The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A Study in Duality

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How does Robert Louis Stevenson use character, setting, narrative and language to explore the theme of duality in the Victorian novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

In the novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson uses duality of characters and setting to explore the struggle between good and evil. In horror novels the struggle between reason and emotion was often used along with the struggle of good versus evil.

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In every human-being there is the idea that we are split between good and evil, “man is not truly one but truly two.” Meaning we actually have both good and evil in us. According to Revelations, the Bible, good and evil has occurred ever since Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. They had disobeyed God and were then given free will. This meant they now knew of good and evil and could chose which they wish to be, everybody was then born with the potential to be entirely evil.

To a Victorian audience this idea can be unnerving as most Victorians were deeply religious and believed that if you sinned you would be banished to hell for eternity. Stevenson himself was religious and came from a family which contained Ministers; this would help with his understanding of what could be used to shock a Victorian audience. �Also when he was younger he was taught by his mother that if he led a life of evil then he would be sent to hell, Stevenson was not spared any details and started to develop nightmares. The character and actions of Hyde could have been developed from such stories told to him by his mother.

Dr Jekyll was what we perceive as normal; mostly good with some evil in him, whereas Mr Hyde on the other hand is a wholly evil character. This represents the duality of humankind and is the constant battle between good against evil. In the novel, Dr Jekyll tries to separate the good and evil in humans so that, “life would be relieved of all that was unbearable”, such as murderers or thieves, however, the experiment goes wrong and a character, Hyde, is embodied by all of Jekyll’s hidden evil and forbidden desires that he had ‘concealed’ for many years. Hyde was therefore purely evil and Jekyll, when himself, was still good and evil, but it was that little bit of evil that kept making him want to change himself back into Hyde again and again. At first Jekyll said that “the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr Hyde,” but Jekyll enjoyed this release too much to stop himself, “the animal within me licking the chops of memory” and eventually evil takes over good.

We can also see the good and evil in Jekyll and Hyde through their actions; Dr Jekyll has dinner parties and entertains friends, “the doctor gave one of his pleasant dinners”. These friends included the lawyer Mr Utterson and Dr Lanyon. Dr Jekyll’s actions represents the good side of him, however he does conduct the experiment that unleashes Hyde which could be seen as an evil action, although it wasn’t intentional, he keeps doing it even after Hyde commits terribly sins. At the beginning of the book we are told by Enfield the story of when Hyde ‘trampled’ a young girl and “left her screaming on the ground”. In the account Enfield tells us he uses emotive words such as ‘trampled’ and ‘screaming’ which makes the reader feel very negative towards Hyde. Later on in the book Hyde continues to pursue his evil acts and murders Sir Danvers Carew in a fit of “ape-like fury” he ‘clubs’ him to death.

The duality of Jekyll and Hyde is not just through their characters but also through their appearances. Jekyll had “a large, well-made, smooth-faced.” This description makes us feel positive towards him and makes Jekyll sound kind and good. Unlike Hyde who was “particularly small and particularly wicked looking.” This makes him sound evil and perverse. As Jekyll only had a small bit of evil in him this may be why Hyde is so small in comparison to Jekyll. Hyde is also associated with apes; “with ape-like fury”, and this could be linked to Darwin’s theory of evolution. His ideas were that humans had evolved from more primitive creatures like apes and that God had not created the world in seven days. When Jekyll conducts his experiment it is as though Hyde is more primitive than normal man and that it is not just a struggle between good and evil but also between the developed man and the primitive.

Robert Louis Stevenson also had duality in his own life and character. Where he grew up in Edinburgh was an auspicious, middle class �’New Town’, however, there was also the ‘old black city’ which was riddled with ‘poverty, disease and overcrowding.’ The duality of his character occurred when he was seventeen. He would spend the day being respectable but at night we would become corrupt by leading a bohemian lifestyle. The character of Jekyll may have developed from his double life that Stevenson had led.

The theme of duality also occurs in the setting and atmosphere of Dr Jekyll’s own house and of London itself; this is to support the main duality of the characters. Victorian London was a divided city of rich and respectable, poor and immoral. Jekyll lives in Cavendish Square and Hyde in Soho, despite there bring so many differences they are only one mile apart from each other meaning you don’t have to go far to find evil.

Cavendish Square (in which Jekyll lives) is described as wearing “a great air of wealth and comfort” and had “a square of ancient, handsome houses,” showing that this area of London was for the upper classes of society. The words which construe Cavendish Square such as “wealth and comfort” make the reader feel positive towards where Jekyll lives. Hyde on the other hand lives in “the dismal quarter of Soho” which is like “a district of some city nightmare.” This description is a total contradiction to the one of Cavendish Square and the words ‘distant’ and ‘nightmare’ gives us an image of squalor and crime. London was like Victorian society in that on the top everything appears to be innocent and pure but under the surface it’s evil and dirty. London personifies Jekyll’s character.

In Jekyll’s house different parts are associated with the different people- Jekyll, the mostly good character, at the front and Hyde, the purely evil, at the back of the house. Poole says to Utterson that “we see very little of him on this side of the house; he mostly comes and goes by the laboratory.” This means that Hyde never really goes into the good part of the house because he is related with evil, whereas Jekyll, although he spends most of his time at the front, begins to spend more and more time at the back as he is slowly being taken over by evil.

Pathetic fallacy is also used in the novel to emphasise the duality of London, “with its general cleanliness and gaiety of note” is used against the description of Soho, “reinvasion of darkness…were of the gloomiest dye.” Cavendish Square is described to reinforce Jekyll’s character of good and Soho to support Hyde’s evil.

Throughout the novel Stevenson uses different narratives to create suspense over mysteries and also then to explain them in an interesting way. An example of this mystery that is created by the third person narrative is in the first chapter when we are left with thoughts such as who is Hyde? The novel starts off in third person when introducing Mr Utterson to the story. Stevenson describes Mr Utterson’s mannerisms and his character, such as his faithfulness to his friends despite their actions, this is important so that it is more believable to the readers when Mr Utterson stays friends with Jekyll albeit his actions. It also gives us a clear overview of the other characters in the novel.

Towards the end of the novel the narrative changes to first person in Dr Lanyon’s narrative and Henry Jekyll’s narrative. This way we can get other character’s points of view and can empathise with them. Another literary technique used is the non-chronological order of narrative intrigues the reader, plus it makes the reader a more active participant in the novel making them feel they can really understand the characters feelings and actions. An example of this technique is when we find out why Dr Lanyon died of severe shock towards the end of the novel however, we were told about the shock he had earlier on in the book.

Duality can be seen in many aspects of Stevenson’s book and own life. He uses the characters successfully to convey the ideas of duality in humans and uses the setting and atmosphere to support all these ideas. He also used ideas that many might be afraid to use for example he describes Hyde with having ‘ape-like fury’ which could be linked to Darwin’s theory of evolution.


� Taken from Robert Louis Stevenson’s background

� Taken from Robert Louis Stevenson’s background

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A Study in Duality. (2017, Nov 02). Retrieved from

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