Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde narrative voice essay

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a novel with an interesting narrative style. The novel is a detective thriller told in a third person narrative over three ‘Acts’ from the viewpoint of Mr Utterson as he tries to unravel the strange connection between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The first two ‘Acts’ establish the problem of Mr Hyde’s identity and then show us the struggle to identify him. The final act reveals that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person is only revealed in the last two chapters which shift into first person letters – one a confession from Dr Lanyon, the other a confession from Dr Jekyll. We can take a look at how the narrative style is important to the plot for setting up a mystery and building tension.

First of all, we have described this as a piece of detective fiction and we can identify our viewpoint character, Mr Utterson as our detective. The opening of the novel focuses heavily on establishing Utterson as a trustworthy character. We need to trust our ‘detective’ if we are to read the book. Utterson has flaws, he has a ‘rugged countenance’ and seems stand-offish meaning he appears unapproachable and unsociable. However, we are also told “yet [he was] somehow loveable”. The word choice here of loveable suggests that many have found something to like in Mr Utterson, and he has proved himself a trust-worthy and loyal friend. In his opening paragraphs Stevenson uses his narrative style to clearly mark Utterson out as a dependable and human character and he is to become our lens on the story that is about to unfold. We will know nothing unless Utterson knows it also. The narration at the start of Chapter One ensures we trust Utterson completely.

The opening ‘Act’ is completed when the connection between Dr Jekyll and Hyde is marked. Mr Utterson returns to his study and pulls out Dr Jekyll’s will which informs Utterson to “quote from the will”. Utterson has always been curious about this instruction as he does not know who Hyde is and can only assume that it is someone blackmailing Dr Jekyll. Everything he has heard from Enfield about the ‘brute’ has only confirmed in his mind that there is some dire connection between the two men. The first Chapter is specially set up so that a mystery is established for Utterson (and us) to solve.
Stevenson then horrifies his audience and deepens the mystery when Hyde kills Sir Carew. There is no reason for Hyde to murder Carew, he was simply aggravated by the kind old man speaking to him in the street yet ‘with ape-like fury’ he ‘audibly shatters’ the man’s bones. Hyde appears exceptionally cruel here, the simile shows us how primal and animalistic his actions are, he acts like an ape without thought, the sound of the bones breaking places us in the scene and we feel sick at the thought of the noise. Furthermore though we struggle to work out why Hyde acts the way he does, what could drive a man to behave in such a way? What has happened in his past that would make him act like that? This spurs the narrative on as Stevenson has set up an actual murder case to be solved, we have our murderer but we are no closer to knowing why he did it or his connection to Jekyll but it seems more vital to find out now as Hyde has actually killed someone.

The tension begins to really build near the middle of the book through the narrative. In attempting to discover the connection between Hyde and Jekyll, Utterson discovers that they have the same handwriting or rather Jekyll has “forge[d] for a murderer!” Utterson cries out these words as though in pain, he cannot believe his friend is so involved with such a terrible man. We can also infer from the shock that runs through his statement that he desperately wants to find out the real connection between Jekyll and Hyde. What could possibly make such an established and reputable gentleman protect such a brutal and evil man? At this point in the novel, around ‘Act Two’, we feel impossibly far away from the truth. We are desperate, just like Utterson, to find out the truth about Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll and the tension is at fever point.

In the final few chapters all is finally revealed and the tension is released. The narrative itself changes quickly in the last three chapters. Through Utterson we are told that Jekyll is in his room only to discover a dead Mr Hyde behind the locked door. The narrative then jumps to Dr Lanyon in the form of his last letter. He tells us he sees Mr Hyde transform, but won’t tell us into who, as he is to upset by it. Finally, in Dr Jekyll’s confessional letter we finally discover what we suspected all along – Jekyll is Hyde. He tells us that he “I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end”. In killing himself he rids the world of the evil Hyde and gets a sort of justice for all Hyde’s deeds. He also explains why he created Hyde – as an alter-ego to himself so he could do what he wanted outside the scrutiny of judgemental high society. We as the reader are finally satisfied as we get the confirmation we wanted over Hyde and Jekyll’s connection.

