Plot and character summary of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Classic literature exploring the nature of good and evil.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1886.
Mr. Utterson is a lawyer who is described as a friendly, agreeable and sober man. He is driving the investigation into the mystery of the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His main concern lies in the fact that he has received a hand written Last Will and Testament from Dr. Jekyll naming Mr. Hyde as the one and only full beneficiary of his estate.
Richard Enfield is Utterson’s distant relative and companion. They walk together every Sunday.
Dr. Lanyon is an old friend and colleague of Dr. Jekyll’s as well as Utterson‘s. He has not seen Dr. Jekyll in a decade due to conflicts regarding scientific philosophies and research. His relationship with Jekyll is re-established at the end of the story.
Dr. Jekyll is a man of fortune and respected in his community. He says that he is “fond of the respect of the wise and good among my fellowmen”. He is torn with conflict between his desire to do good and his desire to seek hedonistic pleasures. He pursues pleasure at night and goodness during the daylight. He hides his duplicity with shame. He wishes to be free of the tension between good and evil.
Mr. Hyde is a despicable, vile and cruel man of uninhibited lusts. He is described more often by the emotional reactions of individuals rather than specific physical attributes.
Mr. Utterson and his cousin, Richard Enfield are on thier customary Sunday walk when they pass by a weathered and uncared for door. The observation of the door provokes Enfield to tell Utterson of a horrible event that he witnessed in which a man runs over a child injuring her. He describes the man as loathsome and somehow giving the appearance of deformity although he cannot say exactly what the deformity is. As the events of the incident unfold Utterson begins to ask questions of his cousin leading to the realization that it is none other than Edward Hyde, the man to whom his client, Dr. Jekyll, has willed his entire estate.
Because Utterson has never met Mr. Hyde nor knows anything about him he sets out to find more about him and his relationship to Dr. Jekyll. He suspects that blackmail is involved. He visits Dr. Hastie Lanyon an old mutual friend and colleague of Dr. Jekyll’s. Dr. Lanyon knows nothing of Hyde and furthermore tells Utterson that he hasn’t seen Dr. Jekyll in a decade. They have had a falling out over some scientific experiments of Jekyll’s which Lanyon calls “unscientific balderdash” and that Jekyll became “wrong in the mind”.
Utterson, deciding that he must meet Hyde, positions himself near the door from which Hyde exits and enters to watch and wait for an opportunity. “If he be Mr. Hyde I shall be Mr. Seek” he says. The opportunity finally comes one night and Utterson boldly approaches Hyde and has an unpleasant encounter but nothing more. Hyde acknowledges that he knows of Utterson and gives him his address remarking that “It is as well we have met; and apropos, you should have my address” He gives Utterson the address of his apartment. Utterson regards him with disgust and loathing and wonders if it is “the mere radiance of a foul soul”
Utterson visits Dr. Jekyll’s home and questions Poole, Dr. Jekyll’s loyal butler. He learns that the servants have instructions that Hyde may come and go as he pleases and that the servants are to obey him. Utterson fears that Hyde knows of the will and intends to murder Dr. Jekyll.
Upon confronting Dr. Jekyll with his concerns over Hyde, Utterson is told by Jekyll that he can rid himself of Hyde any time he wishes. He wants the matter dropped and tells Utterson that he does not understand the situation. No changes will be made to the will.
A year later a shocking brutal murder is witnessed by a maid looking down from an upper story window. She recognizes the murderer as Mr. Hyde who had visited her master once. She witnessed Hyde cruelly clubbing and trampling his victim to death. Upon hearing the account of the murder and identification of the perpetrator as Mr. Hyde, Utterson takes the police to the quarters of Mr. Hyde where evidence is found of his guilt.
Later that day Utterson goes to see Dr. Jekyll and finds him seated by the fireplace looking deathly ill. He confronts Jekyll and asks if he is hiding Mr. Hyde. Jekyll assures him that he is not and tells Utterson that he will not see Hyde again. He hands Utterson a letter that he claims to have received by post and which was signed by Mr. Hyde. The letter assured Dr. Jekyll that he, Edward Hyde, had escaped. Upon leaving, Utterson questions Poole as to the deliverer of the letter and Poole assures him that no letter was delivered that day by anyone personally nor by post. This revelation causes Utterson to be alarmed and he requests input from his trusted head clerk. The clerk, who is an astute observer, recognizes the writing to be identical except for the slope to that of Dr. Jekyll’s. Utterson immediately jumps to the conclusion that Dr. Jekyll forged the letter to cover for Hyde.
For a matter of months Dr. Jekyll’s demeanor and social activities appear to return to normal. However it is not long before the Dr. begins to isolate himself once again. Alarmed at the change and worried for Jekyll’s well-being Utterson pushes once again to investigate the cause of Jekyll’s return to solitude.
Utterson goes to visit Dr. Lanyon and finds him in severe decline and obviously near death. Dr. Lanyon tells his friend that he has had a great shock and forbids Utterson to talk of or even mention the name of Dr. Jekyll. Dr. Lanyon is dead in a matter of two weeks. A letter is left to Utterson from Lanyon with the instructions that it is not to be opened until after his death. Inside the envelope is another sealed letter that was not to be opened except upon the death of Jekyll.
The day comes when Poole summons Utterson to the house believing that his master has been injured or killed by Hyde and that Hyde is still present in his master’s chambers. Utterson comes to his aide and together they break down the door. Protests come from behind the door in the voice of Mr. Hyde and the pair are convinced that Hyde has indeed killed Dr. Jekyll. As they burst through the door they find the contorted body of Hyde dressed in the clothing of Jekyll dead on the floor with a vial of poison in his hand. They only know that they must now find the body of their friend and master Dr. Jekyll.
Instead of Jekyll’s body a packet of letters and documents are discovered, one of which is a letter to Utterson and a new will naming him as the beneficiary. The letter instructs Utterson to read the account of Dr. Lanyon that was in his possesion already and then to read Dr. Jekyll’s own confession.
Upon the reading of Lanyon’s letter and Jekyll’s confession the story of Jekyll’s experimentation with the metaphysical nature of good and evil unfolds. His desire to be free from the conflict from his fleshly desire and the spirit of good was at the heart of his experimentation. He believed that if each side of man’s nature could be housed in a separate identity that his suffering would be alleviated. His initial ability to split off the evil nature to freely roam and commit acts of debauchery and evil were seen by him as a success. Initially able to control the split by means of a potion he arrived at the time when a potion was no longer necessary. The evil side in the form of Mr. Hyde began to emerge without warning and to dominate the person of Dr. Jekyll. The inability to control his evil side eventually led to murder and eventually to his death.
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