‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ by H.G. Wells (1896)

26Dec04

For such a “gods and monsters” tale, I was surprised how (relatively) early in the story Dr. Moreau dies (“offscreen” no less) and without any remorse for his project. Until the end, he seemed determined to build a better Beast who would not revert to its animal form. I dunno. I suppose I am accustomed to the “god” learning a little lesson before the last page of the story.

This novel was a very interesting exploration of humanity — and the lack of humanity and the shades in between. Dr. Moreau’s beasts often seem more “human” than he. He has forced an arbitrary conception of humanity on the Beast People to keep them in check. Many elements of “The Law,”

Not to go on all-Fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to eat Flesh nor Fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to claw Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

those considered to possess humanity simply by virtue of their physical appearance do not even follow. Montgomery drank, but that somehow made him closer to the Beast People rather than distancing him from them by his violation of The Law. So the novel raises many interesting questions. Can one bestow humanity on animals, even for a short while? What is humanity? Do all humans necessarily possess humanity? Are Dr. Moreau’s experiments evidence of humanity? Do the results of his experiments justify the pain of the experiments themselves?

I thought the different types of power Wells explores were interesting. There is the brute physicality of the Beast People, the man-made weapons such as the guns and the whips, the manipulative power of religion or law, and the power of medicine. The animal’s physicality seems to be the power that Wells feels trumps all others. Yes, Prendick does manage to survive with the help of a few man-made weapons, but he doesn’t conquer the Beast People and claim the island for himself — he must flee the island. Religion/law is the power that falters first, and I doubt that religion would have been very effective if Moreau had not had man-made weapons and a scalpel to enforce the law. Therefore, I suppose, “The Law” really was law and not religion. The unknown holds religious observers in check while the known enforces the law.

There is something devious about the power derived from law and medicine. They all rely on a deception of some sort to have effect. Even the weapons….because Montgomery and Moreau wield a couple of whips and revolvers, they seem more powerful than they actually are. Though it is as deadly, there is something more honest about sheer physical strength — strength coupled with instinct.

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