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Character Analysis in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Mr. Gabriel Utterson: Mr. Utterson is the novel’s narrator, lawyer to Dr. Jekyll. He is loyal to his friends, and strives to get to the bottom of Jekyll and Hyde’s relationship without ruining the reputation of the former. Through investigating the strange goings-on in London, Utterson serves as a stand-in for the reader and represents the ideal Victorian: he is temperate, concerned with the appearance of decorum, and values rationality.
Dr. Henry Jekyll: Dr. Henry Jekyll is a brilliant, exceptionally well-educated physician. Behind the mask of his stellar reputation, Jekyll is an eccentric, tortured person. In his free time he pursues his interest in the occult and mystical realms of scientific knowledge. Spurring on Jekyll’s investigations are his internal moral struggles with the portions of himself which he deems evil. As the story progresses, these struggles begin to take over his life entirely.
Mr. Edward Hyde: Edward Hyde is a mysterious, dwarf-like man who haunts the streets of London by night, particularly the disreputable neighborhood of Soho. Mr. Hyde is everything a proper Victorian citizen strives not to be: violent, ugly, wicked, and lustful. As Mr. Utterson pursues his investigations, the riddle of Hyde’s dark origins slowly comes to light.
Dr. Hastie Lanyon: Dr. Lanyon is a friend to both Utterson and Jekyll, as well as a successful physician in his own right. In many ways, Lanyon is a foil to Jekyll: he is a rationalist in the realm of the sciences and thus despises Jekyll’s occult inclinations.
Character Analysis Examples in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde:
"“I incline to Cain’s heresy,” he used to say, quaintly; “I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.”..." See in text (Chapter One)
This passage is a reference to the Book of Genesis. Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, kills his brother Abel before asking God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Utterson retrieves Cain’s question and offers that his answer—“Cain’s heresy”—is no, a philosophy not so much murderous as live-and-let-live.
"to mortify..." See in text (Chapter One)
The verb “to mortify” literally means “to put to death.” In this context, Utterson drinks on occasion in order to “mortify” his appetite for alcohol. Such language illustrates Utterson’s Victorian character. Appetites are not to be indulged and enjoyed, but rather mortified from time to time.
"He was austere with himself; drank gin when he was alone, to mortify a taste for vintages; and though he enjoyed the theater, had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years...." See in text (Chapter One)
The opening passage of the story introduces us to Mr. Utterson, the protagonist. Mr. Utterson is sensible, rational, discreet, and morally conscientious. In many ways, Utterson serves as an exemplar of Victorian morality. Victorian Britain was a culture which valued a strong work ethic, self-control, sexual restraint, temperance, and codes of strict ethical conduct. In its drive towards upright moral behaviour, Victorian culture developed a shadowy underbelly of child labor, widespread prostitution, and opium dens and gin palaces. The inability to repress and restrain the darker areas of the human soul—a struggle the Victorians knew well—is perhaps the story’s central theme. Our guide through this warped theater of Victorian London is Mr. Utterson, a man who represents the ideals of his age.
"Something troglodytic, shall we say?..." See in text (Chapter Two)
“Troglodytic” literally pertains to troglodytes, or cave-dwelling people. Connotatively, the word suggests someone who is asocial, less-than-human, or repellant. This passage offers a brief, initial character sketch of Mr. Hyde.
"a propos..." See in text (Chapter Two)
“A propos” is a Latin phrase meaning to the purpose or fitly. As a lawyer, Mr. Utterson is given to using Latin and legal language in his speech, a token of his class and learning.
"through wider labyrinths of lamplighted city, and at every street corner crush a child and leave her screaming...." See in text (Chapter Two)
In an episode of dark, delirious, late-night imagination, Mr. Utterson envisions the shadowy figure of Mr. Hyde roaming the streets of London. Those lanes and neighborhoods are imaged as “wider labyrinths of lamplighted city,” an allusion to the original labyrinth of Greek mythology. Roaming that maze built deep in the dungeons of the Minoan palace of ancient Crete was the Minotaur, a man with a bull’s head, the king’s own misbegotten son. The Minotaur is a useful analogue for Mr. Hyde on several accounts. Both are disfigured and thus shunned from society. Both periodically prey on the innocent. Both spring from mysterious, suspect origins.
"what does not always follow..." See in text (Chapter Two)
In a humorous turn of phrase, Stevenson suggests that mutual respect between two people does not necessitate mutual enjoyment. In the case of Dr. Lanyon and Mr. Utterson, the two happen to align.
