Exploring Duality and Suspense in Stevenson's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'

Categories: Novel


'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' is a timeless masterpiece of horror literature penned by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh in 1850. Growing up in a city that exhibited stark socioeconomic disparities, with the prosperous new town and the squalid 'old black city' existing side by side, Stevenson's upbringing provided him with a unique perspective on duality, a theme that permeates his novel. Just as Edinburgh had two distinct faces, so too does the novel feature the dual nature of Dr.

Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. During the time of its publication in 1886, London itself was a divided city, characterized by extreme wealth and abject poverty. This division mirrored the central theme of duality in the novel, where Dr. Jekyll resides in a respectable area with an "air of invitation," while Mr. Hyde dwells in a "sinister block of buildings."


In 1886, readers of 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' would have interpreted the torments of Henry Jekyll as a traditional struggle between good and evil, a reflection of the moral concerns prevalent in the Victorian era.

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The novel delves into the complexities of human nature, shedding light on the inner conflicts that individuals faced when grappling with their darker impulses.

The narrative of the novel revolves around a highly respected doctor, Dr. Jekyll, who undergoes a transformation into a savage murderer known as Mr. Hyde. The story takes a gruesome turn when Mr. Hyde ruthlessly tramples over a young girl, leaving her injured. Astonishingly, Dr. Jekyll compensates the victim with a £100 check.

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Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield, two prominent characters in the story, stumble upon a mysterious door that reminds them of the malevolent Mr. Hyde. Suspicions arise when Hyde's lifeless body is discovered inside Dr. Jekyll's locked laboratory, along with a letter penned by the doctor himself. The death of Dr. Lanyon further complicates the mystery, as he leaves behind a letter indicating that Jekyll had been grappling with the consequences of his experimental drug use. The final chapter of the novel reveals Jekyll's confessions.

The story is skillfully narrated through the perspectives of various characters, including Enfield, Utterson, Lanyon, and Jekyll. Stevenson employs this technique of multiple viewpoints to enhance the mystery and suspense within the narrative. It allows readers to gain deeper insights into the characters' inner worlds and their intricate relationships.

Analysis by Chapters

Chapter 1: The Creation of Horror and Suspense

In the opening chapter, titled 'The Story of the Door,' Stevenson employs various literary devices to create an atmosphere of horror and suspense. The chapter's title itself hints at secrecy and mystery, as it is linked to a mysterious house on an otherwise pleasant street. The peculiar door, perpetually locked, becomes a symbol of mystery, concealing its contents from prying eyes.

The setting of most of the novel at night or during the early morning hours contributes to an eerie ambiance, heightening the sense of suspense and mystery. Enfield's retelling of 'a very odd story,' as he traverses 'street after street' in the darkness, evokes tension and isolation, allowing readers to empathize with the characters who find themselves in unsettling situations.

Secrecy is a recurring theme throughout the narrative, as characters harbor hidden truths and are reluctant to ask probing questions, fearing the answers they may receive. The introduction of Mr. Hyde, who heartlessly tramples a child and leaves her screaming on the floor, adds a horrific dimension to the story. Hyde's callousness and lack of remorse are deeply unsettling, and even the unemotional Mr. Enfield is moved to strong emotions, expressing a desire to harm him.

Chapter 2: The Search for Mr. Hyde

In the second chapter, 'Search for Mr. Hyde,' the title itself hints at a sense of anticipation and intrigue, akin to a mystery investigation to locate something or someone lost or on the run. Dr. Jekyll's will, introduced in this chapter, is particularly enigmatic, as it bequeaths all his possessions to Edward Hyde. This reveals a connection between Jekyll and Hyde that raises questions about their relationship.

Even more perplexing is the stipulation in the will that if Jekyll were to disappear or remain unaccounted for more than three months, Hyde would inherit everything. This element adds a layer of anticipation, suggesting that Jekyll may have foreseen potential dangers and prompting readers to delve deeper into the mystery. Utterson's suspicion of blackmail or foul play further heightens the sense of suspense and intrigue.

