Why does Stevenson choose not to write a chronological plot told from Dr Jekyll’s point of view? Essay
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Firstly, telling “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” from Dr Jekyll’s point of view would have presented a number of problems. The elements of tension provided by telling the story from others points of view would be lost, and therefore the definitive style of the book would have to be changed for one less exciting, and the plot would progress far slower.
Also, telling the story from different peoples perspectives makes the text physically longer, and although this isn’t an essential quality, without the length the story may have been regarded as a short story and not received so much acclaim.
Most of the tale is told from the perspective of Mr Utterson, a character who the reader is acquainted with early on in the book. The reader learns he is a lawyer, and also learns of his suspicious nature when he hears the tale of Hyde’s viciousness in Story of the Door. It was a good choice to tell the story from his perspective, as when the reader begins this book, they are suspicious from the start.
These different perspectives provide insight into the story as well. Without them, some of the key events and morals of the story would be missing. For example, without “Dr Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case” the reader would never have learned of Dr Jekyll’s past, and the book would have ended with the reader asking why Dr Jekyll did the acts in the book. This chapter, although told in chronological order in itself, is set at the end of the book, providing a new set of events, from a new perspective, from the end of the book.
The perspective of Dr Jekyll is a vital one. In the Victorian era in which this book was written and set, there was a large interest in the then-revolutionary theory of evolution. This ‘Darwinism’ was very fashionable, and people were obsessed with the idea of physical change and metamorphosis in people. It was also popular to lead two lives, one as a respectable member of society, and the other, an ‘after hours’ life. Without the perspectives of Jekyll (Dr Jekylls Full Statement of the Case) and Lanyon (Dr Lanyons Narrative), the dual lives of Jekyll and Hyde would never be discovered. This would have made the book far less admired, as the attractive principles of mutation and change would have been missing from the book. The appealing idea of a first person perspective of a person leading two lives; and two such abnormal lives; would be lost, and with it the appeal of the book.
In Chapter 1, the book begins with Utterson’s point of view, but with a story told by Utterson’s friend, Enfield. If Stevenson had chosen to tell the story from Utterson’s perspective, this chapter would not have changed, although it is very useful in giving a first impression of the detestable Hyde, and gives the reader an example of a Victorian phrase for doctor, “sawbones”.
Chapter 2 shows another example of the popular double lives of some Victorian people, as Utterson leaves his house in the middle of the night, which throws a sense of mystery and secrecy into the character of Utterson. Also, when Utterson meets Llanyon, he seems far too genial, as if he has something to hide. Another theme that begins in this chapter is Utterson’s obsession with coming face to face with Hyde.
Chapter 3 is essential, as it gives the reader Uttersons first glimpse of Hyde, and his personal description. Chapter 4 would not be possible if the book was written completely from the point of view of Utterson, as he did not witness the murder of Sir Danvers Carew. The opening of this chapter is told from the maid’s point of view, as graphically dictates the murder of Sir Danvers Carew by Hyde’s hand.
After the initial horror of the murder, the point of view returns to Utterson, and the reader receives another build up of horror to the description of Hyde’s subtly grotesque features from the maid’s description of him. The reader also meets another character, Mr Hyde’s housekeeper. This woman, according to Utterson, also has an evil look about her, which makes the reader wonder whether Hyde chose her for this reason. Finally, the ashes of burned paper in Hyde’s fireplace throw an angle of mystery on the chapter.
Utterson’s point of view also commands Chapter 5, and from the very start the reader is suspicious of Jekyll’s experimentation noted by Utterson. Also, the reader wonders at the strange case of Jekyll’s health, which likened to a patient suffering from drug withdrawal symptoms. When Utterson is given Jekyll’s will, leaving all his belongings to Hyde in case of his death, Utterson jumps to the conclusion that Hyde means to murder Jekyll, (which is wrong) and leads the reader with him. There is also some personification of the unnatural fog; “the fog still slept”. This chapter leaves the reader with a number of questions; Where is Hyde? How does Jekyll know Hyde will return, and why is Hyde so ill?
In chapter 6, the reader is told of the illness of Dr Llanyon, and is made to wonder at a possible connection with the ailment of Jekyll. The title; “The Remarkable Incident of Dr Llanyon” makes the reader want to learn more of Llanyon’s role in this ever stranger unfolding tale of mystery and woe. On the other hand, however, Jekyll seems to be back to his usual self, deepening the mystery further. Finally for this chapter, there is a narrative hook, concealed when Llanyon puzzlingly says; “All will be revealed after my death”. Not only does this imply that for some reason, Llanyon knows he will die, but also the fact that Llanyon, Utterson’s old friend, is concealing something from Utterson. The plot thickens.
After chapter 7’s brief interlude and escape from the action, chapter 8 brings the story to its action filled climax. The title; “The Last Night” implies that this is the final night of the story, and possible of someone’s life. Poole, Jekyll’s butler, seems to be afraid for the life of his master, but also for his own safety. He comments on the strange behaviour of Jekyll, saying he has only been seen as a; “Masked thing like a monkey”.
This refreshes the idea of “Darwinism” in the play, but also wonder why such a seemingly respectable character as Jekyll should be proceeding in such a peculiar manner. He is also referred to as an “animal terror” When Utterson and Poole finally break down the door, and find the body of Jekyll, Utterson again jumps to the wrong conclusion, and believes he was killed by Hyde (which is not entirely untrue), again taking the reader with him. The reader also wonders why there is a key ground into the floor, because it would seem that the inhabitant of the room would have wanted to escape.
In the final two chapters, the story is explained briefly from two entirely new points of views. Without these, however, the story, as I have mentioned, would come to an abrupt and unfinished conclusion. In the penultimate chapter, Llanyon describes his view of the “case”, and tells of the disturbing incidents, which lead to his death. The final chapter, however, only explains the motives of Jekyll to the creation of the potion, and therefore this chapter is devoid of any action. Nevertheless, it is vital in fully explaining the plot to the reader to a satisfactory level.
Using letters to tell the story adds another element of mystery, as letters are written all at once, and therefore some chapters do not tell of all the events that have occurred between the previous chapter and the next
To conclude, the seemingly random structure of the book, chosen by Stevenson, works very well with the horror and misleading of the different perspectives in the book, and is fundamental in keeping the reader unsuspecting of what will happen next.