The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Kimberly Phan

    Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13th, 1850 as Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson, and was a prolific Scottish novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer. He belonged to a family of lighthouse engineers and designers, and was expected to eventually take over the family business. As a child, he was frequently ill, and this affected him greatly later on. He did not fit in at school because of his "strange" appearance and eccentricity. Stevenson had a great concern for religion even at a young age, as he was under the influence of his nurse, Alice Cunningham, or "Cummy," as he called her. Although she frightened him with her devout Calvinism and superstitious beliefs, she tenderly cared for him, and often read stories to him while he was bedridden. Even in his youth, Stevenson was a compulsive writer, and his literary talent made his father very proud of him. His father even paid for his first publication at the age of sixteen. Stevenson attended the prestigious University of Edinburgh to study engineering in November of 1867, but showed no interest whatsoever in his studies and was often absent during lectures. Instead, he spent much of his time at university forging strong friendships with others. Eventually, he turned away from the family business to pursue a career in literature. After his first essay, titled "Roads," was published, Stevenson became a well-known literary figure in London, and grew close with other important writers at that time. He married Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne in 1880, and eventually moved with her to her home in San Francisco, California. Because of his poor health, he and his family struggled to find a suitable home. They eventually settled in Samoa, where he quickly became popular with his literary works. Stevenson died there on December 3rd, 1894 at the age of 44.


    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde opens with Mr. Richard Enfield telling Mr. Utterson (a lawyer from London) about a brutal assault on a young girl that he (Enfield) had witnessed in the streets. Mr. Enfield describes a small, hideous man named Mr. Hyde who trampled over a young girl in the street, disappears into one of the buildings on the street, and then returns to give the girl's family a check for a hundred dollars, signed by a respectable gentleman. It also just so happens that Dr. Henry Jekyll, one of Mr. Utterson's friends and clients, has written a will that transfers all his property to the same Mr. Edward Hyde. While Utterson at first disregards this, he begins having horrific nightmares of a faceless figure skulking around a twisted London. The faceless figure also tramples over a small child and stands beside Dr. Jekyll's bed. Confused and rather frightened, Mr. Utterson decides to consult Dr. Hastie Lanyon. Dr. Lanyon tells Utterson that the friendship between him and Jekyll has ended due to a quarrel over Jekyll's research. Determined to learn more, Mr. Utterson stands around the small, run-down building where Mr. Enfield saw Hyde, and waits for him to emerge. Eventually, Mr. Hyde appears, and Utterson approaches him, introducing himself as a friend of Dr. Jekyll. When Mr. Hyde looks up, Utterson is repulsed at how ugly and deformed Hyde is, but has the sense not to say anything about it. Hyde gives Utterson his address, which implies that he is eager for Jekyll's death and transfer of property to him. The readers soon learn that Hyde's home is a shack connected to Jekyll's laboratory. When Utterson meets Jekyll afterwards, Jekyll advises Utterson not to implicate himself into the matter. Approximately one year later, a local maid witnesses the brutal murder of Sir Danvers Carew. The murderer, who beat Carew to death with a cane, was identified as Mr. Edward Hyde. When Utterson meets again with Jekyll, Jekyll claims that all relations with Mr. Hyde have ended, and for a few months, Dr. Jekyll retains a normal, sociable state. However, Jekyll returns to his reclusive state, and Dr. Lanyon abruptly dies from shock. Before his death, however, Lanyon gave a letter to Utterson, which he instructed Utterson not to open until after the death of Henry Jekyll. Utterson and Jekyll's butler, Poole, break into Jekyll's laboratory and find Mr. Hyde lying on the floor, wearing Dr. Jekyll's clothes, seemingly dead. Utterson finds a letter from Jekyll that explains everything. He reads both letters when he returns home, and discovers that Dr. Jekyll concocted a potion that enabled him to transform into Mr. Hyde.


    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde addresses the duality of human nature, showing that while all men generally show the better part of themselves, the darker, more sinister side is indeed there. And of course, there are the three main themes: science and profit, man's limitations, and the search for hidden knowledge. In the story, Dr. Jekyll uses his knowledge of science as a means for personal profit. Through his potion, he was able to become (albeit exponentially uglier) younger and somewhat stronger, and he was able to explore the deeper, darker, more evil side of himself. Man’s limitations and the search for hidden knowledge are somewhat combined themes in the story. Dr. Jekyll uses surpasses scientific limitations through his potion. As a result, he surpasses the boundaries of science and brings about his own demise. The issue of good and evil is also a strong theme in the story. Light and dark imagery is used to portray the theme of good and evil. Mr. Hyde, who serves as the pure manifestation of evil, is only seen at night, when the air and mood are more sinister. As for Dr. Jekyll, even though he is rather mentally troubled, he is ultimately good-hearted. Thus he is seen more often during the day.


    While The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is a story of science and the profit it brings, the "profit" addressed in the story is not monetary profit. Dr. Jekyll did not create his potion with the intention of gaining fame and wealth. The profit addressed is more of a personal profit, as the potion was created to help Dr. Jekyll explore another side of himself and make him younger and stronger, in a manner of speaking. Had he wanted to become rich and famous with his potion, he would not have been so secretive about his potion, nor so evasive about the subject of Mr. Hyde. Instead, he merely revealed his studies to Dr. Hastie Lanyon, who later died from the shock. Dr. Jekyll's eventual end implies that science and profit do not get along well together. In many cases, science seems to be driven by profit, which influences the motives of the scientist. The scientist becomes selfish, and isolates himself from society, which foreshadows eventual doom. Although Dr. Jekyll's death in the end is not specified, it is implied in his final letter to Mr. Utterson. 


  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. 1st ed. Bournemouth, England: Longmans, Green and Co., 1886. Print.
  • Nelson, Brittany. Shelby, C. ed. *GradeSaver: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Study Guide : Short Summary*. GradeSaver, 25 August 2006 Web. 3 June 2010.
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