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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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How does Stevenson build tension and intrigue in Chapter 1 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

There are many instances within the first chapter where Stevenson builds tension by creating a set of questions surrounding the door and the man who lives behind it. When Enfield first remarks on the door, Utterson's voice changes slightly in response to his question, signaling to the reader that there is something unusual about the door. As Enfield tells his story of the mysterious man who collided with a girl and the check that is paid to her family as damages, he says the check was "signed with a name that I can't mention, though it's one of the points of my story." Here Stevenson signals that the name is important and that it will eventually be revealed, but not just yet. Utterson waits a while before asking "the name of that man who walked over the child." When Enfield answers that the man was Mr. Hyde, the reader has a great deal of curiosity about this Mr. Hyde because his identity has been withheld for some time.

How do early characterizations of Dr. Jekyll foreshadow his transformation into Mr. Hyde in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

When Utterson goes to Dr. Jekyll's house, the doctor is said to have "cherished for Utterson a sincere and warm affection." Yet when the subject of the will arises, Dr. Jekyll is described as having a "large handsome face," which in the same sentence "grew pale to the very lips and there came a blackness about his eyes." Here the reader sees Dr. Jekyll's first transformation in the first description of his countenance—a move from a look of warm affection on a handsome face to something much more sinister. When coupled with Dr. Jekyll's request that in the event of his death Utterson help Mr. Hyde "for my sake," Stevenson establishes that Mr. Hyde's well-being and Dr. Jekyll's well-being are intertwined.

What motivates Dr. Lanyon to continue cooperating with the plot in Chapter 9 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Although Dr. Lanyon discloses to Utterson that he has grown distant from Dr. Jekyll on account of his eccentricities and scientific heresies, upon receiving the letter from Dr. Jekyll—one evening after they dined together—Dr. Lanyon divulges in his letter that he was intrigued by Dr. Jekyll's requests. Indeed he says the registered letter had "whetted my curiosity," and so he complied for the sake of inquiry. Additionally, due to their history, Lanyon felt obliged to help Dr. Jekyll, however mad he may be, as the letter instilled him with "grave responsibility." Beyond the character's motivation to comply with Dr. Jekyll's instructions, Dr. Lanyon had to do so in order to witness the transformation of Mr. Hyde into Dr. Jekyll. Had there been no witnesses to Dr. Jekyll's fantastic transformation, Dr. Jekyll's account might be disbelieved and written off as the ramblings of a mad man.

How can the influence of the story of Dr. Knox and 18th century understandings of human anatomy be seen in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Dr. Knox was a Scottish scientist who was involved in the body-snatching scandal that Stevenson took on in his aptly named short story "The Body Snatcher." Dr. Knox used the illegally obtained cadavers for scientific experimentation. His work and that of his contemporaries preceded Darwin's theory of evolution. Anatomical experimentation revealed that the brain is divided into two halves that are connected by the corpus callosum. This gave rise to the theory that each person had an animal brain (one half) and a moral brain (the other half). This construct clearly underpins Stevenson's story, where Dr. Jekyll represents the whole brain of both halves, but Mr. Hyde represents just the animal brain, free to act as vicious as he pleases in the absence of the moral brain.

How does The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde revise Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to include scientific developments made during Stevenson's life?

Both Shelley and Stevenson's tales present a Gothic double in an effort to explore something about human nature. Whereas Shelley's horror story published in 1818 focuses on the creation of the monster through manipulation of biology and anatomy, Stevenson's later tale creates the Gothic double through chemistry, an emerging science of the mid- to late-19th century. All the powders and ethers discovered in Dr. Jekyll's drawer by Lanyon were used for the purpose of pharmaceutical alteration, a concept that was relatively new to the scientific and medical communities. Consider, for example, that the periodic table of elements wasn't laid out until 1828, thus precluding Shelley from considering chemistry as a path to creation. It is likely that advances in chemistry made during Stevenson's life influenced his notions of what made transformation and creation possible—especially since he had been a sick boy who was involved in the medical community.

