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The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde Literary Analysis

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Chapter 4 in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is one of the novels most significant points as it makes Hyde’s sheer ferociousness and brutality evident to the reader for the first time. Up to this point, the reader is only aware of the potential of Edward Hyde through the vague descriptions of him and the very brief trampling of the young girl. The reader witnesses the murder of Sir Danvers Carew by Hyde, from a maidservant’s viewpoint.

Due to this, it is fair to say that the reader gains a more restricted view of events through the maidservant’s eyes and will acquire a limited picture of events, which will go a long way towards letting the reader build up an image of the scene for themselves. This chapter goes a long way in getting an insight into Hyde’s actions and his general mindset which reaffirms David Stevens views in ‘The Gothic Tradition’ in which he describes the novel as a combination of ‘horror with astute psychological insight’.

One of the first striking points to notice about the chapter is its title which instantly hints to the reader that it will have a sinister tone to it as it will be centred on a ‘murder case’. The chapter title is also quite unexpected as the previous chapter is titled ‘Dr Jekyll was quite at ease’ placing the reader into a sense of security which is quickly destroyed by the following chapter.

The fact that the chapter is titled as a ‘murder case’ also has a substantial part to play in moulding the language and tone of it, this can be seen by the sudden change to the more objective third person narrative making it appear more distanced and impersonal. All of this coupled with the quasi-legal type style of writing and the detective case style which consists of specific dates, concise and dense with information, formal and an eyewitness account which acts as evidence makes the chapter somewhat detached from the novel and places greater importance upon it.

The fact that the chapter has been written in such a way, makes the credibility of the content of it far greater as the reader acknowledges that all they are getting is facts, the beginning parts of it is not interrupted with any of the standard dialogue between characters which is seen through the rest of the novel.

This means that the reader can clearly distinguish at which points the novel is trying to tell a story and at which points it is giving them objective information such as in chapter 4. The whole chapter in particular the beginning parts in which the maidservant gives her account is very concise to the point at which all the information is laid out in a chronological manner with it going from the ‘early part of the night’ to ‘two o’clock when she came to herself’ and ‘the next morning’.

Even though the chapter begins with a realistic and true to life tone, as that of a newspaper article with the ‘Nearly a year later, in the month of October 18-,’ phrase, the reliability of the maidservants statement is somewhat in doubt due to the way Stevenson describes her as ‘romantically given’ and ‘dream of musing’ all suggesting that she was a fantasist and where ‘she narrated that experience’ could also be a sign of her unreliability as the word narrated could well be used in the sense ‘to tell a story’.

This of course is the main motive of Stevenson at this point, to cast a bigger sense of mystery over her account and for the reader to doubt the maidservant in parts consequently building up their own picture rather then being given the exact details. This can be clearly linked to other classic horror tales, more notably being Bram Stoker’s Dracula which is a great example of how different forms are used such as letters, diaries and newspaper articles to add a sense of realism and factual tone to the novel.

The buildup to the maidservant’s account includes vivid description of specific parts of the setting; this is done for a variety of reasons. One such characteristic is the first line which following the basic detective style case starts with the date and location. ‘London was startled’ is a very powerful yet intriguing start to the reader as the personification of London makes the already astonishing description more intensified while making it seem as if it is an actual character in the story.

The fact that London is ‘startled’ is a very imposing image as in the Victorian period, London was already an extremely violent area and for it to be startled would mean that something very out of the ordinary and outrageous must have happened. The crime, a murder of a distinguished, well-known social and political figure, is committed by the light of the full moon.

The ‘full moon’ could even be interpreted as a catalyst for the maidservant becoming ‘romantically given’ or some sort of a spotlight as in a theatre which brings up the expectation of something about to happen ‘on the stage’, the fact that the moon is deliberately presented in such an indefinite manner with a number of possible contrasting meanings follows on the theme of duality that is running throughout the whole novel.

