The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is a story about the light and dark side of human nature. Throughout the novella, Stevenson explores many ideas involving the concept of good versus evil. Characters are used to show the two sides of human nature: good and evil. Additionally, the two very different houses of Jekyll and Hyde use setting to show this contrast. Stevenson also uses the break-down of Jekyll’s study door as a way to reinforce this idea.
Stevenson’s use of characters to explore the contrast between good and evil helps the reader differentiate and visualise characters as either good or evil. Although Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are revealed as being the same person at the end of the novella, they have very different personalities.
Dr. Jekyll is the good personality, while Mr. Hyde is the evil personality. Jekyll is a well-known, prosperous and kind man. He is described as, “…a large, well-made, smooth-faced man of fifty, with something of a slyish cast perhaps, but every mark of capacity and kindness…” (p.
19). Hyde, however is described as being the direct opposite of Dr. Jekyll. When Mr. Enfield is asked to describe him, he responds with ” There is something wrong with his appearance… [Hyde) must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point…” (p. 10). Hyde is further described as an unkind, cruel man who is with-drawn from society.
The descriptions of Jekyll and Hyde contrast each other, and give the reader a very strong visualisation of each.
Stevenson uses the difference in personality and description of Jekyll and Hyde to help readers see the two characters as two completely different people, which allows the reader to be surprised by the novella’s conclusion.
Stevenson uses setting as another way of contrasting good and evil. He uses the setting of Jekyll and Hyde’s houses to show this contrast. Jekyll’s neighbourhood is described as being “Ancient, handsome … [and with] a great air of wealth and comfort” (p. 16). Earlier in the novella, Dr. Jekyll is described as a wealthy, prosperous man, and is the ‘light’ side of his being; the house he lives in reflects this lightness. However, Hyde’s neighbourhood is described as “A dingy street, a gin palace, a low French eating house [with] ragged children huddled in the doorways” (p. 23). Hyde is the dark, or evil side of Jekyll, and this evil is further recognised in the place where he lives. By describing his characters’ home setting, Stevenson assists the reader in reaching a view on the two characters Jekyll and Hyde. Together with the description of the characters and their personalities, the reader is given a clear visual aid to view the characters and their differences.
The contrast of light and dark is used by Stevenson when Utterson and Poole break down the door to Jekyll’s study. Until this point in the novella, Jekyll and Hyde’s mysterious connection, and Jekyll’s disappearance still a mystery to readers. Throughout the text, and especially through Jekyll’s reluctance to allow characters into his apartment/study, it is hinted that the answers are locked away in there. The study is where all of Jekyll’s secret doings have been taking place, and when Utterson and Poole break down the door and reveal what is inside, it symbolises light being shone on the darkness, and everything becoming clear to both the characters in the novel, and the readers. It is revealed that Jekyll is both himself and Hyde, and that he created Hyde to satisfy his dark urges without ruining his reputation. Once Jekyll and Hyde are revealed as the same person, their mysterious relationship and all associations together are explained. This then allows Utterson to open the door on all of Jekyll’s happening. Once the door is open, all is revealed, and all questions are answered: “…this mystery was now to be explained.” (p. 47).
Stevenson’s use of good and evil, and light versus dark as major themes in his novella help to build tension among readers. The use of characters, their personalities, setting and actions to portray the difference between characters and their ‘sides’, help Stevenson’s story remain mysterious and misleading until he very last chapter.