Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Narrative Perspective

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a mystery novel. Therefore, the structure of a mystery novel dictates that the reader’s viewpoint must be limited, especially in the beginning, and then slowly move outwards until the entire picture is revealed. DJMR follows this quite closely, allowing us (the reader) to only see what Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s lawyer, also sees. The way that Stevenson chooses to do this, however, breaks with traditions by combining the third and first person perspectives and directly interacting with the audience through the text.

At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to Mr. Utterson, the viewpoint character, through an external description. By external, I mean that we are introduced to him as another character might be. We are still able to see his thoughts and follow his perspective, but Utterson is his own person separate from the reader. Likewise, we are introduced to the story of Jekyll and Hyde as Utterson is directly told by his friend, Mr. Enfield. These take the form of dialogue, temporarily switching viewpoints to the first person. These bouts of dialogue, however, can run for several pages at a time. The story of how Enfield saw Hyde beat a child in the streets runs for two full pages without stopping, only breaking whenever Utterson interrupts him. In this way, Stevenson embeds the first person within a larger third person perspective. We receive information at the same time as Utterson, but we are not fully brought into his thought processes. In this way, Utterson is limited in how he may be realized as a character, but it also allows for the reader to implant themselves emotionally onto Utterson. Such as when he goes to visit Jekyll at his home, upon which he is brought into the laboratory. We are told rather directly that it “was the first time the lawyer had been received in that part of his friend’s quarters”. A small detail, but quite telling. It is a statement lacking sentimentality, a strait-forward explanation of facts. However Utterson feels about this fact is left for the reader to interpret based on their previous understanding of the character and, more importantly, how they might feel if they were put in the same position. In this way the story keeps us at arm’s length, not allowing for the reader to become emotionally attached to the main character.

Stevenson makes attempts to interact with the reader directly throughout the first part of the novel. These come in the form of asides, which are written in parenthesis amidst both dialogue and narrative. The asides are directly linked with the topic being discussed, and are often an anticipated response to how the reader or speaker is feeling. This is introduced in Mr. Enfield’s speech about Hyde in chapter 1. Sevenson adds “what makes it worse” in parenthesis amidst Enfield’s raging about Hyde’s terrible behavior. It is framed as if Enfield were saying it to Utterson but in the choice of parenthesis denotes that Stevenson himself is speaking. This is characteristic of stage performance, where the audience is often treated as an acknowledged part of the show and therefore asides are tolerated. In novels (and novellas) however, an acknowledgement of the reader is rarely seen. Such an interruption therefore grabs our attention, allowing Stevenson to direct or mislead us as he sees fit.

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