Q: How does R.L. Stevenson create fear and suspense in the novel ” The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde?
“Each of us has heaven and hell in him”(Oscar Wilde). The book ‘The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde’ is a tale concerning the duplicity of human nature. Written by Robert Louis Stevenson, the allegory is the outcome of “an adult nightmare” highlighting the themes of fear, suspense, and primarily, the theme of duality.
The story attacks the concept of Victorian hypocrisy and confirms that the desire for infallibility can prove to be lethal. Stevenson, through this book highlights the mental imbalance one has to suffer as a result of the human mind. He manages to stir the emotions of his readers by invoking in them the realization, that all human beings have different shades, characteristics, emotions and preoccupations. The book tutors its readers on the fact that self-acceptance is an integral part of the human persona and is ultimately the one that commands respect from the rest of society and those around us.
Stevenson implants fear and suspense in the book by plunging the story and its characters into action from the very beginning. What starts out as an early morning walk between the two friends-Utterson and Enfield-coils into a dramatic, spine-chilling narration when Enfield points to the door “connected” “with a very odd story.” The door is an evidence to all the evil doings of a “small man” which is probably why it has been presented as being “blistered and distained.” Stevenson keeps the fear alive by vividly illustrating the malevolence of Mr. Hyde. The readers see him trampling over a small girl in the mystic silence of the night.
The incident sets the tone of the story and the readers are now accustomed to Mr. Hyde as being “wholly evil.” He bears “Satan’s signature” retains a “black sneering coolness” in spite of the dilemma he has caused. Stevenson enhances the drama in the book by the continually providing the readers with references to Edward Hyde’s wildness. The murder of Sir Danvers Carew is such an instance multiplying the element of suspense and fear in the book. Hyde here, the presented as a man “really like Satan” who will progress to any extent to satisfy his malice. The murder is a crime of “singular ferocity” and is committed quench the sadist of Edward Hyde.
An apt use of the setting by the author helps the element of fear and suspense prevail till the very end of the story. Stevenson has maintained a queer setting through most of the story to develop terror in the minds of the reader. The setting of the night has been used when describing the trampling of the child and whilst the murder of Sir Danvers Carew to indicate the dominance of evil. The night is a symbol of foulness and marks the existence of intense criminal activity. Stevenson has also described Soho “as a city in nightmare” to suit the characteristics of Mr. Hyde who is depicted as an appalling dream to Man. The polluted setting of Soho represents the tainted character of Mr. Hyde who possesses a heart corroded of emotions and feelings. Stevenson, has also, effectively integrated the setting with the theme of duality to stress on fear and suspense.
He uses the technique to describe Dr Jekyll’s cabinet, which has been a witness to remarkably uncanny events. The cabinet has been presented as the “most commonplace” in London, with a “chattering” fire and a “singing kettle,” it is denoted “the quietest room.” It is only towards the end that the readers realize that the silence in the room is the calm before a storm. The ambiguous setting here, displays the wide gap between our notions and the truth. Stevenson also presents the lack of judgement that can blindfold us and prevent us from the vision of the truth. Even the streets and the neighbourhood are given two conflicting settings.
One street resembles the purity of human nature, which is thriving with “florid charms” and “rows of smiling saleswomen.” In contrast to it, the neighbourhood introduces itself with dinginess and a sense of filth, well contained in the evil mind. Once again, the readers are introduced two the dual aspects of human nature and the “perennial war” between them. Stevenson, by using this contrast tries to highlight clearly the difference between good and evil. Another aspect to be noted is the setting of the house. Its rear is disjointed and dilapidated and disjointed, whereas the when observed from the front, Dr. Jekyll’s house stands royal and grand, giving the readers an indication of the upcoming terrors in the book.
Essential importance has been given to the atmosphere in this book to highlight terror and mystery. It has been skillfully combined to complement the settings, characters and situations. Stevenson has preserved an atmosphere of eeriness to set the appropriate mood for the story. Also, vital importance has been given to the fog so that it is almost a character in the book demonstrating its own moods and preferences. For instance, the fog just after the demise of sir Danvers is presented as a “chocolate coloured pall” to emit a funereal atmosphere. Stevenson makes it seem as though the Heavens shy away from the doings of Mr. Hyde and are condoling the death of a gentleman.
The colouring of the fog also plays a significant role to represent the colouring of evil emotions. Atmosphere also plays an important role when Mr. Utterson is being guided to Dr. Jekyll’s house. The atmosphere consists of harsh winds, which “flecked the blood in the face.” The harshness of the winds symbolizes the harshness of evil. The winds seem to be carrying the infinite sins of Mr. Hyde that will never wear away. Moreover, the deserted atmosphere of the London streets signifies that Mr. Utterson is alone in his quest for the truth.
The moonlight is another crucial aspect of atmosphere. It plays a significant role during the murder of sir Danvers Carew acting, as a contrast to the horrendous scene. The atmosphere of darkness, even though present all though out the book, becomes most prominent when Dr. Jekyll restlessly paces back and forth in this cabinet. The darkness is symbolical, as not only does it prevent clear vision, but also the distinction of right and wrong. It is therefore figurative as by the time the darkness lifts; it is too late.
