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The Book Club

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

1. Preconceptions prior to the actual reading of the book. The reader would have an inkling of what the novel is about, primarily because of the common usage of “Jekyll and Hyde” as a phrase, which is used to describe a person with a split or dual personality alternating between good and evil (conveniently – though not exactly accurate – referred to as “split personality”). Such a comprehension does interrupt the reading and progressions of the plot in the beginning, but a series of questions are naturally raised: how and why do the changes take place; the story’s correspondence to the oft-used saying; processes of the actual transformation, or perceived distortions in the appearances and actions of the split-protagonists; and how the physical or moral differences between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are – if they ever will be – eventually reconciled?

2. Straightforward and engaging plot introduction, progression. The fact that the character(s) or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are not introduced immediately has the effect of subtly raising tensions and suspense in anticipation of their entrance(s); with a build-up to the first mention of their names and corresponding deeds. The uncertainty keeps the reader along – especially in the first chapter – as the reader is anxious to uncover the relationships and links between Mr. Utterson, Mr. Enfield and the projected protagonists. Short chapters – premised and fore-grounded largely by the titles – progress the storyline in a straightforward manner, and transits smoothly from one scene to the other. Chapters are confined to a few select settings; which places emphasis on the plot-line per se.

3. Dr. Lanyon’s description of the extraordinary change; articulated later in the story. “And as I looked, there came, I thought, a change – he seemed to swell – his face became suddenly black, and the features seemed to melt and alter – and the next moment I had sprung to my feet and leapt back against the wall, my arm raised to shield me from that prodigy, my mind submerged in terror”. The pace is quite staccato, moving forward based on short phrases and immediate sentences, which builds up tension and adds a degree of quickness and horror in the description of the transformation.

4. Variance and significance of the narrative voice: Mr. Utterson. The narrative voice is dominated largely by Mr. Utterson: in the beginning and a majority of the first part. The style is highly professional and strictly methodological, with the straightforward presentation in terms of description of crimes, evidence, or introduction of facts. His professional accolade as a lawyer, complemented by his relationship proximity to Dr. Jekyll (affections supplemented by his history of interactions and friendship with the latter), lends credence and weight to his narrative and perspectives. He is the perfect medium to contrast the various characteristics and personalities of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and convincingly showcases the assortment of events related to the characters and plot-lines. Mr. Utterson is also a significant coagulant: his moral steadiness, relative composure and neutrality-impartiality give the reader trust in him as a narrator.

5. Variance and significance of the narrative voice: Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll. Dr. Lanyon’s brief assumption of narrator-ship in a single chapter is augmented by his medical expertise and knowledge, as well as his role as a counterpart and compatriot to Dr. Jekyll. Not only does he facilitate the transport of the drawer of medical supplies for Dr. Jekyll’s convenience, he is the only vis-à-vis witness to the horrific transformation; which he later accounts via written letter to Mr. Utterson. His medical experience renders his narrator-account more trustworthy and believable. Dr. Jekyll’s full statement at the end provides the customary closure for the novel, and provides an important and complete picture of the developments. It also puts into proper perspective the personal moral struggle experienced by Dr. Jekyll, as he articulates the good-and-evil conflict.

6. Quotes on the moral dilemma, good-and-evil conflict. “With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two” and “[B]ut I was still cursed with my duality of purpose; and as the first edge of my penitence wore off, the lower side of me, so long indulged, so recently chained down, began to growl for licence. Not that I dreamed of resuscitating Hyde … no, it was in my own person that I was once more tempted to trifle with my conscience”.

7. The purported moral dilemma; and the assertion that there is a certain evil lurking beneath all individuals (I). The novel revolves around a dual personality challenge personified during a medical experiment conducted by Dr. Jekyll, as a result of his medical intellect and moral curiosity. These are fascinating considerations; which are made especially pronounced and distinct given the personality differences and variance in words and deeds between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The transformation, as we are made to understand much later on in Dr. Lanyon’s narrative and Dr. Jekyll’s statement, is facilitated by a medical-chemical concoction; though the change does occur independently over a period of time beyond the doctor’s control. The reader cannot take Dr. Jekyll’s entire range assertions as immediate truths; though he is right to contend that humans constantly struggle between their good and evil sides. Mr. Hyde’s disposition and actions are pure evil, and does seem like an extreme case in terms of individuals who have no regard for laws or morals. This moral tension does encourage the reader to look within himself to determine a personal interpretation to the perspectives,

8. The purported moral dilemma; and the assertion that there is a certain evil lurking beneath all individuals (I). Questions are highlighted throughout this struggle (the duality of human nature). Beyond the medical-chemical concoction, what else can trigger the emergence of the evil, subconscious side; and whether it can be controlled – if so, how can it be done? There are worries and concerns over whether these actions and deeds can be managed; if the good side has the ability to overpower to regulate its reserve-mirror image. Nonetheless, there is no genuine query on the severity of the aforementioned evil; though its extent of manifestation may vary from person to person, given that the various crimes in the novel are presented as being violent and heinous.

9. Desensitisation to violence and urban terror. The brand of evil and the plethora of attacks of innocents are quite vile and violent in their description; and while the narratives might prove to be quite sinister and chilling to the reader in Stevenson’s times, the modern reader might not find the violence as encroaching. Our exposure to art, literary of film pieces that romanticise violence is a key reason why the modern reader might not find the narrative-descriptions as engaging or fascinating.

10. Dr. Jekyll’s reflection. “All human beings … are commingled out of good and evil”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


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