Study Guide

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Themes

  • Good vs. Evil

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    Good vs. evil is basically the novel’s biggest theme. More specifically, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is easily viewed as an allegory about the good and evil that exist in all men, and about our struggle with these two sides of the human personality. In this book, then, the battle between good and evil rages within the individual. The question is which is superior. Since Hyde seems to be taking over, one could argue that evil is stronger than good. However, Hyde does end up dead at the end of the story, perhaps suggesting a weakness or failure of evil. The big question, of course, is whether or not good can be separated from evil, or whether the two are forever intertwined.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. How and where does the battle between good and evil play out in this book? Most importantly, who wins?
    2. What is the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
    3. Dr. Jekyll was trying to separate himself into two versions: Good and Evil. But what he got was normal Dr. Jekyll and pure, unadulterated evil Mr. Hyde. Why did he only get an evil version of himself?
    4. On the good vs. evil spectrum, where does Mr. Utterson fall?

    Chew on This

    The relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde begins as father/son then shifts to that of equals vying determinedly for dominance.

  • Repression

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    Repression is indisputably a cause of the troubles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The repression here is that of Victorian England: no sexual appetites, no violence, and no great expressions of emotion, at least in the public sphere. Everything is sober and dignified, and you’re really not supposed to be happy. (That would somehow take away from your focus on morality). The more Dr. Jekyll’s forbidden appetites are repressed, the more he desires the life of Mr. Hyde, and the stronger Mr. Hyde becomes. This is clearly demonstrated after Dr. Jekyll’s two-month hiatus from donning the visage of Mr. Hyde; Dr. Jekyll finds that the pull to evil has been magnified after months of repression.

    Questions About Repression

    1. Does Mr. Utterson lead a repressed life? On the one hand his life is full of routine—exploring the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde stuff seems to be his way of cutting loose. But on the other hand… he doesn’t seem unhappy with his staid way of living.
    2. If Dr. Jekyll finds all this pleasure in being evil, why doesn’t he just stop being so repressed, forget about this whole respectable doctor shtick, and go lead a criminal life?
    3. To what extent is Dr. Jekyll’s repression meant to represent the repression of other British citizens? Is repression particular to Dr. Jekyll, or is this a problem for other people, too?

    Chew on This

    Dr. Jekyll’s difficulty in dealing with his inner desires is meant to reflect the difficulties of society at large.

  • Friendship

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    Friendship in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde serves to drive the plot forward. Aside from basic curiosity, Mr. Utterson is compelled to uncover the mystery of the evil man because of his friendship with Dr. Jekyll. In trying to unravel the secret, his many friendships deliver crucial pieces of information. In this sense, friendship acts as both a motivator and an enabler. As for the friendship between Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll, it’s certainly not as unconditional as the loyalty Mr. Utterson bears for Dr. Jekyll. Instead, it’s fraught with competition, anger, and eventually an irreconcilable quarrel. We see that friendships can be ruined by differences of opinion.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. What role does friendship play in this novel? We said it "drives the plot forward"… how?
    2. How strong are these friendships, really? Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll quarrel over science, and Mr. Utterson has a difficult time believing Dr. Jekyll to be capable of evil. Are they friends, or non-hostile acquaintances?
    3. Keeping in mind that all the men in this novel seem to be confirmed bachelors, what role does friendship play in their lives?

    Chew on This

    Mr. Utterson’s friendships play the most critical role in driving the novel forward.

  • Appearances

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    Appearances figure in the novel both figuratively and literally. Dr. Jekyll definitely wants to keep up a façade of respectability, even though he has a lot of unsavory tendencies. In a literal sense, the appearances of buildings in the novel reflect the characters of the inhabitants. Dr. Jekyll has a comfortable and well-appointed house, but Mr. Hyde spends most of his time in the "dingy windowless structure" of the doctor’s laboratory. Other disreputable quarters of London are described as well; this is the stomping ground of Mr. Hyde.

    Questions About Appearances

    1. What is the relationship between physical buildings and the events that take place in or near them?
    2. Why is Dr. Jekyll so concerned with keeping up appearances? And what appearance is he trying to keep?
    3. Where in the novel do events seem to point in a particular direction when the opposite is in fact true?

    Chew on This

    Because he feels intense shame at his frowned-upon desires, Dr. Jekyll does everything he can to maintain a façade of respectability.

  • Science

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    In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, science becomes a cover and justification for supernatural activities. Dr. Jekyll ostensibly derives his potion in some sort of scientific manner, as opposed to finding a magical amulet or something that releases evil as you might find in other stories. Dr. Jekyll’s brand of science, however, veers towards the "transcendental" (indeed, supernatural), while Dr. Lanyon adheres to a more traditional set of scientific notions. This disagreement causes an irreparable rift in their relationship, especially after Dr. Lanyon witnesses Dr. Jekyll’s transformation with his own eyes.

    Questions About Science

    1. Is Dr. Jekyll a good scientist?
    2. What would the novel look like if Stevenson chose not to veer into supernatural transformations? If, say, Mr. Hyde were simply Dr. Jekyll with a mask on?
    3. Why did Dr. Jekyll begin transforming into Mr. Hyde without the aid of a potion? Why couldn’t he transform in the reverse direction?
    4. Note that no one in the novel ever suspects that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person. Why do you think the novel is constructed this way?

