Chapter 1: The story of the Door


‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

Key Moments and Extracts

Page Introduction

Here are some key extracts, usually in the order in which they appear in the text; they are printed in black with quotes, for discussion and analysis, being underlined.  If you would like to see where the extract appears in the complete text, click here, and search (control F) for a word or phrase. 

My annotations, which comment explain, interpret and analyse, are in blue.   I deal with themes, characterisation, tone, authorial purpose and context, as well as how the text’s  form, structure and language create tension and meaning.  You will also find character profiles on the site.

Chapter One The Story of The Door

From the first chapter’s title, even before the narrative gets under way, we are alerted to Stevenson’s symbolic intentions, which will be discussed below.   

UTTERSON the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance, that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary, and yet somehow lovable. At friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye;

Structure:  Since Utterson’s viewpoint determines the reader’s response, it is important that he is presented as sensible and reliable.   T

Language:  Development of character.  The doubly alliterated phrase ‘lean, long, dusty, dreary’ suggests Utterson is a sparse introverted man – yet his humanity metaphorically shines from his eye, as if it were a bright light from afar.  Although he is a difficult man to warm to, we are encouraged to trust him. 

“I incline to Cain’s heresy,” he used to say quaintly: “I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.” In this character, it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of down-going men.  And to such as these, so long as they came about his chambers, he never marked a shade of change in his demeanour.

Theme: One of the novel’s themes – that of personal responsibility – is  introduced obliquely.  Utterson’s continuing friendship with Jekyll is fully consistent with his ‘quaint’ (i.e. querky and old fashioned) acceptance of the folly of other men.  Ironically, Utterson does not maintain his equanimity, during the entire course of the novel – for instance in chapter 3, after remonstrating with Jekyll about the terms of his will, he ‘heaved an irrepressible sigh’.   Whilst Utterson espouses ‘Cain’s heresy’ (i.e. that he does not bear any responsibility for his brother because he is not ‘his keeper’, none-the-less he does search out the truth in the face of evil; indeed, he is relied upon by others to do so.

Form: He decides to be ‘Mr. Seek’ – with an ironic allusion to the homophone Hyde/hide.  This comment is in keeping with his ‘dry’ character.  The novel’s narrative drive, with Utterson being an amateur sleuth, has the now common hallmark of a detective story.  The form of the novel is partly that of a detective investigating a crime.  Whilst the reader knows who the murderer is, s/he does not understand the strange circumstances until we read Lanyon’s account.     

His friends were those of his own blood or those whom he had known the longest; his affections, like ivy, were the growth of time, they implied no aptness in the object.

Context:  The social cohesion of the professional middle class is alluded to here.  The narrator’s view is that Utterson and his acquaintances keep together due to social position, wealth and custom rather than for moral worth.  Note the degree to which Stevenson represents a male dominated society: it is not chance that women have no place in the workings of the plot; those that do appear all have low status and the maid, who actually sees Carew’s murder, is not even given any dialogue. 

It chanced on one of these rambles that their way led them down a by-street in a busy quarter of London. The street was small and what is called quiet, but it drove a thriving trade on the week-days. The inhabitants were all doing well, it seemed, and all emulously hoping to do better still, and laying out the surplus of their gains in coquetry; so that the shop fronts stood along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen. Even on Sunday, when it veiled its more florid charms and lay comparatively empty of passage, the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighbourhood, like a fire in a forest

Language: The attractiveness of this part of town metaphorically suggests an active sex trade is being conducted under the superficial impression of the area being ‘quiet’.   The ‘air of invitation’, the ‘coquetry’ (i.e. sexually suggestive behaviour) and the simile ‘like rows of smiling saleswomen’ who are actually selling themselves’ implies vice without it being  made explicit.  ‘Fire’ of course suggests passion and lust in the ‘dark forest’, far away and hidden from upright moral behaviour and abstinence. 

Two doors from one corner, on the left hand going east, the line was broken by the entry of a court; and just at that point, a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. It was two stories high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower story and a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence. The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained. Tramps slouched into the recess and struck matches on the panels; children kept shop upon the steps; the schoolboy had tried his knife on the mouldings; and for close on a generation, no one had appeared to drive away these random visitors or to repair their ravages.

