Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Jekyll’s House and Laboratory

Dr. Jekyll lives in a well-appointed home, characterized by Stevenson as having “a great air of wealth and comfort.” His laboratory is described as “a certain sinister block of building … [which] bore in every feature the marks of profound and sordid negligence.” With its decaying facade and air of neglect, the laboratory quite neatly symbolizes the corrupt and perverse Hyde. Correspondingly, the respectable, prosperous-looking main house symbolizes the respectable, upright Jekyll. Moreover, the connection between the buildings similarly corresponds to the connection between the personas they represent. The buildings are adjoined but look out on two different streets. Because of the convoluted layout of the streets in the area, the casual observer cannot detect that the structures are two parts of a whole, just as he or she would be unable to detect the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde.


Stevenson includes a number of significant doors throughout the text, and collectively, they work to symbolize the Victorian Era’s preoccupation with the separation of public life and private life. The front door of Jekyll’s house and the back door of the laboratory, for example, represent physical barriers between the curious eyes of the public and the hidden activities inside. This concept also aligns with Jekyll’s desire to explore his internal duality, or the relationship between his public persona and private thoughts, and speaks to why his house and laboratory in particular feature so many notable doors.

Doors can also act as a passageway between one space and another, and the fact that each persona uses their own door to enter and exit Jekyll’s house symbolizes the literal transformation that occurs as Jekyll turns into Hyde and back. While these exterior doors serve as the first layer of separation between the public and private spheres, the novella’s most significant door, Dr. Jekyll’s cabinet door, represents a gateway to the most personal aspects of his life. This interior door remains stubbornly shut, the world behind it completely hidden from others, until Mr. Utterson and Mr. Poole forcibly break it down. Destroying this interior door symbolizes the intrusion of public life on an extremely intimate sphere of existence, and the scene that Utterson and Poole find upon entering the cabinet suggests that transgressing this boundary can have grave consequences. They find Hyde’s dying body contorted and twitching on the ground, an image which speaks to Victorian anxieties about the potentially ruinous fallout of eliminating the barrier between public and private.

Hyde’s Physical Appearance

According to the indefinite remarks made by his overwhelmed observers, Hyde appears repulsively ugly and deformed, small, shrunken, and hairy. His physical ugliness and deformity symbolizes his moral hideousness and warped ethics. Indeed, for the audience of Stevenson’s time, the connection between such ugliness and Hyde’s wickedness might have been seen as more than symbolic. Many people believed in the science of physiognomy, which held that one could identify a criminal by physical appearance. Additionally, Hyde’s small stature may represent the fact that, as Jekyll’s dark side, he has been repressed for years, prevented from growing and flourishing. His hairiness may indicate that he is not so much an evil side of Jekyll as the embodiment of Jekyll’s instincts, the animalistic core beneath Jekyll’s polished exterior.

Read more about the symbolic nature of physical appearances in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.