Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Study Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Chapter 1

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 1 of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Chapter 1 : Story of the Door | Summary

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Summary

While taking a walk one Sunday, Mr. Utterson and his friend, Mr. Enfield, pass through a quiet London neighborhood. Enfield points out a door and tells Utterson a story involving that door. One evening, Enfield says, he was walking home at 3 a.m. and saw two people in the otherwise deserted neighborhood. One was a small man walking quickly, and the other was a young girl running down a cross street. They ran into each other at the corner, and the man trampled the little girl and left her lying there screaming. Enfield, the girl's family, and a doctor confronted the man and blackmailed him into paying 100 pounds to the girl and her family as compensation for what he'd done.

The man led them to a doorway, entered, and returned with 10 pounds in gold and a check for the other 90. The group doubted the check was good, but the man stayed with them until the bank opened the next morning. To everyone's surprise, the check was good. Utterson asks some follow-up questions, but Enfield hadn't investigated further. Enfield has, however, studied the door and says it is strange. It isn't clear where it leads or how many rooms are associated with it. There's some confusion about where one building stops and the next one starts. Utterson asks the name of the man who trampled the child. It was Hyde. Utterson doesn't ask whose name was on the check because, he says, he already knows it.

Analysis

The first two paragraphs describe Mr. Utterson's character. Even though they are interesting in themselves, the paragraphs are also important because of how they frame what will follow. Utterson's character is "eminently human," which serves as a contrast to Hyde's, which is not—at least not fully. His austerity and self-control introduce the theme of self-control and, again, provide a framing contrast against which Hyde's wild abandon appears all the more vividly. At the same time, the way Utterson is willing to follow "Cain's heresy" and let his fellow man "go to the devil in his own way" foreshadows a flaw in his approach to life. His austerity may discipline Utterson, but his self-restraint leaves society open to others like Hyde.

Mr. Hyde is a character so vile and so completely ruled by his passions that he tramples a little girl and leaves her screaming in pain and fright, and he does so without a thought or a care. This is a man, as readers will learn later, who is willfully and happily evil. But this instance is different. He doesn't willfully run into the little girl or try to hurt her, but he is completely oblivious to her and to any pain he may have caused.

Readers learn they must make sense of Mr. Hyde's actions and character in the same way his fellow characters do, by hearing fragments of information about him. Second, Mr. Hyde's actions do not occur in a vacuum. He affects others directly (the little girl) and indirectly (the crowd who captures him and the men who talk about him). Third, this is a society in which others' actions matter. This isn't a matter of idle interest, like a news story. The people who see Hyde act are moved to action in turn. Fourth, this chapter introduces both the literal mystery of where that door goes and the symbolism of doors and buildings that will recur throughout the novella. Fifth, while Hyde cares nothing for good and evil, he cares about social disapproval. He is easily blackmailed for his actions and is willing to pay a substantial amount not to have his name smeared in public. This decision introduces the issue of class. Stevenson shows that in some very important ways, society's expectations about class and how gentlemen act are more important than morality or questions of good or evil. Finally, though Dr. Jekyll has not yet appeared, the first tie between Hyde and Jekyll is introduced, a connection readers will soon make.

This chapter also uses techniques common in Gothic and horror fiction to build suspense, as well as foreshadow events and people that will later be shown as important. One of these is rationing out key details slowly, as when Enfield doesn't share Hyde's name until late in the chapter. Another is to use descriptions that seem to be casual metaphors, like referring to Hyde's " black, sneering coolness" as being "like Satan." In the moment it is meant as a metaphor. Later in the narrative, Utterson will claim that he literally sees Satan's mark on Hyde. A third technique is filtering the story through multiple characters. This fragments the narrative and makes readers sift and evaluate the accounts they are given as the characters do. This technique also lets Stevenson use character reactions to guide readers. In this chapter Utterson stands in for readers, asking the questions they can't. In the following chapter, readers should want to become, like Utterson, "Mr. Seek" in pursuit of Mr. Hyde.

Documents for Chapter 1

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Questions for Chapter 1

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