Linguistic details have been provided by Stevenson to add a new dimension to the theme of fear and suspense. The use of graphic descriptions helps the reader to visualize the horrors presented by the author. Stevenson offers a detailed analysis of Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde, triggering in him, the contrasting feelings of ecstasy as well as the “pain of being reborn as Hyde.” Dr. Jekyll has been described as having “more than a father’s interest” and sees Edward Hyde, not as a sinful criminal but as a source to fulfill his innermost desires. Jekyll endures “a grinding in the bones” and a “deep feeling of nausea” for Hyde, however, he doesn’t realize that the price is yet to be paid. The book’s metaphorical title uses the techniques of euphemism and is pregnant with meaning. The word ‘strange’ refers to the recurring peculiarities in the book, however, the events and characters in the story are not only strange, but also extraordinary and are able to shift “the very fortress of identity.”
The effective use of dramatic irony helps to intensify the mystery. We notice this technique when Utterson says “if he be Mr. Hyde, I shall be Mr. seek.” The statement is ironical as the whole story evolves around a suspenseful hide and seek game between Utterson and Hyde. Utterson is presented as the man who solves all the strings in the story, always seeking the unusual. Alliteration has been employed throughout the book to help give Stevenson’s descriptions a distinctive angle. For instance, Dr. Jekyll has been portrayed as the chief of ‘sinners’ as well as the chief of ‘sufferers.’ Here, Stevenson tries to establish the timeless message that one cannot sit “beyond the reach of fate” by burdening his life with mistakes and blunders. Since the book has been written in the Victorian times, we see Stevenson’s language making constant criticisms on human pretense. Dr. Jekyll wanted Edward Hyde to “pass away like a stain of breath upon a mirror.”
This simile signifies the complacence of Dr. Jekyll who doesn’t expect his actions to backfire. However, instead of disappearing into thin air, Hyde wipes out the very existence of Dr. Jekyll. It is thus proved that the blemishes of our faults never wipe away and boomerang into our lives at some point or the other. The Victorian era has been presented as an age of sexual repression, which may be one of the reasons why there are no major female protagonists in the book. It is a society, which condemns the unconventional. References have been made throughout the book to illustrate this, and Stevenson has tried to portray that the Victorian society is a society “smoothed by hypocrisy.” The author’s approach to the book may be one concerning his own childhood and background as he ahs stood the heat of Victorian rigidity.
Fear and suspense are elements that live their way through the very end of the book. The first real pang of suspense strikes the reader’s when a man who is “wholly evil” produces a cheque in the name of the “pink of proprieties” the situation presents a conflict two types of reputation; one that is stale and one that is imperial. The readers hunt for an association between the two. The mystery in the book is given new heights when Mr. Utterson presents the will of Dr. Jekyll. The will entitles Edward Hyde to Henry Jekyll’s entire fortune in the case of “disappearence or unexplained absence.”
The will makes the audience feel that as though from the very beginning, Dr, Jekyll has been getting ready to disappear. Stevenson, as an author, preserves the art of keeping the suspense alive. It is made sure that the curiosity of the reader does not die out and the several unopened letters given to Utterson present this. Utterson is presented as the perfect Victorian gentleman who prioritizes loyalty above his life and it is only this loyalty that keeps the suspicion of the reader pacing. Utterson watches the “misdeeds of others with envy,” however doesn’t permit himself to commit any. His reputation and sense of trustworthiness is maintained all throughout the book, which marks the reign of fear and suspense in the book.
The appearance of Mr. Hyde is another factor, which keeps the fear in the book alive. Even though there are varied opinions about him, he inspires in everyone, an instant loathing for himself as well as a deep sense of deformity. He is said to have a stamping efficacy and a paranormal sense of reasoning. His “odd, light footsteps” make him seem like an animal. Indeed, Edward Hyde is an animal with a corrupted soul. However, it is not only Hyde’s appearance that that subjects him to universal hate but also his character which is totally immersed in malevolence. Hyde is a figure of profound ruthlessness, which justifies the abhorrence showered upon him. Hyde is throughout the book, is said to possess animalistic features. His “savage laugh” and “dismal screech” prove the essence of authentic unpleasantness.
In conclusion I would like to say that the book is filled with interesting twists and turns with the element of suspense always kept alive. Dr. Jekyll as the main character in the book can be compared to Eve who wanted to taste the forbidden fruit of knowledge. He, as a researcher of transcendental medicine is aware of the “perennial war” existing in him. His obsession for human perfectibility is the one that draws him closer to his “unethical” and “illicit” practices and thus lead him closer to the “child of hell”- Edward Hyde. We see that this book holds great relevance even in today’s times as it can be related to illegitimate practices like drug and alcohol consumption.
The book teaches us that our harmless actions of today can prove to be the murderous addictions of tomorrow. It can also be connected to the unethical advancement in technology such as cloning and genetic engineering. However by noticing the fate of Jekyll we see what happens to men who indulge in “unscientific balderdash” and ask ourselves that whether the advancement in technology is really a short-term blessing or a long-term curse? The book carries a timeless message and is not of an age but for all time therefore it can be connected to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein as both the books present the abuse of science.
The book also shares an association with Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis and split personality and can also be signified as a part of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. Darwin’s theories justify the “ape-like fury” of Mr. Hyde. We can also say that Dr. Jekyll’s need for an alter ego was born of the inflexibility of the Victorian society however, according to me, Dr. Jekyll is not justified in his unlawful doings as he tries to utilize his knowledge by using unethical practices and therefore, beings his life to a dead end and a total failure. “It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.” (The Feminine Mystique, 1963)