What are the implications of Utterson's description of Mr. Hyde as "a human Juggernaut" in Chapter 2 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

A juggernaut can be defined as something immensely strong and powerful that cannot be stopped. If Mr. Hyde represents an animalistic element of man or man's capacity to sin or his repressed homosexuality, then Utterson's description of Mr. Hyde as a human juggernaut has serious implications for the lesson of the story. Though on the literal level Utterson could be referring to the fact that Mr. Hyde bowled over the young girl without stopping, perhaps this description suggests something on the allegorical level of the story, specifically the notion that, no matter what one does, these hidden or repressed elements will always be present within man. This conclusion is supported by the fact that in order for Dr. Jekyll to kill Mr. Hyde, he had to sacrifice himself.

What is implied about the relationship of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when Utterson discloses the terms of Jekyll's will in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

The will that Utterson drew up for Dr. Jekyll stipulates that, should Dr. Jekyll disappear for more than three months, then "Edward Hyde should step into the said Henry Jekyll's shoes without further delay ... free from any burthen or obligation." This decree establishes some important things about the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The idea of stepping into someone's shoes connotes the assumption of identity, which turns out to be the case when Mr. Hyde overpowers Dr. Jekyll and comes to live in his house. This language also suggests something about Dr. Jekyll's need for Mr. Hyde in the first place: freedom from any burden or obligation. Dr. Jekyll suppresses that part of him that has given life to Mr. Hyde, whose very creation exists for the sake of freeing the doctor from social burdens and obligations.

What might be suggested by Dr. Jekyll and Utterson's initial exchange regarding Lanyon in Chapter 3 of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

When Utterson goes to discuss Dr. Jekyll's will in Chapter 3, Dr. Jekyll remarks that no one was more disturbed by the arrangements laid out in the will than Lanyon. Dr. Jekyll then describes Lanyon as "a hide-bound pedant" with whom Dr. Jekyll had been "never more disappointed in any man." Next Utterson says, "You know I never approved of it," to which Dr. Jekyll replies, "My will?" Given Dr. Jekyll's need to clarify, this interaction causes the reader to pause and question what else Utterson might have disapproved of. Lanyon, being described as a pedant suggests that he is overly scrupulous and concerned with avoiding wrongdoing. In the Victorian era, homosexuality was certainly something that would be considered wrongdoing. Stevenson's word choice of "hide-bound" calls to mind Mr. Hyde, suggesting that there is something about Mr. Hyde to which Lanyon is bound. If Mr. Hyde represents Dr. Jekyll's homosexual proclivities, then perhaps a romantic relationship between the two men is what Utterson disapproved of.

In Chapter 9 why does Lanyon die after seeing Mr. Hyde transform into Dr. Jekyll in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

While no explicit reason is given in the text, there are some clues as to why Lanyon dies of such a terrible shock. Later Lanyon says that the requests made by Dr. Jekyll in his letter to Lanyon point to the doings of a madman, and that his science, as always, was working toward "no end of practical usefulness." In sum Lanyon did not believe that Dr. Jekyll was a legitimate scientist; yet the transformation from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll occurs right before Lanyon's eyes. Another potential interpretation involves speculation around a romantic relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Lanyon hinted at in Chapter 3, when Dr. Jekyll and Utterson discuss Lanyon. Dr. Jekyll tells Utterson that Lanyon referred to Dr. Jekyl's work as "scientific heresies." It is possible that Lanyon knew of Dr. Jekyll's attempts to separate the sinful self from the moral self. Remember in Chapter 2 that Lanyon was seen "flushing suddenly purple" when discussing Dr. Jekyll's scientific work, which interfered with God's design, a heretical act if ever there was one. Seeing Dr. Jekyll succeed on this front might deliver a fatal shock to someone who believed devoutly in the order of things as dictated by the Bible. One last possibility is that, given Mr. Hyde's likening to Satan, Lanyon died of the shock that would come with encountering the devil.

In what way is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a protest against social mores of the Victorian era?

During the Victorian era, morality was very strictly defined, and there was an expectation of self-restraint and piety. However, historians now argue that despite this rhetoric, Victorian England was propelled to wealth through child labor and marked by rampant prostitution. Mr. Hyde embodies this paradox in a few ways. The reader's first encounter with the character is the tale of his trampling a young girl in the street and then covering it up to avoid any gossip. Here he reveals the deception required of the upper and royal classes to keep airs at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable class. Similarly a prominent prostitution industry implies patrons of that industry, and those patrons were likely of the upper and royal classes. Mr. Hyde, as the agent of Dr. Jekyll's indulgence in the impulses of his "lower" self, represents all those who on the face of it denounced prostitution but, in reality, were patrons of the trade.

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