Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by: Robert Louis Stevenson

Chapters 2–3

Summary Chapters 2–3

Hyde’s ugliness prompts a similar loss of words. When Utterson finally converses with Hyde and sees his face, like Enfield, he proves unable to comprehend and delineate exactly what makes Hyde so ugly and frightening. Significantly, though, one of the words that the fumbling lawyer comes up with is “troglodyte,” a term referring to a prehistoric, manlike creature. Through this word, the text links the immoral Hyde to the notion of recidivism—a fall from civilization and a regression to a more primitive state. The imperialist age of Victorian England manifested a great fear of recidivism, particularly in its theories of racial science, in which theorists cautioned that lesser, savage peoples might swallow up the supposedly -superior white races.

The description of Jekyll’s house introduces an element of clear symbolism. The doctor lives in a well-appointed home, described by Stevenson as having “a great air of wealth and comfort.” The building secretly connects to his laboratory, which faces out on another street and appears sinister and run-down. It is in the laboratory that Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde. Like the two secretly connected buildings, seemingly having nothing to do with each other but in fact easily traversed, the upstanding Jekyll and the corrupt Hyde appear separate but in fact share an unseen inner connection.

These chapters also introduce us to the minor character of Dr. Lanyon, Jekyll’s former colleague. Lanyon’s labeling of Jekyll’s research as “unscientific balderdash” hints at the supernatural bent of the experiments, which contrasts powerfully with the prevailing scientific consensus of the Victorian world, in which rationalism and materialism held sway. In his reverence for the rational and -logical, Lanyon emerges as the quintessential nineteenth-century scientist, automatically dismissing Jekyll’s mystical experiments. Later events prove that his dogmatic faith in a purely material science is more akin to superstition than Jekyll’s experiments.