Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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Letters and Documents Symbol Analysis

Letters and Documents Symbol Icon
There are many complicated, convoluted interactions between the characters in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Confessions, transferals of responsibility, and even the narrative itself are all forms of documentation that create the suspense and mystery of the book. The characters are often sworn to secrecy or are repressing their own disgust or disbelief and therefore tend to put their feelings in writing rather than speaking or revealing details to each other. This creates a web of secret documents that weaves its way between scenes and between characters. The story begins with the lawyer Utterson’s fear of the new will of Dr. Jekyll – this document holds power over him and over Jekyll – and the final three documents that Utterson finds left to him from Dr. Jekyll make clear everything that the will obscured. In this way, Stevenson frames the whole novel with items of documentation, and plays with the line between myth and truth.

Letters and Documents Quotes in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quotes below all refer to the symbol of Letters and Documents. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Science, Reason and the Supernatural Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde published in 2012.
Chapter 9 Quotes

“Think of me at this hour, in a strange place, labouring under a blackness of distress that no fancy can exaggerate, and yet well aware that, if you will but punctually serve me, my troubles will roll away like a story that is told. Serve me, my dear Lanyon and save

Your friend, H.J.”

Related Characters: Dr. Jekyll (speaker)
Related Symbols: Letters and Documents
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

In this long letter, Dr. Jekyll--who, we'll see, has been transformed into Mr. Hyde unexpectedly--begs his old friend Dr. Lanyon to go into his house, obtain some chemicals and test tubes, and bring them to Mr. Hyde so that Hyde can have a way of transforming back into Jekyll and avoiding arrest.

It's important to note that Dr. Jekyll himself doesn't say anything about why he needs Lanyon to follow his instructions--instead of explaining himself, he invokes his long, close friendship with Lanyon. Furthermore, Lanyon complies with Jekyll's wishes, recognizing that their friendship is more than enough reason to obey. Jekyll's letter is important because it clarifies the relationship between good, evil, and trust. As Lanyon has said (see quotes above), the truth is often too horrible to bear--therefore, there are times when truth must be concealed or repressed, as we often see with the characters of this novel. It's precisely because the truth must be concealed that friendship and trust are so important--because Lanyon has been friends with Jekyll for a long time, he goes along with Jekyll's requests, no questions asked.

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"Lanyon, you remember your vows: what follows is under the seal of our profession. And now, you who have so long been bound to the most narrow and material views, you who have denied the virtue of transcendental medicine, you who have derided your superiors--behold!"

Related Characters: Dr. Jekyll (speaker)
Related Symbols: Letters and Documents
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Mr. Hyde meets up with Dr. Lanyon and drinks the potion that Dr. Jekyll has sent Lanyon to deliver. As Hyde drinks the potion, he urges Lanyon to "behold" his transformation from Hyde back to Jekyll.

Jekyll's interaction with Lanyon in this passage reflects the differences in their approaches to science. Lanyon, we sense, has always refused to experiment with "transcendental medicine" (something Stevenson never really explains, except that it's scary and radical) because he finds it evil. Jekyll, on the other hand, has been more willing to take risks with science--as a result, he's been brave enough to stumble upon the secret of Mr. Hyde. Jekyll's behavior in this scene confirms his status as a tragic hero--a figure whose rather arrogant desire for knowledge and greatness has led him to great pain and suffering, almost as if he's being punished by the gods for reaching above his station. Jekyll has made a great scientific discovery, but at a great price--he's sacrificed his self-control and fallen into a state of uncontrollable sin.

What he told me in the next hour, I cannot bring my mind to
set on paper. I saw what I saw, I heard what I heard, and my soul
sickened at it; and yet now when that sight has faded from my
eyes, I ask myself if I believe it, and I cannot answer.

Related Characters: Dr. Hastie Lanyon (speaker), Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde
Related Symbols: Letters and Documents
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Lanyon has just witnessed Mr. Hyde drink a potion and transform into Dr. Jekyll. Now that Dr. Jekyll has regained his true form, he tells Lanyon about the scientific discovery he's made: a discovery that allows him to turn into Mr. Hyde. Lanyon writes that he can't bring himself to write what Jekyll tells him next--presumably, Lanyon is going to hear about Dr. Jekyll's "career" as Mr. Hyde.

It's strange that even after Dr. Lanyon has seen first-hand evidence of the success of Dr. Jekyll's scientific discoveries, he continues to feel "sickened" by Jekyll. One could say that while Dr. Jekyll is the better scientist, Dr. Lanyon is the better human being. Lanyon instinctively avoids scientific discoveries that lead to evil, while Dr. Jekyll bravely (and recklessly) pursues his scientific research, leading him to transform into Mr. Hyde.

Chapter 10 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Dr. Jekyll (speaker)
Related Symbols: Letters and Documents
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final chapter of the novel--a letter written by Dr. Jekyll--Jekyll explains that he long ago realized that humans have a divided nature. All humans have two halves: one half good, one half evil.

Jekyll's discovery has been interpreted in all sorts of ways: for some critics, Stevenson's conceit anticipates the discoveries of Sigmund Freud, who argued that man has a repressed, irrational side, the id. For others, the divide between man's good and evil nature evokes the age of imperialism, during which the people of Great Britain claimed to be righteous and moral, hypocritically ignoring their own country's brutal interventions in India, Africa, and other parts of the world (the source of England's great prosperity).

