyll/Hyde is at once both agonized and glorious. Hyde is a part of Jekyll, and Jekyll cannot fully renounce him without losing a part of himself. Jekyll also enjoys experiencing the vices that Hyde indulges in. Stevenson is realistic in presenting a contrast between the human emotions and reactions in the two selves of his protagonist. The two living figures exist not only within the printed pages of Stevenson's novel but within ourselves. For over a century, this realistic novel has left readers stunned and disturbed about what lurks within the caverns of their own souls.

Minor Themes

The problem of evil is a significant minor theme in the novel. Stevenson suggest that evil may be more native to man than good. Hyde experiences delirious freedom and joy in his abandonment to licentiousness. Jekyll, meanwhile, suffers the pangs of age and rigors of self-control. Jekyll eventually loses the power to control his evil self, but it is a loss of power he has willingly courted.

The evil Hyde is a man with distorted frame and ugly countenance. He carries an emanation about him, which is the very substance of evil. Hyde has no motive whatsoever for his brutal trampling of the girl and the trampling of Carew. His very existence seems to arise out of the magical blackness of hell, but, of course, it emanates from a respectable London doctor, and thus, potentially, from anyone.

Stevenson was writing before the advent of psychology, and thus had no language with which to talk about repression, sublimation, or denial, terms, which come much more easily to the modern reader. Yet a clear subtext in his work is the repression and denial of the existence of evil.

Hyde's name is appropriate, for he truly hides and is hidden by Jekyll. Jekyll's name is appropriate too; Stevenson meant for it to be pronounced as if it were French -- Je KILL. "Je" in French means "I," thus Jekyll was hoping to kill off his hidden, evil self. Everyone Hyde meets is repulsed by the evil that emanates from him, but part of this revulsion is assuredly the unwillingness to accept that the evil that Hyde represents is present in them as will. Lanyon is an extreme example of what happens to one who is unwilling to accept the existence of evil as a primal, universal force. He falls out with Jekyll over his experiments, and, when he discovers that Jekyll and Hyde are one, the shock is too great for him and he dies. Even the calm, dispassionate Utterson and his equally rational friend Enfield are unwilling to entertain the truth. When he and Enfield witness the beginning of Jekyll's transformation into Hyde, they walk hurriedly away. Neither man wishes to speak about what they have just witnessed.

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Free Study Guide-Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson-Summary


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