How to Teach The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an intriguing interpretation of 19th-century life, culture, and society. Despite the evolution of social and cultural norms since its publication in 1886, students can identify with many of the themes, specifically the influence of societal expectations on a person’s individuality. Students should consider the way they alter their expression (language, actions, dress, formality, etc.) according to where they are (school, home, friend’s house, parties) and who they are with (parents, friends, boss, siblings). How do societal expectations help to shape individuals? How do they inhibit them?

The interactions among characters (for example, in chapter one, Stevenson observes two friends—Mr. Enfield and Mr. Utterson—whose conversations are described as formal and impersonal; they are not even on a first-name basis) may seem strange to students who are unfamiliar with the formality of 19th-century society. Teachers can incorporate historical context within classroom discussions to help students better understand the novella. Students should envision Victorian ideals as mask-like. Dr. Jekyll personifies the mask; his status and reputation coincide with nineteenth century ideals, while the underlying manifestation of his true self, Mr. Hyde, remains concealed.

Teachers can also use the novella as an example of allegory, a story that has a deeper, hidden meaning (usually moral or political). Dr. Jekyll symbolizes the ideal Victorian man; his alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, represents the man who is free of all social and political constraints. Once Dr. Jekyll has experienced freedom from societal limitations, he is consumed and transformed by it and, eventually, is unable to return to his former self.

Summary

After developing a serum that will separate the two identities that exist within him—the one that is expressed and the one that is repressed—Dr. Jekyll has the ability to appear as two different men: Dr. Jekyll, his professional personality; and Mr. Hyde, his evil alter-ego. The novella follows the investigation of a curious lawyer, Mr. Utterson, who struggles to identify the connection between Jekyll and Hyde.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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This intriguing novel, both fantasy—thriller and moral allegory, depicts the struggle of two opposing personalities—one essentially good, the other evil—for the soul of one man.

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Content Warning

This novel contains instances of violence/aggression, death, and murder.

Objectives for Teaching The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

  • Understand characters’ roles and social expectations within Victorian society.
  • Discuss 19th-century advancements in science and psychology; emphasize the common stigmas and fears attached to them.
  • Recognize the moral allegory to identify the author’s intention.
  • Observe the duality of human nature.
  • Notice the novel’s use of imagery (for example, light versus dark) and how these descriptors contribute to the development of the novel.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allegory
  • Dualism
  • Foreshadowing
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Symbol

Themes and Motifs

  • Unnatural Beings — After concocting a serum that can split the two sides of his personality into separate beings, Dr. Jekyll is able exist both as himself and as his evil alter ego, Mr. Hyde.
  • Hidden Truths — Mr. Utterson is suspicious of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde's relationship from the novella's very beginning, and he makes it his mission to uncover their secret.
  • Reason vs. Supernatural — Mr. Utterson's investigation reflects his logical approach to life; he cannot understand the Jekyll-Hyde relationship until he acknowledges that sometimes, truth exists outside of reason.

Key Facts

  • Length: 80 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1060L
  • Publication Date: 1886
  • Recommanded Grade Band: 11-12

Movies

Stevenson’s novel has been reinterpreted in countless productions, most recently in the 2008 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Dougray Scott. The 1931 version, which is also titled Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, stars Fredric March, who won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance. This film received a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, where it is acclaimed as "[a] classic. The definitive version of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella, with innovative special effects, atmospheric cinematography, and deranged overacting."

Your students will love:

  • The curiosity of the novel’s characters.
  • The mysterious complexity of the novel, which gradually unravels with each turn of the page.

Students may have problems with:

  • Stevenson’s diction and vocabulary.
  • Recognizing the deeper meaning of the text.

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
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