After reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I came to the almost unavoidable and typically expected conclusion that the story is centered on Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego, Mr. Hyde, due to the fact that most of the story is spent finding out about their mysterious connection. The plot circles around their actions and fate, making them the pivotal characters (or character, depending on how you view the story). However, the author chooses to develop the entire story through what Mr. Utterson, a local lawyer and friend of Jekyll’s, sees and experiences as he uncovers the mystery surrounding Jekyll and Hyde. He plays a pivotal role due to the fact that the story is viewed through his observations, but he does not act as the narrator as one might expect.
The author chooses to use an omniscient, third-person narrator to tell this story, despite the consistent use of Mr. Utterson’s encounters to advance the plot. The function of a third-person narrator is customarily to help readers get a more broad view of what is occurring in the story. This type of narration allows readers to be privy to all actions of the characters, events that take place, and many of the character’s thoughts throughout the story. Stevenson uses the character of Mr. Utterson to explore and develop the plot as we find out the answers along with Mr. Utterson, but he does not use him as a narrator. To maintain this style of discovery through Mr. Utterson’s eyes, traditional character narration might have been used, but using the third-person adds another layer to the story. I felt that this stylistic choice helps one become more invested in the plot. I was both curious about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but also interested in the actions of Mr. Utterson independent of the other two as all three characters are developed.
The first several pages of the story focus on Mr. Utterson, establishing his character and ensuring that the reader is well-acquainted with him before getting into the darker and deeper portion of the story regarding Jekyll and Hyde. The very first sentence is used to describe Utterson’s character, stating “Mr. 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 loveable” (1). Beginning the novel in this way prepares the reader for a story about Mr. Utterson, and even though I would not consider him the main character, he is an integral part of the reader’s journey to discovering the truth about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The importance of Mr. Utterson’s role in the novel is reiterated by the use of the third-person narrator. It provides us with much more information about him than he would ever present himself. One of his most notable characteristics is his tolerance of others, especially old friends, even as they ruin their lives. This leads to the fact that “it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of down-going men” (1). This character trait can be viewed as foreshadowing as it is later discovered that his old friend Dr. Jekyll suffers from not only a shift in character but in physical form, as well. His character development adds to the story and prepares the reader as the story progresses.
Mr. Utterson serves as facilitator of the entire story, a role often played by the narrator, but the separation of the two leads to a more complete and effective development of both the plot and its characters. By using an omniscient narrator, we are able to observe the interactions between Utterson, Jekyll, and other characters that we might have missed otherwise as well as gain a more objective viewpoint than a character can provide. Overall, the use of Mr. Utterson and the narrator complement each other and help the story take on a more sophisticated feel than if Mr. Utterson had acted as the narrator himself.