"This document had long been the lawyer’s eyesore. It offended him both as a lawyer and as a lover of the sane and customary sides of life, to whom the fanciful was the immodest...." See in text (Chapter Two)
Utterson’s reaction to Jekyll’s will bespeaks the differing character traits of the two men. Jekyll, unconventional as he is, has drafted a will which bequeaths his belongings to a man named Hyde in the event of a three-month disappearance. The conservative Utterson finds such choices improper. Utterson upholds the values of the Victorian era—the “sane and customary sides of life”—whereas Jekyll inhabits the edges of custom and culture, beyond which lies chaos.
"Henry Jekyll, M.D., D.C.L., LL.D., F.R.S., etc...." See in text (Chapter Two)
Henry Jekyll is a man decorated with numerous academic degrees. In succession, his titles stand for doctor of medicine, doctor of civil law, legum doctor, and fellow of the Royal Society— a prestigious organization of English scientists. This list bespeaks both Dr. Jekyll’s scientific brilliance and his high status and esteem in society. These characteristics are important as the mystery of Jekyll’s relationship with Mr. Hyde unfolds.
"The large handsome face of Dr. Jekyll grew pale to the very lips, and there came a blackness about his eyes...." See in text (Chapter Three)
Dr. Jekyll’s physical transformations mirror his emotional reaction to Utterson, who has just mentioned Mr. Hyde in discussion. The paleness suggests Jekyll’s fear; the “blackness about his eyes” suggests an obscurity, an unwillingness to reveal the truth. This passage hints at the deep, but thus far mysterious, connection between Jekyll and Hyde.
"that hide-bound pedant, Lanyon..." See in text (Chapter Three)
Dr. Jekyll refers to Dr. Lanyon as a “hide-bound pedant” in response to Lanyon’s opinion that his own scientific work is “balderdash.” “Hide-bound” refers to someone with an overly conservative perspective, and comes from the more literal image of emaciated, skin-and-bone cattle whose flesh lacks flexibility. A “pedant” is someone with a detail-oriented, by-the-book, academic manner.
"She had an evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy, but her manners were excellent...." See in text (Chapter Four)
Mr. Hyde’s landlady is characterized by “an evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy.” In Stevenson’s witty phrasing, we get the impression of a woman at once immoral in her actions and yet proficient at lying and concealing those immoral ways. Much of the thematic tension of the story lies in the push and pull between good and evil, as those two moral poles are perceived by the Victorians.
"The dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps..." See in text (Chapter Four)
Soho is a neighborhood in the West End of London. In Victorian times Soho was known as the city’s center of prostitution. The word “slatternly” comes from “slattern,” a derogatory word for a promiscuous young woman or prostitute. Soho, it becomes clear in the next paragraph, is where Mr. Hyde lives. It is fitting that Hyde, who represents many of the traits despised by the Victorians, resides in the least reputable quarter of London.
"trifling..." See in text (Chapter Four)
To “trifle” is to fool around and behave frivolously. In this context, Mr. Hyde’s frivolous activity serves as a contrast to his subsequent outburst of violence. This contrast shows Mr. Hyde to be unpredictable and irrational.
"but the moon shone on his face as he spoke..." See in text (Chapter Four)
In this instance, the moon symbolizes Danvers Carew’s innocence, a connection underscored in the further characterization of his “innocent and old-world kindness of disposition.” In the Western tradition, white images often carry such a connotation of purity. This idea of purity is important here in that it renders Sir Danvers Carew’s murder all the more despicable.
"If I am the chief of sinners, I am the chief of sufferers also. I could not think that this earth contained a place for sufferings and terrors so unmanning;..." See in text (Chapter Six)
In this letter, Henry Jekyll expresses his desperate struggle with one of the central themes of the story: punishment. The nature of the punishment is psychological, for Jekyll is not punished by the law but rather by his own feelings of remorse and guilt. Jekyll describes a feeling of being “unmann[ed],” a word relevant on multiple levels. To be unmanned is to be stripped of one’s defenses as well as to be reduced of one’s humanity and made less-than-human.
"I sometimes think, if we knew all, we should be more glad to get away.”..." See in text (Chapter Six)
Mr. Lanyon’s cryptic remark runs along the lines of the aphorism that “ignorance is bliss.” As Lanyon suggests, to know more—indeed, to know all—can lead to terror and despair. Lanyon voices the wish to “get away,” we presume, from life. As yet, the source of Lanyon’s despair is a mystery. Suffice it to say, however, that he has learned something deeply troubling.
