Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Robert Louis Stevenson

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde makes teaching easy.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Metaphors 2 key examples

Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Chapter 2
Explanation and Analysis—Shifting Mists:

In the second chapter of the novella, Utterson returns home after hearing about Hyde’s crimes in London, and he begins to put the pieces together regarding his character:

Out of the shifting, insubstantial mists that had so long baffled his eye, there leaped up the sudden, definite presentment of a fiend.

The metaphor of shifting mists describes Utterson’s changing understanding of Hyde. Up until this point, he only knew Hyde’s name through Jekyll’s will, which he is party to as Jekyll’s legal counsel; but after hearing Enfield’s story, the “mists” that obscured Utterson’s vision of Hyde begin to metaphorically lift.

The mists here are “shifting,” “insubstantial,” impossible to pin down. Throughout the novella, the truth itself is often slippery, as characters constantly lie to one another, keep secrets, or misrepresent the truth. In the lead up to this scene, Utterson has had great trouble nailing down specific information about who Hyde is and what he wants. Jekyll will reveal nothing, and even his own cousin, Enfield, seems to dance around telling him the truth. 

Rising fog or mist often appears in the novella before something terrible is revealed. However, it is interesting to think about why Stevenson used this metaphor here, as Utterson has not yet even come close to grasping the truth about Hyde’s identity. Stevenson describes Utterson as seeing Hyde only dimly (merely the outline of “a fiend” in the fog). But the impression of Hyde, though still partly obscured, is “definite.”

While Utterson isn’t totally clear on what’s going on between his friend and Hyde, this moment represents an important evolution in his perception of it. Utterson had previously thought Jekyll’s will was an act of “madness,” but he now understands it as a calculated move; where he once thought maybe Jekyll and Hyde were close, he can now tell the bond is built on “disgrace.” This moment of clarity will drive him to sift through Jekyll’s private life more thoroughly. 

Chapter 10
Explanation and Analysis—A Dreadful Shipwreck:

In the last chapter of the novel, Jekyll uses a metaphor to compare his jumbled emotional and psychic state to a “shipwreck,” a catastrophic accident: 

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. 

This metaphor plays into both Jekyll’s refusal to take responsibility for his actions and his inability to understand the true folly of his project.

Throughout the last chapter, Jekyll maintains that the key error he has made is in losing control of his darker side. However, one could reasonably argue that the very premise of his experiments is morally questionable. If Jekyll had never sought to separate the good and evil aspects of his own personality (which he did for the selfish purpose of enjoying his vices without ruining his reputation), he wouldn’t have  to contend with Hyde at all. Jekyll doesn’t see that the root of his problem is not uncovering this hidden knowledge, but his own deep-seated hypocrisy. As he puts it in his own words, he has always wanted to “wear a more than commonly grave countenance among the public” while behaving very differently in private. 

His duplicity and lack of self-awareness are visible in the metaphor of the shipwreck. A shipwreck is involuntary, generally an unforeseeable accident. Jekyll describes himself as “doomed” to catastrophe after drawing “steadily nearer” to the truth (not unlike a ship that has come too close to the rocks). Jekyll is plainly trying to characterize losing control of Hyde as a mistake, rather than the result of his own careful cultivation of his vices in secret. Of course, Jekyll does not mean to lose control of himself to Hyde, but this “shipwreck” is more the consequences of his actions than pure misfortune. He was not “doomed” to become Hyde, he chose to strengthen his own dark side by repeatedly indulging it; he didn’t accidentally turn into the rocks, he saw them coming and chose to ignore them. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+