Chapter 3: Scientific Conflict and Narrow-Mindedness

In the third chapter, Jekyll expresses respect and admiration for Mr. Utterson, convincing him of the utmost necessity for absolute secrecy. Stevenson employs this to intensify the suspense and maintain the reader's engagement. Jekyll's low opinion of Dr. Lanyon as a 'hide-bound pedant' reflects their philosophical disagreement, primarily revolving around scientific thinking. Jekyll perceives Lanyon as narrow-minded and bound by conventional thought, underscoring the tensions between scientific exploration and tradition in the novel.

Chapter 4: A Horrifying Turn of Events

Chapter four of 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' unfolds nearly a year later and is undeniably the most chilling segment of the book. Robert Louis Stevenson masterfully infuses this chapter with gruesome and disturbing details that would have profoundly shocked Victorian readers. In an era characterized by a strict emphasis on manners and decorum, the appalling and inhumane events described in this chapter would have been deeply unsettling.

The passage depicting the murder of Sir Danvers Carew is particularly macabre and distressing, with Stevenson's vivid description of bones audibly shattering. This deliberate use of sensory imagery intensifies the horror of the scene, emphasizing the brutality of the act. The murder of Sir Danvers Carew is all the more shocking because he initially appeared as a kind and amiable character. Furthermore, Stevenson drops subtle hints that this murder might be connected to the overarching mystery involving Jekyll and Hyde, possibly through the will.

The description of the setting as 'a district of some city in a nightmare' evokes a sinister and nightmarish atmosphere. The ever-present fog contributes to this eerie ambiance while also symbolizing secrecy, as it can conceal nefarious deeds. The flickering of street lamps and the personification of the fog with phrases like 'the fog still slept' add to the menacing atmosphere.

Chapter 5: The Deterioration of Dr. Jekyll

In the following chapter, Stevenson continues to craft horror and suspense through the transformation of Dr. Jekyll. He evolves from 'Dr. At Ease' to looking 'deadly sick' and filled with terror. This transformation serves as a clear indication that his association with Hyde is taking a toll on his physical and mental well-being.

As Jekyll receives a mysterious letter, suspense and secrecy are once again heightened. His internal struggle regarding whether or not to involve the police adds another layer of mystery to the narrative.

The description of the city as 'drowned' reinforces the sense of impending doom and contributes to the overall atmosphere of horror and suspense.

Toward the chapter's conclusion, Utterson's shock and disbelief upon learning that Dr. Jekyll has forged for a murderer are palpable. Stevenson's description of Utterson's blood running cold adds to the horror and suspense, leaving the reader in eager anticipation. A cloak of secrecy descends as a guest is sworn to silence, deepening the enigma surrounding the unfolding events.

Chapter 6: Dr. Jekyll's Improvement

In chapter six, Dr. Jekyll begins to show signs of improvement with the disappearance of Mr. Hyde. He becomes associated with virtuous qualities such as 'charity and religion.' However, Dr. Lanyon's shock is palpable, manifesting in his expression and mannerisms that hint at deep-seated terror. The reader is left with a lingering sense of anxiety and suspense as they wonder about the source of Lanyon's fear. The change in Lanyon's demeanor, coupled with his trembling hand, implies a connection between his decline and Dr. Jekyll.

Chapter 7: An Unsettling Incident

In chapter seven, an incident witnessed by two gentlemen further informs the reader that Jekyll is grappling with an uncontrollable force. The gentlemen's 'expression of such abject terror and despair' mirrors the reactions observed in the presence of Hyde. This connection deepens the sense of suspense and foreboding.

Chapter 8: The Climactic Night

The eighth chapter, titled 'The Last Night,' opens dramatically with the unexpected appearance of Poole, Mr. Utterson's butler, whose appearance has been visibly altered by a shock. The ominous title suggests that this night could mark the culmination of a significant event, such as Jekyll's demise or the revelation of a long-held secret. Stevenson infuses the narrative with a sense of suspense and anticipation, as characters await an impending calamity.

The description of 'crushing anticipation of calamity' amplifies the feeling of imminent disaster, keeping readers on edge. The presence of fog, the suggestion of Hyde's potential presence, and Utterson's concerns about the unfolding events all contribute to the mounting suspense. The mystery surrounding the identity of the figure in the room adds to the sense of foreboding.

