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Examples of Figurative Language in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"


In "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," author Robert Louis Stevenson uses vivid description, colorful language and dynamic characters to examine the battle of good versus evil that rages in mankind. One reason for the effective portrayal of character and story is Stevenson's use of figurative language, or figures of speech -- language that extends beyond literal meaning to add depth.

Metaphor Use

The Jekyll and Hyde story makes much use of metaphor, defined as comparing dissimilar ideas or objects. Stevenson often uses metaphor to create more vivid description. For instance, Jekyll's lawyer Utterson shows his concern for his friend by thinking, "Poor Harry Jekyll . . . my mind misgives me he is in deep waters!" Jekyll is not literally drowning but in deep trouble. Later, an attack by Hyde is described as the man "hailing down a storm of blows," a common use of metaphor to describe a severe beating. Of course, the characters of Jekyll and Hyde also function as metaphors for good and evil.

Simile Comparisons

A simile also demonstrates an unlikely comparison but uses the language "like" or "as" to show the similarity. Like the metaphors in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Stevenson uses similes to describe the setting and emphasize the characters. For instance, when Mr. Enfield begins telling of his encounter with Hyde early in the story, he sets up the tone by saying the area was "as empty as a church," emphasizing the stillness. He uses the phrase "like some damned Juggernaut" to describe how Hyde bowls over the child.

Personification Appearance

Authors employ personification by giving human-like qualities to non-human things. Stevenson's masterwork personifies objects such as the weather and attitudes to create the dismal mood and strained atmosphere. For example, Enfield describes Hyde's "sneering coolness." Since "coolness" isn't human, it cannot have such an expression. Later, Stevenson describes how "the cab crawled" among the streets in the dark and dank fog, adding to the creepy setting. To demonstrate how little light appears in a later passage, he writes that the "daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths."

Oxymoron and Metonymy

Other types of figurative language appear in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," including oxymoron, the pairing of two contrary ideas. For instance, when running into the child in Enfield's story, Hyde "trampled calmly over the child's body." Trampling is not an action typically performed calmly, hence the oxymoron. Another type of figurative language Stevenson uses is metonymy, in which an author uses a related idea to represent the whole. In Stevenson's work, Utterson exclaims, "I am ashamed of my long tongue" after going on about ideas he should not. In this case, the tongue represents the speech he gave. These figures of speech create a rich story for readers.

About the Author

Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.

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