"He had his death-warrant written legibly upon his face...." See in text (Chapter Six)
Henry Jekyll’s ill condition is related through a rich metaphor, that of a “death-warrant written legibly upon his face.” A death-warrant is a legal document which authorizes the execution of a criminal. In this passage, it serves as a figure for Jekyll’s apparently looming death. The metaphor of the death-warrant also evokes the criminal thread of the plot, namely the actions of Mr. Hyde, and calls more deeply into question Jekyll’s involvement therein.
"the smile was struck out of his face and succeeded by an expression of such abject terror and despair, as froze the very blood of the two gentlemen below...." See in text (Chapter Seven)
In a moment of startling transformation, Henry Jekyll’s attempts to put on a façade of conviviality crumble, revealing an expression of pure “terror and despair.” Jekyll’s process of unraveling descent has reached a new low. Utterson and Enfield are left speechless, sure only of the direness of Jekyll’s situation.
"with an infinite sadness of mien,..." See in text (Chapter Seven)
Mien, pronounced “mean” and from the same root as demeanor, describes a person’s expression, mood, and emotional bearing. After coming out of his seclusion, Henry Jekyll has retreated again into a state of despair and “infinite sadness,” the source of which is as yet unclear.
"malefactor..." See in text (Chapter Eight)
Utterson refers to the figure in the room—presumed to be Mr. Hyde—as a “malefactor,” which is to say a criminal or wrongdoer. “Malefactor” is a significant word here in that, near the beginning of the story, Hyde is cited as Henry Jekyll’s “benefactor,” the precise antonym. Hyde’s transition from benefactor to malefactor represents the increasingly problematic relationship between Jekyll and Hyde.
" that the wine was still untasted when he set it down to follow...." See in text (Chapter Eight)
Utterson makes particular note of the fact that Poole refuses to drink the wine he has been offered. It may be the case that Poole is too troubled and absorbed by the mysterious events surrounding Jekyll to take notice of the wine or that he wishes to keep a clear head as the investigations continue.
"moral turpitude..." See in text (Chapter Nine)
“Moral turpitude” refers to wickedness and vile behaviour. Lanyon does not elucidate precisely why he considers Jekyll’s actions turpid. It seems to be the case, rather, that Lanyon’s judgment arises from his emotional reaction, his “horror” when reflecting on all that has happened.
"farrago..." See in text (Chapter Nine)
The word “farrago” refers to a hodgepodge, a jumbled mixture. Dr. Lanyon uses the word to describe the letter Dr. Jekyll has written to him which, in its desperation and lack of detail, strike the doctor as grounds for insanity.
"I became, in my own person, a creature eaten up and emptied by fever, languidly weak both in body and mind, and solely occupied by one thought: the horror of my other self...." See in text (Chapter Ten)
In this passage, we witness the depths of Jekyll’s pain and terror, as well as the full price he has paid for his actions. By giving life to Hyde, Jekyll’s own existence, both body and soul, have deteriorated and become “eaten up and emptied.” As he approaches his final moments, Jekyll is gripped by horror; having decided to confront his dark, repressed side, that darkness has come to consume him.
"it fell out with me, as it falls with so vast a majority of my fellows, that I chose the better part and was found wanting in the strength to keep to it...." See in text (Chapter Ten)
Though it may seem an easy choice between remaining the monstrous Hyde or the upstanding Jekyll, Jekyll outlines the difficulty in his choice: Hyde, having been stripped of all the better qualities of Jekyll, would not even take notice of what he missed by not remaining Jekyll. On the other hand, Jekyll would also be conscious of having given up the indulgences of Hyde. Like many who choose the moral path, Jekyll finds it difficult to stick to due to personal temptation and lack of control.
"It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous fagots were thus bound together’that in the agonized womb of consciousness..." See in text (Chapter Ten)
Now an offensive term, the noun “fagot” refers to both a bundle of sticks used for fuel and a collection of iron rods bound together to be hammered into one. By invoking this metaphor, Jekyll continues to assert that he is two disparate personalities fastened together, constantly struggling for dominance rather than one harmonious person.
"blazoned..." See in text (Chapter Ten)
The verb “blazon” means to display prominently. Although others would have indulged their vices or put less consideration into what others thought, Jekyll does not, instead choosing to hide and repress his desires to advance his social standing.