Civilization and Its Discontents

Discuss the role of the city throughout the novel, both during the day and at night. How does the city contribute to the novel's progression? What role does it play? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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At various junctures in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson uses vivid descriptions to evoke a sense of the uncanny and the supernatural, and of looming disaster. He first employs this technique in the opening scene, when Enfield relates his story of witnessing Hyde trample a little girl—a night when the streets were so empty that he began “to long for the sight of a policeman.”

This notion of the city as a fearful landscape recurs throughout the novel. After hearing the tale of Mr. Hyde, Utterson suffers from dreams in which Hyde stalks through “labyrinths of lamp-lighted city,” crushing children and whispering evil into Jekyll’s ears. In Utterson’s vision, London becomes a nightmare city, a place of terror where Hyde can perpetrate his crimes unchecked. The nightmare city reappears in Utterson’s later, waking description of London. Leading the police to Hyde’s apartment through a foggy pre-dawn, Utterson watches the mist swirl and transform the neighborhood into “a district of some city in a nightmare,” bringing a “touch” of “terror” even to the stolid policemen.

By the novel’s final scene, these cityscapes connote not only terror but also foreboding of even more horrifying dangers. When Poole fetches Utterson to Jekyll’s house, the wildness of the night and the empty streets fill the lawyer with “a crushing anticipation of calamity.” In all these descriptions, Stevenson creates a perceptual dread that reinforces the conceptual horror of his subject matter.