In summary, Stevenson has taken care over his narrative style in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to create a text which mystifies and thrills the reader. He creates a viewpoint character who we trust and follow, he creates a villainous character whose awful acts horrify us, he presents us with problems we can’t solve and then finally reveals all from the mouth of the villain himself. A truly interesting and captivating narrative style.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde setting essay

Choose a novel in which setting is an important feature.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is a novel in which setting plays an important feature. In the book Dr Jekyll represents good and Mr Hyde represents evil, yet they are technically the same person and come to symbolise the good and evil in all of us. The novel is set in London but draws heavily on Stevenson’s knowledge of his hometown Edinburgh to create a chilling setting which emphasises the themes of good and evil.

Setting is most important as a symbol for the characters of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Jekyll owns a fancy town house with a tumble down lab on the back. The town house is described as having an ‘open fire’ in the front hall. This represents Jekyll as it is warm and inviting and hugely welcoming – all things that match Jekyll’s character. The fact that he can build a fire in his front hall and not just his main rooms suggests he is wealthy and likes to display his wealth. Again it is a symbol for the man himself. We are also told that the street on which his house sits is filled with similar houses – his though is the only one kept clean and tidy and whole, the rest have become slightly messy. This is in keeping with Jekyll’s character as we know he is concerned with his reputation and making himself look good to other people which his house certainly does. Hyde on the other hand is a secretive creature who doesn’t so much lurk in the shadows as lives only in the night. He doesn’t hide from other people but he doesn’t really interact with them either, or encourage interactions. The lab door sums up his character perfectly. Unlike the main house it juts out on an alley street, its windows are covered and the door bears no knocker and hasn’t been cleaned for entry. The windows emulate Hyde’s private nature, he doesn’t want people prying into his business. The lack of a knocker shows he doesn’t want or expect guests. The untidiness of the doorway similarly keeps people from visiting. The text also describes the lab as a ‘sinister block of buildings’ – there is something off about them, just like we are told there is something off or ‘deformed’ about Hyde’s appearance. Setting here, in the form of the house, serves to reinforce the characters of Hyde and Jekyll and further highlights the theme of good versus evil.

The Victorian London setting is important because it is what pushes Jekyll into making Hyde. Stevenson had apparently considered setting his tale in Edinburgh, with its sordid, poverty-stricken old town and glossy, illustrious new town making clear allusions to Jekyll and Hyde’s personalities again. However, in high London society a man’s reputation was everything and he had to behave. It is far easier to explain Jekyll’s actions against the backdrop of London society than Edinburgh’s. Jekyll is repressed by his lifestyle as a rich doctor, it is only as Hyde that he can do what he actually wants and so he creates Hyde. The setting is important here because it is what forces Jekyll’s hand into making an alternative persona for himself.

Setting is important in the initial chapters where Utterson’s dream makes the minotaur and his maze a metaphor for Hyde and his London. We have already had descriptions of Hyde as a ‘juggernaut’ something huge and threatening. This image is built up further with his comparison to the minotaur, a monstrous beast that was used to control and terrorise the Greek town of Minos. Hyde similarly terrorises the occupants of London as he will trample and destroy any who get in his way – the little girl and Sir Carew. London’s twisting medieval streets and fogged new streets become the maze in which the minotaur was kept. You never know when the minotaur or Hyde might appear to hurt you. Setting then becomes a metaphor for the playground of evil.

Setting is also important as Stevenson often uses dramatic epithet to show a change in the mood of a scene to show that something is about to happen. We are often told about the ‘rolling fog’ in the streets of London. It hides Hyde literally and cloaks the shady characters of the night. In the final chapters of the novel the fog becomes a horrible storm, rain lashes and the streets are empty. This adds a sense of foreboding as we know something is going to happen the streets are too physically quiet of people as if something bad is about to happen. Utterson is then escorted by Poole to Jekyll’s house and we finally discover that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. Setting here was used to suggest and hint that the plot was about to take a turn for the worst.