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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Study Guide

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


What elements does The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have in common with Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Birth-Mark"?

Both Hawthorne's "The Birth-Mark," published in 1843, and Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde belong to the Gothic tradition. Like Stevenson, Hawthorne, an American with a Puritan upbringing, often explored themes of good and evil through allegorical tales. "The Birth-Mark" is no exception. Another theme that both Hawthorne and Stevenson take on is man's attempt to manipulate human nature through alchemy. While Stevenson's titular character attempts to separate the good in a man from the evil by creating split personas, Hawthorne's protagonist, Aylmer, attempts to use alchemy to extract from his beloved wife, Georgiana, her original sin, symbolized by her birthmark. Both attempts to improve on God's design end in death, suggesting that man should not interfere with or attempt to alter human nature.

When Utterson visits Dr. Jekyll in Chapter 5 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, how is Utterson's question about Hyde's whereabouts an example of verbal irony?

After Mr. Hyde is identified by the witness as Carew's murderer, Utterson visits Dr. Jekyll to see whether he knows anything about the whereabouts of Mr. Hyde. Utterson asks Dr. Jekyll if he has "been mad enough to hide this fellow?" Dr. Jekyll doesn't answer the question straight on, but rather says, "I swear to God I will never set eyes on him again." Though he skirts Utterson's question, he implies that he did not hide Mr. Hyde. This response is ironic, because Dr. Jekyll's proclamation that he won't ever set eyes on him again means that he must put Mr. Hyde back into hiding within himself. Stevenson drops a clue to this meaning of the name in Chapter 2, when Utterson thinks to himself that "If he be Mr. Hyde ... I shall be Mr. Seek."

In Chapter 3 how does Stevenson use letters to advance the plot in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

In the novella each letter serves as a clue, a device essential to the detective genre. Each time Utterson comes across a new letter, the plot becomes more involved and complicated, often giving rise to more questions than answers. The effect is one of rising tension and suspense. At many points Utterson could have inquired further by opening additional letters. For example in Chapter 6 when Lanyon dies, Utterson opens only the first letter and not the one nestled inside. Utterson could have opened that letter at the time of Lanyon's death, but his decision not to, out of loyalty to Dr. Jekyll and, perhaps, out of fear or need to control what is hidden inside, delays the revelation of essential plot information and compels the reader to continue on.

At the end of Chapter 7 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, why does Utterson say "God forgive us" twice?

While standing outside and conversing with Dr. Jekyll, Enfield and Utterson see on Dr. Jekyll's face "an expression of such abject terror and despair [that it] froze the very blood of the two gentlemen below." There are a few explanations as to why seeing this might lead Utterson to call on God's forgiveness. One explanation is that Utterson has at this point an inkling that Dr. Jekyll is somehow involved in questionable activity connected to Mr. Hyde, yet he does nothing to interfere. A second explanation is that perhaps Utterson recognizes in Dr. Jekyll's look of terror and despair something within himself—perhaps a capacity for evil or a tendency toward homosexuality—that he feels must be forgiven by God.

In Chapter 2 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, what does Lanyon mean when he likens his friendship with Dr. Jekyll to Damon and Pythias?

The Greek legend of Damon and Pythias is one that illustrates the ideal of friendship. In brief, Pythias is accused of treason by the corrupt leader Dionysius I and sentenced to death. Pythias asks to be allowed to return home to say goodbye to his loved ones, and, in order for him to be able to do so, his friend Damon must stay in his place and be put to death in the event that Pythias does not return at the agreed upon time. Pythias does return in time, and, as a result, his life is spared by Dionysius along with Damon's. Stevenson's allusion to this legend is an example of the depth of the friendship between Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll. It also might offer the suggestion that Lanyon, Utterson, and even the reader pardon Dr. Jekyll in the end, as Dionysius pardoned Pythias.

In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, why is it important for Stevenson to establish strong friendship bonds between Dr. Jekyll and Lanyon and Utterson?

There are many points throughout the novella in which either Utterson or Lanyon could have made the decision not to respect Dr. Jekyll's wishes. For example Utterson could have opened the letter embedded within Lanyon's letter, or Lanyon could have refused to go to Dr. Jekyll's house and retrieve the drawer with the chemical compounds as instructed by Dr. Jekyll's letter. However, Lanyon and Utterson do comply with Dr. Jekyll's wishes, and Utterson gives Dr. Jekyll many opportunities to explain himself where the deeds of Mr. Hyde are concerned. This loyalty conveys something about friendship values and is also necessary to move the plot forward by withholding and doling out information at the appropriate times.

In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, how does Utterson embody the Victorian period's preoccupation with self-control and self-denial?

The temperance movement in the Victorian era advocated for self-control and self-denial. Utterson exemplifies these qualities very early in the novella. He is described as a man whose face was "never lighted by a smile," an expression that betrays heightened emotion. Though Utterson enjoys the theater immensely, he does not allow himself to indulge in its pleasures. He also sits by the fire after dinner reading scripture each night until midnight, at which time he is relieved to stop reading. Though Utterson is described as austere and reserved in public, when he has a bit of wine "something eminently human beaconed from his eye." The implication here is that it is unnatural for humans to exercise such self-control and self-denial.

In Chapter 1 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, what does the reader learn about Utterson from his self-disclosed tendency to "incline to Cain's heresy"?

The biblical story of Cain and Abel, two sons of Adam and Eve, tells how Cain, who indulges sins of envy and wrath, ultimately kills Abel. This first characterization in Chapter 1 of Utterson, who was known to have said "I let my brother go to the devil in his own way," reveals that he is not one to interfere or to judge but rather to "be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men." Given Utterson's relationship with Dr. Jekyll, this characterization foreshadows the downgoing of a person close to Utterson and his willingness to stand by as a friend through the process, even if it means that someone will be killed.

In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Chapter 10, what does Dr. Jekyll mean by associating "the Babylonian finger on the wall" with his judgment?

The image of the Babylonian finger on the wall is a biblical allusion to the story of King Belshazzar of Babylon, who mocked the prophecy of the Israeli deity Yahweh (Hebrew name for God) that Babylon would fall. During a great feast, Belshazzar committed this blasphemy before thousands of followers, and soon thereafter a great hand appeared and spelled out the details of the coming fall of Babylon. When Dr. Jekyll refers to this story, he discloses to the reader of his letter that, upon waking and seeing Mr. Hyde's hand in place of his own when he had made efforts to change back before going to sleep, he knew his fall (i.e., his death) was inevitable.

In Chapter 10 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, what does Dr. Jekyll mean by the statement "the balance of my nature might be permanently overthrown"?

This line points to Dr. Jekyll's understanding that, because he has so frequently and gladly indulged himself in sin through his transformations into Mr. Hyde, the very constitution of his character has changed. At this point he is no longer able to transform back into Dr. Jekyll at will, a fact that suggests that the evil side of his nature has won. Even in the event that Dr. Jekyll could transform back to his proper self and cast off Mr. Hyde forever, doing so would leave Dr. Jekyll to "suffer smartingly in the fires of abstinence" because he has come to enjoy so much his deeds as Mr. Hyde.

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