Robert Louis Stevenson was very intrigued with writing settings, and as a result, he had deep admiration for landscapes and atmosphere. He set this novel in nineteenth century London during the Victorian Era. This era saw a booming population, which led to overcrowded cities and sanitation problems. Within this novel, the setting revolves around the two parts of Victorian society - the upper middle class and the poor, lower class. Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Utterson and Dr. Lanyon are examples of the well-respected upper middle class; on the other hand, Mr. Hyde represents the bottom of the social ladder. Jutting from a busy London street is a malicious and "disdained" building, revealed to be Dr. Jekyll's laboratory and is the location of the creepy door where the reader first meets Mr. Hyde. The "door" is eerie and mysterious, causing Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield to walk on the opposite side of the street during their Sunday walks. "...a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street" (3). Literally, the building is a part of the street people try to avoid going near because of its negative energy; however, symbolically, it represents the darkness within ourselves that we try to hide because that behavior is not what was expected in Victorian society.
"[I] shed a strong light on this consciousness of the perennial war among my members...from these agonies of death and birth, I had come forth an angel instead of a fiend" (65, 69).
Stevenson demonstrates the battle of good versus evil within the soul through Jekyll's transformations. He compares this internal war to a never-ending fight between an angel and fiend struggling for control. The angel represents our conscience, which is the good and pure side of humans constantly doing the right thing; whereas, the fiend symbolizes our dark nature and evil desires which cause us to give into temptation. By comparing this internal struggle to a war between an angelic being and an evil fiend, Stevenson is saying all humans are half of each, and we all struggle in the war between the two.
"'If he be Mr. Hyde,' he had thought, 'I shall be Mr. Seek'" (13).
This quote, besides being a play on words, describes Mr. Hyde's ability to evade Mr. Utterson, but also to escape the police searching for him because he's wanted for murder. Symbolically, it portrays our ability to "hide" our deepest, darkest secrets and desires just like hiding in the game "Hide and Seek". The book as a whole draws attention to the two natures of a human being: good and bad. In this case, Dr. Jekyll is the little angel on our shoulder while Mr. Hyde is the little devil encouraging us to make all the wrong choices.
Point of View:
This book is told from the third person limited perspective, meaning the narrator tells the story from Mr. Utterson's perspective and only has access to his thoughts. This sole perspective builds up suspense within the book and allows the reader to solve the mystery along with Utterson. If the story was told from any other perspective, such as Jekyll's, there would be no mystery to solve. Stevenson chose Utterson for the narrator to follow around because his character allows him to tell the story without projecting his own subjective opinions on the reader. He's the "perfect" gentleman who cares about the well-being of his friends, which makes him a great narrator.
The overall tone of the book is dark and mysterious, which makes sense because during the Victorian era when Stevenson was writing, the detective novel was becoming popular. The book is no doubt dark and grim, giving the readers an eerie feel as the suspense builds throughout the novel. Stevenson wanted the reader to feel like they were Utterson, trying to solve the mystery as they read along as if putting together pieces of a puzzle.
As I read, I couldn't help but feel like Sherlock Holmes, although I wasn't quite able to solve the entire mystery. The imagery Stevenson used to describe Mr. Hyde gave me an uneasy feeling and made me cringe; Hyde's darkness and violent nature was unsettling because he's supposed to represent the darkness within all of us. I will admit, though, I was really confused at the end trying to figure out how it was possible for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to be the same person. I figured it was some type of mental disorder, like split-personality; however, I was initially shocked to find out the truth. Overall, the book made me feel like an old detective solving crime and mystery with an old-fashioned pipe.
Theme: Duality of Human Nature
"...man is not truly one, but truly two" (65).
Within each human exists good and evil, as well as, a never-ending battle between the two. This book focuses on the battle that rages within the individual through Dr. Jekyll. He wanted to "purify" each side of himself by splitting the two sides, but he didn't know he would be releasing something darker and more powerful than himself - Mr. Hyde. Stevenson draws attention not to the existence of both good and evil, but rather which is superior. At the end of the novel both Hyde and Jekyll are gone, proving one cannot simply split one side from the other or destroy one without the other; moreover, one side cannot exist without the other. Humans will always have this internal struggle; however, it’s up to us to make the choice of whether to let the darkness take over and win, or resist our dark urges, but still acknowledge they're there. After all, we're just human.