This section looks at the Key themes in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Duality of man
Jekyll asserts that “man is not truly one, but truly two,”
Stevenson uses the characters of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to expresses his beliefs about human duality by introducing them as two contrasting characters. Using two completely different characters with different names and appearances gets his message of human duality across effectively.
Good versus Evil
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is as an allegory about the good and evil that exist in all men, and about our struggle with these two sides of our personality. In the novella the battle between good and evil rages within the individual. Since Hyde seems to be taking over, one could argue that evil is stronger than good. However, Hyde does end up dead, perhaps suggesting a weakness or failure of evil. The big question, of course, is whether or not good can be separated from evil, or whether the two are forever intertwined.
Repression is indisputably a cause of troubles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The repression here is that of Victorian Britain: no sexual appetites, no violence, and no great expressions of emotion, at least in the public sphere. Everything is sober and dignified. The more Jekyll’s forbidden appetites are repressed, the more he desires the life of Hyde, and the stronger Hyde grows. We see this after Dr. Jekyll’s two-month hiatus from being Hyde; Dr. Jekyll finds that the pull to evil has been magnified after months of repression.
Friendship and Loyalty
Friendship in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde serves to drive the plot forward. Aside from human curiosity, Utterson is compelled to uncover the mystery of the evil man because of his friendship with Dr. Jekyll. In trying to unravel the secret, he uncovers crucial pieces of information. In this sense, friendship acts as both a motivator and an enabler. As for the friendship between Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll, it’s certainly not as unconditional as the loyalty Mr Utterson bears for Dr. Jekyll. Instead, it’s fraught with competition, anger, and eventually an irreconcilable quarrel. We see that friendships can be ruined by differences of opinion.
Appearances and Reputation
Appearances figure in the novel both figuratively and literally. Dr. Jekyll definitely wants to keep up a well-respected façade, even though he has a lot of unsavoury tendencies. In a literal sense, the appearances of buildings in the novel reflect the character of the building’s inhabitants. Dr.Jekyll has a comfortable and well-appointed house, but Mr. Hyde spends most of his time in the "dingy windowless structure" of the doctor’s laboratory.
In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, curiosity drives the characters to seek knowledge. This curiosity is either suppressed or fulfilled in each character. Curiosity lacks any negative connotation; instead, characters who do not actively seek to unravel the Jekyll and Hyde mystery may be viewed as passive or weak. Finally, the characters’ curiosities are, to some degree, transferred over to the reader; we seek to solve the puzzle along with Mr. Utterson.
Lies and Deceit
The plot is frequently driven forward by secrecy and deception; Mr.Utterson doesn’t know the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and he wants to find out. Also, by omitting the scenes of Mr. Hyde’s supposedly crazy debauchery, Stevenson allows our imaginations to run to wild and fill in the gaps.
This novel details two crimes of violence against innocent and helpless citizens: first, a little girl, and second, an elderly man. The violence in the novel centres on Mr. Hyde, and raises the question as to whether or not violence is an inherent part of man’s nature.
God and Satan figure prominently in this text, as well as many general references to religion and works of charity. As part of their intellectual lives, the men in the novel discuss various religious works. One sign of Mr. Hyde’s wickedness, for example, is his defacing Dr. Jekyll’s favourite religious work. Mr. Hyde is also frequently likened to Satan.
Women and Femininity
Most female characters in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are passive and weak. The first female we see is a young girl mowed over by Mr. Hyde. Although she is "not much the worse, more frightened, "she still kicks up an incredible fuss and a large group of people come to her aid. The next woman we see is via a maid’s narrative of the Carew murder. After witnessing the murder, she faints, awakening long after the murderer is gone making her a passive spectator.
Science, Reason and the Supernatural
Science Reason and the Supernatural are the main factors in the development of the conflict between Dr. Lanyon and Dr. Jekyll which is integral to the plot. Dr. Lanyon adheres to a more traditional set of scientific notions then Jekyll. In the book science becomes a cover for supernatural activities. Jekyll’s brand of science veers towards the supernatural.