    Chew on This

    The physical transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde—albeit scientifically impossible—is a premise necessary to fully explore the idea of good and evil warring inside one man.

  • Curiosity

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    In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, curiosity drives the characters to seek knowledge. This curiosity is either suppressed or fulfilled in each character. Curiosity lacks any negative connotations; instead, characters who do not actively seek to unravel the Jekyll and Hyde mystery may be viewed as passive or weak. Finally, the characters’ curiosities are, to some degree, transferred over to the reader; we seek to solve the puzzle along with Mr. Utterson.

    Questions About Curiosity

    1. What is the effect of having Mr. Enfield be so adamantly not curious?
    2. One could say that curiosity killed Dr. Lanyon. Is it possible that Mr. Utterson could have suffered the same fate?
    3. When Mr. Utterson suppresses his natural curiosity, what force is superseding his desire to satisfy his curiosity?

    Chew on This

    Although Mr. Utterson seeks to satiate his curiosity, he values his good honor and manners above his desire to solve the mystery.

  • Lies and Deceit

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    In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the plot is frequently driven forward by secrecy and deception; Mr. Utterson doesn’t know the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and he wants to find out. Also, by omitting the scenes of Mr. Hyde’s supposedly crazy debauchery, Stevenson allows our imaginations to run to wild and eerie places.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. All we really know of Mr. Hyde’s pleasures, aside from the two crimes we see through others’ eyes, is that they run absolutely counter to Victorian morality… which isn’t much to go on. He could be doing anything from drugs to sex for pleasure to alcohol abuse to public brawls. These were all considered bad news in Victorian times. Build an argument for any one of these, keeping in mind the necessity of extrapolation.
    2. Many omissions in the book are caused by the plurality of perspectives that Stevenson employs to craft the novel. Why did Stevenson choose to write from multiple points of view?
    3. One point of view is glaringly missing: that of Mr. Hyde. What is the effect of this?

    Chew on This

    By choosing not to explicitly detail Mr. Hyde’s wickedness, Robert Louis Stevenson creates a spooky, supernatural, general character that encompasses "All Things Evil."

  • Violence

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    Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde details two crimes of violence against innocent and helpless citizens: first, a little girl, and second, an elderly man. The violence in the novel centers on Mr. Hyde, and raises the question of whether or not violence is an inherent part of man’s nature.

    Questions About Violence

    1. What does reading Dr. Jekyll’s account of Mr. Hyde’s two crimes add to what we already know?
    2. Why does Mr. Hyde commit the crimes he does? Is pleasure the sole reason?
    3. Mr. Hyde’s crimes all seem to be committed on the spur of the moment. Why is this so?

    Chew on This

    Pleasure is the sole reason Mr. Hyde engages in violent acts. THIS is what makes him evil.

  • Religion

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    God and Satan figure prominently in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as many general references to religion and works of charity. As part of their intellectual lives, the men in the novel discuss various religious works. One sign of Mr. Hyde’s wickedness, for example, is his defacing Dr. Jekyll’s favorite religious work. Mr. Hyde is also frequently likened to Satan.

    Questions About Religion

    1. In Chapter 7, Mr. Utterson and Mr. Enfield converse briefly with Dr. Jekyll (sitting at a window) before Dr. Jekyll essentially freaks out and shuts the window. What they witness inspires a good deal of horror in both of them. Mr. Utterson says, "God forgive us! God forgive us!" and is answered with a nod from Mr. Enfield. What does this mean? What is God supposed to forgive them for?
    2. Mr. Utterson says that he "[inclines] to Cain’s heresy." Cain was a guy who killed his brother in the Bible. What could this possibly be saying about Mr. Utterson? About the novel as a whole?
    3. How does religion function in this novel? What purpose might it serve, or what questions might it raise?

    Chew on This

    In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, religion functions as a lens through which to view good and evil. It gives the characters rules with which to separate good and evil into distinct and clear-cut categories.

  • Women and Femininity

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    Most female characters in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are passive and weak. The first female we see is a young girl mowed over by Mr. Hyde. Although she is "not much the worse, more frightened," she still kicks up an incredible fuss and a large group of people come to her aid.

    The next woman we see is the maid who witnessed the Carew murder. After watching Mr. Hyde beat the man to death, she faints, waking up long after the murderer is gone. She is a passive spectator.

    There is much speculation as to the reasons for the absence of females in the story; one particularly compelling argument is that women function as moral bedrocks in most Victorian novels. They’re supposed to be beacons of good moral influence. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, therefore, women may have unnecessarily complicated the story.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. The women in this novel are passive spectators who require outside help. How central is it to Stevenson’s novel that he cast women in this light?
    2. In most stage and film adaptations of the book, Dr. Jekyll has a romantic interest. In what ways would a romantic interest complicate the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Is this an unacceptable alteration of Stevenson’s story?
    3. Is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, because it’s a novel that focuses on internal human struggle, a story that transcends gender distinctions and appeals to all humans? Or is it male-specific?

    Chew on This

    By relegating women to weak, subordinate roles, Stevenson was better able to focus on the central tension between man’s good and evil sides.