Throughout the novel, Hyde is consistently described in animalistic terms, invoking imagery of brutality and evil. Stevenson's portrayal of Hyde as 'crying out like a rat' and 'more of a dwarf' heightens the suspense by providing clues that lead the reader to suspect Hyde's presence. These descriptions resonate with the societal perceptions of the time, where the poor were often dehumanized and likened to animals.

The presence of a 'mask upon his face' intensifies the suspense as readers are left wondering about the figure's true identity. Stevenson builds a palpable sense of foreboding and expectation, with London itself serving as a backdrop for impending doom. The author employs descriptions that engage the reader's senses, immersing them in the narrative.

Stevenson's use of diaries and letters throughout the novel creates a sense of intimacy and involvement for the reader. It allows them to become active participants in uncovering the plot's intricacies, sustaining their interest and engagement.

Chapter 9: The Midnight Revelation

In chapter nine, 'Dr. Lanyon's narrative,' the revelation of Dr. Jekyll's secret draws near. Stevenson strategically sets this chapter at midnight, the witching hour, to infuse it with an aura of mystery and horror. As the penultimate chapter, it promises to unveil the truth about Dr. Jekyll's experiments and the transformation into Hyde. The structure of the novel builds suspense, gradually revealing crucial details as it approaches the climax, maintaining the air of mystery and intrigue.

The Final Chapter: Henry Jekyll's Perspective

Finally, in the last chapter, 'Henry Jekyll's Full Statement of the Case,' the reader gains insight into the culmination of the story from Jekyll's point of view. Stevenson chooses this approach to create tension and keep the reader in suspense until the very end, allowing them to see the story from the protagonist's perspective.

'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' ultimately explores the dual nature of humanity, where Dr. Jekyll represents the side of good, engaged in 'pious work,' while Mr. Hyde embodies evil, engaging in 'blasphemies.' These dualities resonate with Victorian society's emphasis on religion and morality. The novel raises the timeless question of whether good or evil holds greater power. While evil seems to prevail in the end, it leaves the reader pondering whether this reflects the inherent weakness of humanity or a deeper commentary shaped by Stevenson's upbringing in a Calvinist tradition that emphasized the inherent evil in human desires.


Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' stands as a timeless masterpiece that delves deep into the complexities of human nature, duality, and the eternal struggle between good and evil. Stevenson's expert use of suspense-building techniques, including multiple narrative perspectives, atmospheric settings, and well-developed characters, keeps readers on the edge of their seats throughout the novel.

Set against the backdrop of Victorian London, a city divided by stark socioeconomic disparities, the story reflects the dual faces of society and human nature. It intertwines the respectable Dr. Jekyll and the malevolent Mr. Hyde, mirroring the stark divisions of a city marked by extremes of wealth and poverty.

As the narrative unfolds, Stevenson masterfully weaves a web of mystery and suspense, compelling readers to unravel the enigma surrounding Jekyll and Hyde's identities. The gradual revelation of Jekyll's shocking secret and his transformation into Hyde keeps readers engaged and eager to discover the truth.

Stevenson's exploration of the duality of good and evil is a central theme that resonates with Victorian society's moral concerns. The question of whether good or evil prevails, ultimately reflecting the inherent weakness of humanity, lingers in the reader's mind long after the final page is turned.

Beyond its literary impact, 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' has left an indelible mark on the English language, with the phrase 'Jekyll and Hyde' entering everyday usage to describe individuals with split personalities or conflicting behaviors.

In a world where duality and inner conflicts continue to shape our understanding of human nature, Stevenson's novel remains as relevant and compelling today as it was during its initial publication. It serves as a timeless reminder of the intricate interplay between the light and dark aspects of the human psyche, inviting readers to ponder the eternal question of whether good can truly triumph over evil.

Updated: Nov 15, 2023
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Exploring Duality and Suspense in Stevenson's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'. (2017, Nov 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/how-does-r-l-stevenson-create-horror-and-suspense-in-the-novel-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-essay

Exploring Duality and Suspense in Stevenson's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' essay
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