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In The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson not only captured his audience in a gripping horror/mystery story, but also conveyed a hidden message towards the Victorian readers. He attacks the Victorian standards and hypocritical tendencies subliminally in the novella.
The story follows the events experienced by Mr Utterson, a quiet respected lawyer as delves into a world of mystery and darkness as he endeavours to discover the secret behind the enigmatic Mr Hyde. Through Utterson’s experiences through the novella we are able to discover false truths and are forced to draw out own conclusions to the story write up to the end of the story.
In the opening chapter, the story is opened with Utterson and Enfield taking a leisurely stroll through Soho, when they come across a peculiar basement door, which triggers Enfield to recount a strange event that took place on that street. In this first chapter Stevenson creates an environment of extreme gothic style and suspense, employing the dark, foggy, silent roads to achieve these qualities. It also takes place in the winter, the time of year when it is the coldest, darkest and quietest. These are all gothic elements used throughout the story.
In the first chapter we also have our first encounter with Mr Hyde as Enfield recalls his tale that took place some time before their visit to the same street. He talks about a disfigured man, “a Juggernaut” and how he maliciously trampled an eight-year-old girl after she was sent to get a doctor. This immediately gives us a bad impression of Hyde. The first paragraph causes us to conclude a grotesque, repulsive looking man, without emotion or care for his effects on those who are surrounding him; Stevenson clearly uses the notion that first impressions last. Our thoughts of him are proved as the novella deepens and Hyde’s actions are revealed to us, causing us to both fear and hate Hyde.
He increases the horror by purposely adding elements of suspense, by changing the perspective from which the audience gains their information, switching between first person narrative to the letters that he intelligently uses to pass time quickly allowing the story to span a long period of time, but not drag on for too long, allowing the input of multiple opinions forcing the reader to come to their own conclusion as to what is happening right to the very end.
The initial chapter also contains elements prophesising the evilness and future crimes of Mr Hyde.
The symbolic nature of the mysterious basement door that Hyde disappears into is important to note, as it is referred to five times in two pages. Doors are traditionally thought of as powerful symbols representing strength and mystery, representing the possibility of something hidden or to be revealed, once again employing suspense to the reader.
The plot then deepens as Utterson discovers that Jekyll’s will has been changed to leave all of Jekyll’s worldly possessions to Hyde in the event of his death or his disappearance for three months. In this chapter Hyde is constantly depicted as being similar to the devil, although no direct connection between them is actually made, the people that encounter him instinctively know that there is something morally wrong with him, although they are never able to actually pin point what it actually is that disgusts them, they can merely describe it as disfigurement or deformation. Stevenson makes us think that he looks like an animal or some more primitive form of human by using such imagery as “hissing intake of breath”, he is however directly described as being small in stature. Quickly after Hyde leaves Utterson in the courtyard, Stevenson again emphasizes that Hyde’s likeness to animals, giving us a feeling of fear, as he is something that we don’t understand, we fear him, although he does seem inferior.
When we come to chapter four we come across Hyde’s most evil act yet as we read of how Hyde battered and trampled a man to death spontaneously, to such an extent that he was barely recognizable, using a cane. The cane in this chapter is an important symbol as canes (or a staffs) are usually associated with power, therefore indicating that Hyde is a powerful being and that because of his evil nature, he becomes even more terrifying for us to imagine. Another key symbol is that fog that consumes London, creating suspense and mystery in the story once again.
The iron bars on the window of his house are an important symbol as well, as this make it seem as if Jekyll has imprisoned himself in his own house, this indicates a lack of self control, a fear that he has no say in what is happening. By this time the mystery id being unravelled, the reader is left abruptly, not knowing what is going on, as Stevenson begins to reveal the peculiar, sinister finale. This is foreshadowed by the death of Lanyon, when he is taught the furtive truth that Jekyll is hiding; this creates a more suspenseful atmosphere.
About a week later Poole, Jekyll’s butler, approaches Utterson asking for help, as he fears for Jekyll because he has locked himself in the basement and only communicated in note form, not wanting himself to be seen. Again here we see the symbol of the door being used, again to convey the feeling of secrecy and anticipation of what is to come.
In this penultimate chapter we finally realise what the significance of Lanyon’s confession is, as the horrifying truth is finally revealed and that Jekyll is revealed to be Hyde, and is shown in graphic detail when Stevenson describes the transformation.
The final chapter comes to the conclusion good and evil are parts of everybody’s personality and that even though evil might be a small part of us it is still there.
The story has the basic theme of good and evil, but also underlines the effects of hypocrisy. The story reflects on the Victorian lifestyle in the way that it highlights the hypocrisies and double standards set by the Victorians. The middle class Victorians would exist during the day as respectable business etc. but at night they would commit themselves to their primal urges, hence the relevance of the beginning chapter as both Utterson and Enfield were in Soho, an area well known for its prostitution, it is likely that they were either on their way to or returning from a brothel. This part of their lives they would never talk about, even though it was well known that they were partaking in these activities.
They were taught to live as good Christians, but through sleeping with prostitutes they were sometimes committing adultery, but rather than admitting it, they attempted to suppress it to the back of their minds. However Jekyll admits that this dark side does exist when he comes across his concoction, and when he becomes two different people, he begins to indulge in this new found skill as he is now able to be the respectable Henry Jekyll during the day, but at night he becomes the sinister Edward Hyde, and is able to take part in his inward lust yet defend his daily reputation.
Contradiction is also shown in the physical appearance of both Jekyll and Hyde. Jekyll is described as being a “smooth-faced man of fifty”, he is also said to be tall in stature though Hyde is described as being “disfigured” and “dwarfish”, making out that the good side that is Jekyll is more attractive both physically and also a more attractive person to be, whereas Hyde is repulsive, both physically and also as somebody to be.
This reflects on Stevenson himself as he had first hand experience of these activities as he too lived the double life that many of the middle class Victorian men did.
The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde is more than a standard horror story. Stevenson used his skill as a writer to incorporate a simple yet powerful message in a gripping yet horrifying novella, and created one of the most controversial pieces of his time. The message put across and publicly exposed the Victorian double standards and double lives, appalling the public whilst entertaining them successfully.