The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Lesson 1

So, today we discussed the background to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, as well as looked at some of the modern influences this text has had, such as The Incredible Hulk.

Characters

  • Mr Utterson – a lawyer, and in charge of making Dr Jekyll’s will. He becomes suspicious of Hyde and his apparent influence over his friend, Jekyll.
  • Dr Henry Jekyll – a respected Doctor, who appears to be leaving all his possessions to the fairly dodgy Mr Hyde. He gradually becomes more and more withdrawn from his friends, secluded himself in his laboratory.
  • Mr Edward Hyde – a suspicious man, who was seen trampling a child in the street, and a maid claims to have seen him murder.
  • Dr Lanyon – a mutual friend of Jekyll and Utterson, who dies suddenly after discovering something truly disturbing about Jekyll. He leaves a letter for Utterson to be opened only after Jekyll’s death.

 

Context and Symbolism

  • One night, in 1885, Stevenson had a nightmare.
  • It was so intriguing he began writing what was to become The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He finished the first draft in three days.
  • His wife, however, thought it was simply a scary story – she challenged him to go further, and look at the philosophical possibilities with an exploration of the darker side of human nature.

 

Rise of the working class

To some, Hyde represents the growing power of the social classes, who by now had been given the power to vote, and were becoming aware of readings by Karl Marx on the notion of equal wealth for all.

Darwinism

The 19th century brought with it a huge crisis in religion and faith, due to Darwin’s theory of evolution – the idea that religious teachings in Creation were untrue, and that man had evolved like other creatures.

Hyde represents the survival of the fittest, and as a natural man, he is unrestricted by social conventions and barriers in the same was Jekyll is.

Freud

Sigmund Freud, a Viennese doctor, had begun what would later become psychoanalysis, a method of analysing emotions and disorders. Freud believed we were influenced by impulses that we are not always aware of – the subconscious. Was Hyde Jekyll’s subconscious desire to delve into the darker side of his nature?
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