Literary Device Analysis of Robert Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Teen Ink

Literary Device Analysis of Robert Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

November 30, 2022
By Mstaiano GOLD, South Setauket, New York
Mstaiano GOLD, South Setauket, New York
12 articles 7 photos 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ θ
I have ‎ ∫ [f(x)]dx ‎ friends
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎ θ

Conflict is a literary element often used in literature to amplify one’s interest in a story. It is not only effective in producing intense situations, but also in allowing the story to convey a theme so strong that it serves as the backbone of a literary work. Narration, one of the most exploited literary devices, can also be used to help strengthen a central message embedded within tales spurred from conflict. Robert Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde takes advantage of the concept of perspective to enhance mysterious and contrasting elements, resulting in a strong presentation of the idea that good and evil forces are naturally intertwined. 

The lack of comprehensive limitations due to the third-person narration of Stevenson’s novella, especially from the scene in which Dr. Jekyll sees Mr. Utterson and Enfield from his window, manifests physical representations of his psychological developments in the setting, as described in “The court was very cool and a little damp, full of premature twilight, although the sky, high up overhead, was still bright with sunset” (25). By depending on the perspective that is most conscious of the environment in which Dr. Jekyll is based, the setting subtly yet successfully alludes to the brink of despair the character experiences. Coolness and dampness in the atmosphere are early indicators of storms, so the narrator takes advantage of this scenery to refer to the metaphorical tempest of Jekyll’s mind in which his rational and chaotic ways of thinking conflict with one another. Referencing twilight, the state of time that connects night and day, also alludes to the state that Dr. Jekyll is in. He is stranded on the border between wills of good and evil, represented by day and night, respectively. Fortunately enough, Mr. Hyde is absent in this scene due to the strength of Jekyll’s kindness, which the narrator finds comparable to the brightness of the sun. However, the fact that the sun is almost finished setting at this point in time confirms that the doctor’s complete descent into the darkness of insanity is inevitable. Robertson compensates for the lack of known personal information on Jekyll, which would have been simple to explain in the first-person, with imagery crafted from a third-person point of view that utilizes the knowledge of the entire setting and communicates it with creative symbols.

Perspective gives insight regarding Dr. Jekyll’s character, and the slight blend the narrator’s point of view with that of Mr. Utterson incorporates thoughtful word choice connected to symbolism to reveal how close holy and sinful qualities can be to each other. As Utterson looks upward to the direction of the darkening sky, “The middle one of the three windows was half-way open; and sitting close beside it, taking the air with an infinite sadness of mien, like some disconsolate prisoner, Utterson saw Dr. Jekyll” (25). Considering Utterson’s literal standpoint, the changing gradients of the evening sky would be in his field of vision when looking up at Jekyll, initiating the idea that the sky and the man before him share a bond that makes their qualities more understandable. Assuming that the first window of the building represents righteousness and the third represents wickedness, Jekyll’s location between these windows implies that he is the embodiment of the grey area where good and evil coexist. The narrator uses words such as “middle” and “half-way” to substantiate this idea further by focusing on their placements in the text. Prior to the use of these terms, words such as “high” and “bright” elicit feelings of hope, while those used afterward like “sadness” and “disconsolate” transition the mood in a manner that links all of those ideas into a brief passage. Similar techniques are used in the Bible and other religious texts to explain the transformation of a divine figure into a demonic one. They often bridge the reactant and the product to make the relationship between them obvious. The word “prisoner” told in the passage describes how Jekyll is limited by his own mind, as if trapped in Limbo, the first circle of Hell, and at the center of a psychological battle like the War of Heaven in the Old Testament between God’s noble seraphim and Lucifer’s rebellious Ars Goetia. Similarly to how Heaven experienced sudden instability, Jekyll’s mind is revealed to also be corrupted.

Utterson and Jekyll’s viewpoints serve as reminders of the struggle between good and evil, yet also of the relationship between the two ideas. Utterson addresses the doctor, “‘What! Jekyll.” he cried. “I trust you are better.” “I am very low, Utterson,” replied the doctor drearily, “very low. It will not last long, thank God.’” (25). Utterson’s initial belief that Jekyll is in high spirits notes that he possesses little knowledge of other characters because of his own limited viewpoint. Therefore, his hope opposes that of Jekyll, who considers himself to be low. His wording refers to the lowering height of the setting sun that decreases in its ability to shine rays of hope. The two characters have opposite frames of mind, yet they attract numerous times throughout the story due to their close friendship. This contributes to the central idea that opposites are much closer than typically expected. The third-person narration of the scene makes Jekyll’s true mental state more mysterious, as using the first-person for any given character would either provide an overwhelming surplus of information or not enough to make the story interesting. However, a reasonable amount of information can be inferred by the doctor’s final statement that he knows how his fate will turn out. One possible explanation to the claim is that he knows he will die in the near future. How he has a grasp on this knowledge is temporarily unknown.

The passage from Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde takes advantage of setting, mood and word choice with a third-person point of view to communicate the idea that concepts cannot be referred to as only black or white. One side of a story could set itself in a positive light and outside views in a negative one, while those outside views could do the same for themselves. Therefore, the third-person properly assesses situations by accounting for the good and bad qualities of both sides, revealing that Dr. Jekyll represents the grey found in the mid-way point between black and white. It manages to pursue this theme by comparing and contrasting the doctor with the environment around him. Transitions that depend on a sequence of words that transform in definition satisfyingly convey multiple moods in a short span of time. All of these literary devices and techniques suggest the duality of the human psyche.

The author's comments:

Jeckyll and Hyde was my favorite read in 2021

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