Language: Hyde’s hideaway reflects his nature.  We later learn that Hyde’s and Jekyll’s houses are linked internally and that this fact is not known by anyone.  The technique of using a setting to represent what is happening to a character is known as pathetic fallacy.  Here, ‘the block’, which is as ‘sinister’ as Hyde, has an unsettling ‘blind forehead’ which aggressively ‘thrust[s]’ forward.  The adjective ‘sordid’ (meaning dishonourable) applies to Hyde’s moral degeneracy: here is a gentleman who has no integrity.  Let us remember that the chapter is entitled ‘The Story of the Door’; the phrase is metaphorical: for a ‘generation’ (about 20/5 years),  Jekyll has failed to maintain the property and propriety!  This is the cause of his falling out with Lanyon who himself says that ‘it is ten years since Henry Jekyll became too fanciful’.  The door ‘being ‘equipped with neither bell nor knocker’ suggests that Hyde invites no social intercourse.  Also symbolically, the door provides access to the primitive, lower orders of the mind; its forbidding ‘blistered’ look indicates the physical effect of leaving the public street of correct behaviour.   The novel’s central theme addresses the consequences, for the individual and society, of freely addressing our duality by liberating our primitive nature.  

Context: To the modern reader with a passing acquaintance with Freud, Hyde represents the ‘id’, i.e. that psychopathic part of each and every one of us, which is that unfettered primal urge, that total denial of personal and social responsibility.  Let us distinguish the ‘id’ from: the ‘superego’ which is that part of the psyche embodying the values of a ‘civilised’ society; and, the ‘ego’ which rationalises a personal course between the ‘id’ and the ‘superego’.  The modern reader may feel that Jekyll is the ego, which mediates between the social mores of the superego and the animal id of Hyde. 

This Freudian analysis fits so well that it is quite extraordinary to realise that Stevenson was writing before Freud’s theories.  Stevenson would probably have felt that he was addressing the essential ‘duality‘ of man in Jekyll’s higher and lower natures.

“I was coming home from some place at the end of the world, about three o’clock of a black winter morning, and my way lay through a part of town where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps. Street after street, and all the folks asleep – street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church – till at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman.      

Theme: The story of Jekyll succumbing to lustful and violent behaviour is the extreme but not the only example of how thin is the veneer of civilisation, in the novel.  The suggestion is that all of us have yearnings to satisfy our baser, primal instincts.  The description of Enfield (and, thereby, of other respectable men) as ‘a man about town’ implies loucheness and he freely admits to having been ‘at the end of the world’, which implies at the end of the civilised world on a symbolically, darkly, ‘black’, emotionally cold, ‘winter morning’.  The longing for the sight of a policeman is not because he is afraid but because he needs some representation of authority to bring him back into the moral fold.  

Context: Victorians knew that the world was older than that suggested by the creationism story in Genesis, even before Darwin’s scientifically sound theory ‘On the Origin of the Species’ in 1859.  Victorian society struggled to recoconcile natural selection and Godly design; however, whatever the cause might have been, it is documented that there was a notable loss of faith and church-going, in the latter part of the nineteenth century.   The simile ‘as empty as a church’ is Enfield’s view that Christian values are absent on the streets of London.

the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see.  It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut.

Language:  The event is made particularly frightening by Stevenson’s use of language.  The viciousness is brought out by the contast of ‘man’ and ‘child’; the two similes ‘it wasn’t like a man’ and ‘like a the Juggernaut (wagon)’ draw out the the horror because in times past some Hindus would sacrifice themselves by being crushed under the merciless wheels.   The callous action which is damned by God, and described as ‘hellish’, is made incomprehensible by the adverb ‘calmly’ despite the terrifying sound of ‘screaming’.   

Context: Can one say that Stevenson knew his readership well enough to change sexual assault to ‘trampling’?  All we know is that he rewrote the novel after the first draft was destroyed and that many readers infer sexual violence and sadism.

every time he looked at my prisoner, I saw that Sawbones turn sick and white with the desire to kill him.

