Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By: Steven Robinson


Morally ambiguous characters -- characters whose behavior discourages readers from identifying them as purely evil or purely good -- are at the heart of many works of literature. Choose a novel or play in which a morally ambiguous character plays a pivotal role. Then write an essay in which you explain how the character can be viewed as morally ambiguous and why his or her moral ambiguity is significant to the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.


Because people are always debating between good and evil decisions, Robert Lewis Stevenson's unique, yet oddly relatable novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shows the struggle between good and evil - something everyone must deal with - and how it is not always obvious what the morally correct choice is, and how moral ambiguity can be found even within one's self without it being realized.


(Chapter 1)

"He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something down-right detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn't specify the point.”


Before Mr. Hyde is even introduced, Mr. Enfield can sense the evil residing within Dr. Jekyll even if he cannot quite pinpoint it. Even if Dr. Jekyll had done nothing wrong up to this point and seemed to be good in all aspects, the sinister aura that Mr. Enfield is experiencing is proof that Dr. Jekyll is not purely good, and foreshadows the menacing character that will be later introduced.

(Chapter 2)

“'If he be Mr. Hyde,' he had thought, 'I shall be Mr. Seek.'"

(I love this quote)


As Mr. Hyde is introduced, Utterson becomes determined to solve the secret behind him and how he is connected to Dr. Jekyll. The moral ambiguity is important here because immediately after the introduction of Mr. Hyde, an outside character is confused and cannot understand the connection to Dr. Jekyll. Good and evil are both present, and even to an outsider the line between them is blurry and strikes interest, further immersing the reader into the mystery between the connection between them.

(Chapter 3)

"The large handsome face of Dr. Jekyll grew pale to the very lips, and there came a blackness about his eyes. 'I do not care to hear more,' said he. 'This is a matter I thought we had agreed to drop.'"


Here is more evidence of the ambiguity between good and evil, except this time in the physical sense. Mr. Hyde's sinister appearance is already starting to bleed over into Dr. Jekyll's life, and is representative of the evil thoughts that are permeating into his mind as well. His tone of speech can be interpreted as rather harsh, and is another example of the evil Mr. Hyde corrupting the goodness of Dr. Jekyll.


After drinking the potion he created, Dr. Jekyll transforms into the ghastly Mr. Hyde
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Transformation 1932

(Chapter 5)

"The fire burned in the grate; a lamp was set lighted on the chimney shelf, for even in the houses the fog began to lie thickly; and there, close up to the warmth, sat Dr. Jekyll, looking deathly sick. He did not rise to meet his visitor, but held out a cold hand and bade him welcome in a changed voice."


This is when we first start to notice that Mr. Hyde might be gaining power, due to the ominous tone created by the use of the words "Deathly", "Cold", and "Sick", as well as the detail that Dr. Jekyll's voice has changed. The ambiguity between good and evil is tested in this moment because the reader is unsure of the intentions of Dr. Jekyll, and cannot decide whether or not Mr. Hyde is having some influence over him. Even though Mr. Hyde might not be present, this is when the reader would start to notice the evil spilling over into Dr. Jekyll's form and the line between good and evil is muddied even further.

(Chapter 7)

"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."


Here, Utterson can see Dr. Jekyll, but more importantly he can see that Dr. Jekyll is not in control and is clearly suffering from the curse he brought upon himself. At this point in is unclear to Dr. Jekyll that he has lost control, and the moral ambiguity has not been lost within himself, but through this quote one can understand that to an outsider the ambiguity has been lost and others can see that Dr. Jekyll is prisoner to the evil inside of him.
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The seemingly painful transformation from good to evil.

(Chapter 10)

"With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two."


It is at this point that Dr. Jekyll finally realizes he has no control over the evil inside of him, and the moral ambiguity is not so ambiguous to him any longer. Mr. Hyde continued to grow stronger with time, and Dr. Jekyll now comes to terms with the fact that he was not in control of the evil inside of him, and that it had become its own independent entity. If the evil inside someone is not tamed, it can take over and corrupt its host, much like Mr. Hyde finally gained power over Dr. Jekyll.

(Chapter 10)

"Both sides of me were in dead earnest; I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I laboured, in the eye of day, at the futherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering."


Here Dr. Jekyll sees the good and evil in himself and understands that they coexist, in equal parts. He realizes that at any given point, he is no more good than evil, and no more evil than good. In the end it seems as though he has come to terms with the two sides of his morality and the line between them is no longer blurred, the ambiguity fades away.

(Chapter 10)

"There comes an end to all things; the most capacious measure is filled at last; and this brief condescension to my evil finally destroyed the balance of my soul. And yet I was not alarmed; the fall seemed natural, like a return to the old days before I had made my discovery. It was a fine, clear, January day, wet under foot where the frost had melted, but cloudless overhead; and the Regent's Park was full of winter chirrupings and sweet with spring odours. I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin. After all, I reflected, I was like my neighbours; and then I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active good-will with the lazy cruelty of their neglect. And at the very moment of that vainglorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering. These passed away, and left me faint; and then as in its turn faintness subsided, I began to be aware of a change in the temper of my thoughts, a greater boldness, a contempt of danger, a solution of the bonds of obligation. I looked down; my clothes hung formlessly on my shrunken limbs; the hand that lay on my knee was corded and hairy. I was once more Edward Hyde. A moment before I had been safe of all men's respect, wealthy, beloved—the cloth laying for me in the dining-room at home; and now I was the common quarry of mankind, hunted, houseless, a known murderer, thrall to the gallows."


Just as Dr. Jekyll had thought he found the balance between the good and evil within him, everything comes crashing down. At this point there is no longer any question of who is in control, and Mr. Hyde asserts his dominance - as the novel comes to an end, all ambiguity is lost. The question of who was in control had been the one the reader had been asking, and was the main question that propelled the plot of the story, however at this point Stevenson brings everything together and shows that although Dr. Jekyll tried and fought back against the evil inside of him, Mr. Hyde finally prevailed and overpowered the sliver of goodness left inside the contested mind of Dr. Jekyll.
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Theme - The Outcast

In the beginning, Dr. Jekyll was not much of an outcast and had many friends and acquaintances that he had frequent contact with, however as Mr. Hyde gained more and more power, his peers began to notice and this is when the process of becoming an outcast was set into motion. Mr. Hyde drove Dr. Jekyll into secrecy from the start and Dr. Jekyll was unwilling to discuss the matter with anyone (Chapter 3 quote). Later, Dr. Jekyll comes out of secrecy after thinking he had come to control Mr. Hyde, but this was short lived as Mr. Hyde soon demonstrated the power he had and drove Dr. Jekyll back into hiding. This is when he started to resemble an outcast to society - losing his peers and being driven into hiding cut off most of the contact Dr. Jekyll had with anyone on the outside world. In addition, the gruesome appearance Mr. Hyde takes on is something that set him apart from most immediately, as he was extremely unique and easily identifiable, not to mention horrifying to lay eyes on. This made Dr. Jekyll an outcast in the physical sense as well, causing ridicule from other that would further drive him into secrecy. The outcast is evident through society and physical appearance, and during the course of the novella, Mr. Hyde succeeds in destroying Dr. Jekyll and drives him into isolation for good.