The story begins with a respected lawyer, Mr. Utterson, walking with his relative, Enfield. Enfield tells Utterson about how he saw a strange and horrible figure called Mr. Hyde trample a young girl, and then attempt to pay off the relatives with a cheque signed by someone else. Although Utterson does not like gossip, and refuses to talk about the story more, he is intrigued by Mr. Hyde, particularly since one of his clients – Henry Jekyll – has just changed his will to leave everything to Mr. Hyde. Utterson thinks that Hyde must be blackmailing Jekyll, and has nightmares based on Hyde, despite having never seen him.
Utterson visits his friend Dr. Lanyon to ask him about Jekyll. Lanyon says that Jekyll and he fell out, as Jekyll was meddling with science in a way that Lanyon did not approve. Utterson searches for Hyde, and eventually tracks him to a building, which turns out to be a laboratory attached to Jekyll’s house. Utterson is appalled by Hyde, although Hyde gives Utterson his address. After a dinner party, Utterson talks to Jekyll about Hyde. Jekyll is noticeably shaken, and tells Utterson to leave the matter alone.
One year later, Hyde is seen beating to death a Member of Parliament called Sir Danvers Carew. The police ask Utterson for information, and Utterson leads them to Hyde’s address. They find Hyde’s apartment empty, and the case seems to go away. Utterson asks Jekyll about Hyde, and Jekyll assures Utterson that he has not seen Hyde for some time, and has broken off contact with him. Jekyll gives Utterson a letter, which he says is from Hyde, which apologises for all the trouble, and promises Jekyll that Hyde will never see him again. However, Utterson remains suspicious, particularly given that Hyde’s handwriting is the same as Jekyll’s.
Although everything seems initially settled after this, suddenly things become more serious. Jekyll refuses any visitors, and Dr. Lanyon dies, after receiving a shock from Henry Jekyll (although the shock is not explained). Lanyon gives Utterson a letter, only to be opened after the death of Henry Jekyll. Utterson and Enfield go out for a walk, and they see Jekyll at the window of his laboratory. They begin a conversation, when suddenly Jekyll has a terrified look, closes the window, and ends the conversation. Not long after this, Jekyll’s butler, Dr. Poole comes to see Utterson to explain that Jekyll has locked himself in his laboratory, and the voice that is coming from the inside no longer sounds like Jekyll’s.
Utterson and Poole go to Jekyll’s house, where they eventually decide to break down the door to the laboratory. When they get in, they find Hyde’s body lying on the ground, wearing Jekyll’s clothes. Next to the body is a letter than Jekyll wrote to Utterson, promising to explain everything.
Before reading the letter from Jekyll, Utterson reads the letter that Lanyon gave him. Lanyon writes that his death was a result of seeing Mr. Hyde drink a potion, and then turn into Jekyll. The letter from Henry Jekyll explains how he had been searching for a potion to separate his evil side from his good. Eventually he was successful, and was able to turn into Hyde. Although Hyde was initially happy at becoming Hyde, because he was completely free from morality, he eventually became shocked and appalled by Hyde, and more worryingly, began to turn into Hyde against his will.
The strength of Hyde soon began to overtake Jekyll, and despite fighting the urge to transform, one night he gave in to temptation, and turned into Hyde. It was then that he beat Danvers Carew to death. After this, Jekyll promised himself that he would stop becoming Hyde. This was successful for a short while, although eventually Jekyll turned into Hyde during the day, when Jekyll was awake. It was clear Hyde was getting stronger.
As the police hunt for Hyde continued, Hyde sought the help of Dr. Lanyon to help him turn into Jekyll. However, Lanyon’s shock at the transformation led to Lanyon’s death. Jekyll realised that Hyde was becoming stronger and stronger as the transformations became more common, and needed more and more potion to reverse. It was at this point that ‘the incident at the window’ took place. Jekyll also realised that a key ingredient in the original potion had been contaminated, and therefore that he could never recreate the exact mixture. Jekyll knew that this meant that Hyde would eventually take over, and wrote the letter to Dr. Lanyon effectively knowing that Jekyll would exist no more.Back to top
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is perhaps the purest example in English literature of the use of the double convention to represent the duality of human nature. That Dr. Jekyll represents the conventional and socially acceptable personality and Mr. Hyde the uninhibited and criminal self is the most obvious aspect of Stevenson’s story. The final chapter, which presents Jekyll’s full statement of the case, makes this theme explicit. In this chapter, Jekyll fully explains, though he does not use the Freudian terminology, that what he has achieved is a split between the id and the superego.
Until Jekyll’s letter explains all, Utterson tries to find naturalistic explanations for events that seem to deny such explanations. The tale is a pseudoscientific detective story in which Utterson plays “Seek” to Jekyll’s “Hide.” The pun on Hyde’s name reflects the paradox of his nature, for even as Utterson searches for him, he is hidden within Jekyll. Hyde is always where Jekyll is not, even as he is always, of course, where Jekyll is. What Hyde embodies in the structure of the story is his essentially hidden nature.
A central theme throughout the story, which serves to negate verbal attempts to account for and explain the mystery, is the theme of seeing. In the opening chapter, in describing the trampling of a child, Enfield says, “It sounds like nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see.” Although Hyde gives a strong impression of deformity, Enfield cannot specify the nature of the deformity.
Utterson is a “lover of the sane and customary sides of life,” but the mystery of Hyde touches his imagination. He believes that if he can only set eyes on Hyde, the mystery will roll away. Even Jekyll himself says, “My position . . . is one of those affairs that cannot be mended by talking.” The irony is that all Stevenson has to work with is words; all that Jekyll can use to account for Hyde is words. Even Jekyll’s words are hidden, however, as if within nesting Chinese boxes, in the letter within the letter that reveals all.
When Utterson comes to Jekyll’s home, he still tries to account for the mystery of Hyde in a naturalistic way, but his explanation cannot account for the enigma at the center of the story—Hyde’s ability to hide. In the letter from Lanyon, the only man allowed to see the mysterious transformation, the reader gets an idea of the structural problem of the story: how to project the psychological reality of the double in a story that attempts to be plausible and realistic rather than allegorical. Lanyon’s letter says that his soul sickened at what he saw. It is indeed the hidden that can be manifested but not described that haunts the center of this thematically simple but structurally complex tale.