Structure:  In this extract,  the narrator is Enfield.  He is originally presented in the omniscient third person narrative.  When a character within a tale takes over the narrative, he is said to be an intradiegetic narrator.  Stevenson often uses the reactions of other characters to direct our own response to Hyde: in this case, we have Enfield’s perception filtering our knowledge of  ‘Sawbone’s’ feelings about Hyde, using the first person.  ‘Sawbones’ is a friendly (yet gruesome) epithet, which suggests Enfield’s easy familiarity and closeness with the doctor, despite not knowing him; it is this closeness that makes us believe that Enfield can be categoric about the doctor’s inner thoughts about wanting to kill Hyde.  The irony of the doctor wanting to murder Hyde, bearing in mind his profession is to heal, shows us how loathsome Hyde must be.

there was the man in the middle, with a kind of black, sneering coolness—frightened too, I could see that—but carrying it off, sir, really like Satan.

Language: Hyde’s confidence is that of the middle class: he is afraid, yes, but he will not allow himself to be cowed by anyone.  The use of ‘black’ gives inpenetrability to Hyde’s self-possession and his ‘coolness’ is unsettlingly unemotional and supercilious. Coldness becomes a motif in the novel: Poole identifies Hyde’s inhuman nature, saying, ‘you felt in your marrow kind of cold and thin’ and Lanyon feels ‘a certain icy pang’ when Hyde touches him.  There is something about Hyde that makes everyone shiver.

Structure:  The simile ‘like Satan’and other references in the novel to ‘evil’, and the ‘devil’  all contribute to the theme of evil versus goodness.   Hyde is referred to elsewhere as ‘the child of hell’, a ‘fiend’ and as having a ‘readiness to evil’.  By contrast, other characters have a readiness to good, in that they often refer to God e.g. Utterson exclaims, ‘God bless me’ when he says that Hyde is hardly human, Jekyll cannot bear to talk about Hyde ‘in God’s name’ and the cook cries out ‘Bless God’ on seeing her saviour in the form of Mr. Utterson.

Context: nowadays, we might regard Hyde to be a sociopath.  

Black-mail, I suppose; an honest man paying through the nose for some of the capers of his youth.

Context: An indulgent interpretation but one that condones young privileged men ‘sowing wild oats’

for the buildings are so packed together about that court, that it’s hard to say where one ends and another begins.

Language:  This symbolism goes to the heart of the Jekyll character.  As we progress through the novel it becomes less clear where Hyde ends and Jekyll begins.  At first, we probably feel that Hyde is separate from Jekyll but this is not so, Hyde is part of him.  Later on, we struggle with why Hyde takes to potion at Lanyon’s and who actually commits suicide.

There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point. He’s an extraordinary-looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. No, sir; I can make no hand of it; I can’t describe him. And it’s not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment.

Form:  The novella can be said to be an allegory of the battle between good and evil in a faithless world.  There are many other allegorial interpretations, but let us deal with this one for now!  In the Old Testament, we recognise evil in the shape of the serpent and when Hyde is confronted by Utterson, he shrinks with a snake-like ‘hissing’.  The many descriptions of Hyde as devilish lead us to think of him as satanic (and incidentally nothing is added to this assessment by considering whether he may be a pederast or whatever).

Structure (narrative):  The lack of a physical description at this point and the uneasiness that characters experience on meeting Hyde are, ironically, a definite feature of the character description.   It is our intuitive response to evil that makes our skin crawl.  Remember it is Enfield who is talking here and it is consistent with his character that he would not want to describe Hyde even though he ‘can see him this moment’ because Enfield is hiding his own nature from himself.

For more of my pages on ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, click the ‘Stevenson’ tab at the top of the page.
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7 thoughts on “Chapter 1: The story of the Door

  1. Thank you so much!!! I’m trying to translate this piece to my own language, although I can understand the general plot of the story, it is truly a huge challenge to understand and translate each and every figurative languages. Your work does a great help for me to understand the story. Much appreciation!


    • Hi My Thi. You certainly do have quite a challenge on your hands and I am truly delighted that I have been able to help. The language is difficult enough for students who have English as their first language! Good luck. Philip


    • Hello Grace, I have received a high number of enquiries about the analysis of the missing chapters but the dog ate all my homework and I don’t think I’ll get back to doing it again for quite a while. If you have anything you would like to add to the site by way of essays, comments, notes etc etc please do contact me again. I credit all contributors and their work becomes copyrighted.


  2. Hi this is absolutely amazing, such good depth of analysis and just amazing!
    Have you done other chapters or an overview because it would b so helpful!


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