Such important notions are vital in another frequently used technique by Stevenson, foreshadowing, which is seen by the ‘romantically given’ maidservant which is the calm before the storm and deceives the reader into a sense of comfort which consequently creates an altogether greater shock to the reader. Another description by the maid is of Mr. Hyde who ‘had in his hand a heavy cane’, this is significant since she is not just describing that he had any sort of cane but more specifically a heavy cane which foretells that it could be used in later periods.

The aforesaid theme of duality is also apparent in the contrasting descriptions of Sir Danvers Carew and Mr. Hyde. Carew is described by the maidservant as ‘an aged and beautiful gentleman’ with ‘a very pretty manner of politeness’ which is a perfect description by Stevenson to evoke sympathy for him during the scene whilst highlighting the upper class that makes him stand out, particularly compared to the ‘very small gentleman, to whom at first she paid less attention’.

Mr. Hyde is also depicted critically, simply referred to as ‘the other’ straight after Carew has been described in such an elegant and magnificent way, ‘breathe such an innocent and odd-world kindness of disposition’. Hyde is also described with ‘ill-contained impatience’ and acting ‘like a madman’, building up a picture to the reader of Hyde as a ticking bomb which could ‘break out’ or erupt at the slightest of things, this makes his ‘flame of anger’ all the more startling.

Duality is also evident in the classes of the two men, while one man, Carew, had ‘something high’ with him, the other in contrast, Mr. Hyde, is deemed as not being of ‘great importance’. This reflects the divide in social classes that was apparent in Victorian society at the time resulting in the obvious lack of attention paid towards Mr. Hyde by the maidservant.

The manner in which Stevenson brings about the actual murder in the description by the maidservant has a very powerful effect on the reader and reiterates Hyde’s sheer savagery. It is vital to notice that the actual murder has only been described briefly in a few sentences towards the end of an extended paragraph, within the beginnings of the paragraph; there is a mellow undertone to the meticulous description of the build up to the murder.

This fools the reader into a temporary comfort zone which is developed further as the paragraph extends with positive words such as ‘innocent’, ‘romantically’ and ‘beautiful’ to name but a few. This comfort zone is then shattered dramatically with a single sentence of such violence that has never really been touched upon previously in the novel, ‘And then all of a sudden he broke out in a great flame of anger… This is the pivotal sentence in the passage as it finally makes the reader realise the actual murder which has been progressively built up to the reader.

Although the passage of the murder is brief, it is made all the more shocking by the use of potent verbs such as ‘stamping’, ‘trampling’ and ‘clubbed’ while noticing that the first two of these are only a part of the frequently used present participles that seem to add a sense of immediacy and directness such as ‘brandishing’.

Stevenson also refers to another element of the Gothic genre with his use of animal imagery, in his many vague descriptions of Hyde up to this point, Stevenson has strayed away from referring to him as just another human, this stance is further enhanced in this passage with him describing Hyde’s actions with adjectives such as ‘ape-like’ and actions such as ‘clubbed’, all making Hyde seem like an animal which is both emphasising his ferocity while referring to how others might have thought of such lower class beings in Victorian society.

This theme of animal behavior and metaphors can also be witnessed in other archetypal gothic texts such as the bat and dog metaphors in Dracula to the more obvious Frankenstein. Overall, Chapter 4 can justifiably be considered as one of the most crucial due not only to the impact it has on the reader but also because of how Stevenson brings about such an impact with the use of classic Gothic features. Hyde’s animal like tendencies result in the most convulsive passage of text throughout the novel to not only shock and excite the reader but to try and give a better understanding of Hyde’s lack of psychological stability.

The sheer powers of the action drastically rework the entire novel’s tone. The chapter is also vital in emphasising the key elements which make this the classic Gothic text that it ahs become. Although readers of the Victorian period would almost definitely have had different reactions to the chapter, the fact that Hyde’s psychological state and his animal-like behaviour is such a major theme in the chapter makes it have a universal relevance through the different time periods since human will always be fascinated with how the mind works.

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