Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


Robert Louis Stevenson

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Unreliable Narrator 1 key example

Chapter 10
Explanation and Analysis—Vicarious Depravity:

The majority of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written in a third-person omniscient style, but the final, crucial chapter is written from Dr. Jekyll’s perspective. The section begins with Jekyll’s account of Hyde’s attack on a young girl:

Into the details of the infamy at which I thus connived (for even now I can scarce grant that I committed it) I have no design of entering […] I met with one accident which, as it brought on no consequence, I shall no more than mention.

He begins with seeming disbelief at Hyde’s behavior (“I can scarce grant that I committed it”). Sequentially, this sentence comes after Jekyll admits “wonder” at his “vicarious depravity” as Hyde. The characterization of these actions as “vicarious,” Jekyll’s apparent surprise that these crimes were committed, and his refusal to go into further detail about most of them  (“I have no design of entering”), all work to direct the reader’s attention away from the specific crimes that Henry is technically responsible for as Hyde. In his role as narrator, Jekyll will later turn this attention back on himself and his personal struggles as he tries to cope with the presence of Hyde. 

He goes on to frame the specific incident of the girl as one that “brought on no consequence” (and so is somehow not worthy of more than a brief mention). Here, Jekyll frames the story in a way that is somewhat dishonest: the reader knows, in fact, that there were consequences to the assault. Bystanders demanded recompense for the girl's family and held Hyde until he delivered it. Perhaps Jekyll means there were no legal consequences for this crime. 

Even so, Jekyll suggests that without these consequences, the assault on its own is an insignificant incident. This reveals his own callous attitude toward violence and the well-being of others. The unreliability of this narration solidifies Jekyll's character as manipulative and double-dealing, in line with the revelation of his behavior as Hyde.