It's also worth noting that Jekyll takes on the qualities of a Promethean hero in this passage. Like Prometheus, who was punished for stealing fire from the gods, or Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, Jekyll bravely and carelessly sails on to reckless heights, guided by his studies of science and of mysticism. Drawn to "the truth," Jekyll eventually comes upon a great scientific discovery, albeit one that brings him to ruin.

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.

Related Characters: Dr. Jekyll (speaker), Mr. Hyde
Related Symbols: The Appearance of Evil, Letters and Documents
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Dr, Jekyll is sitting on a park bench in public. Suddenly, he finds himself transforming into Mr. Hyde, despite the fact that he hasn't drunk any of the potion that's supposed to enable such a transformation. Thus far, Jekyll has believed that he can control his dual nature: he can be Hyde one day and Jekyll the next. Now, Jekyll begins to realize that he can't control his spirit at all: once Hyde has been released, there's no controlling him.

Stevenson's description of Hyde's sudden, unexpected appearance parallels some of Sigmund Freud's ideas about the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind. Mr. Hyde's unexpected appearances evoke the way the human unconscious can "jump out" at any time, no matter how rigorously one tries to control it. At the same time, Stevenson makes this duality physical in a horrifying way, again portraying Hyde as evil even down to his appearance--he is "shrunken," "corded," and "hairy," unlike the presumably healthy and wholesome Jekyll.

I am careless; this is my true hour of death, and what is to follow concerns another than myself. Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.

Related Characters: Dr. Jekyll (speaker)
Related Symbols: Letters and Documents
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

At the very end of the novel, Dr. Jekyll senses that he is losing control of his spirit. He transforms into Mr. Hyde more and more frequently and unexpectedly--eventually, Jekyll predicts, he'll be Mr. Hyde all the time. In a way, Jekyll writes, his life is coming to an end: he'll still live as Mr. Hyde, but his life as Dr. Jekyll is ending forever.

As we look back on the totality of Dr. Jekyll's life, we see that Dr. Jekyll meddled with evil and lost. Jekyll believed that he was pure and good enough to keep his evil under strict control. In reality, however, nobody is good enough to control their own evil nature. By flirting with violence and cruelty, Jekyll unleashed a force so powerful that by the end, it dominated his existence. Stevenson portrays evil (through Mr. Hyde) as an unquenchable appetite; an indestructible, constantly growing force of nature.

In all, the passage suggests that Stevenson's novel is a cautionary tale. Dr. Jekyll has meddled with forbidden, sinful knowledge, and gotten his comeuppance for doing so.

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Letters and Documents Symbol Timeline in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The timeline below shows where the symbol Letters and Documents appears in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Science, Reason and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Duality of Human Nature Theme Icon
Reputation, Secrecy and Repression Theme Icon
Innocence and Violence Theme Icon
...in the lane along with half of the cane, a purse of money, and a letter addressed to Mr. Utterson. (full context)
Chapter 5
Science, Reason and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Duality of Human Nature Theme Icon
Reputation, Secrecy and Repression Theme Icon
...anymore. Dr. Jekyll’s anxious manner worries Utterson. Jekyll admits that he is possession of a letter from Hyde, and he is unsure whether to show it to the police. Utterson is... (full context)
The Duality of Human Nature Theme Icon
Reputation, Secrecy and Repression Theme Icon
Innocence and Violence Theme Icon
Bachelorhood and Friendship Theme Icon
...explains that the envelope wouldn’t make a difference in terms of evidence anyway, because the letter was hand-delivered. Utterson asks if he should take the letter away with him. Jekyll responds... (full context)
Chapter 6
Science, Reason and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Duality of Human Nature Theme Icon
Reputation, Secrecy and Repression Theme Icon
Bachelorhood and Friendship Theme Icon
Utterson decides to write to Dr. Jekyll, demanding answers. Jekyll replies in a long, tragic letter. He says first that he doesn’t blame Lanyon for their falling out but also doesn’t... (full context)
Science, Reason and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Duality of Human Nature Theme Icon
Reputation, Secrecy and Repression Theme Icon
Bachelorhood and Friendship Theme Icon
...funeral, Utterson, in an emotional state, sits down in his study and brings out a letter from Lanyon, addressed to Utterson with a strict instruction on the envelope that the document... (full context)
Chapter 8
Science, Reason and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Duality of Human Nature Theme Icon
Reputation, Secrecy and Repression Theme Icon
They examine Jekyll’s desk and find a letter addressed to Utterson. Inside are several documents, including another will, much like the previous one... (full context)
The Duality of Human Nature Theme Icon
Reputation, Secrecy and Repression Theme Icon
Utterson reads the letter. Jekyll writes that if Utterson is reading these words it means that he, Jekyll, has... (full context)
Chapter 9
Science, Reason and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Duality of Human Nature Theme Icon
Reputation, Secrecy and Repression Theme Icon
Bachelorhood and Friendship Theme Icon
Chapter Nine is the letter Lanyon asked Utterson not to open until both Lanyon and Jekyll have died. Lanyon starts... (full context)