An element of humanity or method of control?

A passage of particular and personal intrigue within The Island of Dr. Moreau occurred following Dr. Moreau’s death when Prendick is forced to take control over the island and its creatures. On page 80, Prendick says to the Beast-People, “’He has changed his shape – he has changed his body,’ I went on. ‘For a time you will not see him. He is … there’ – I pointed upward – ‘where he can watch you. You cannot see him. But he can see you. Fear the Law.’”

This passage integrates the idea of law as well as the themes of religion and humanity. Prendick spends his time on the island trying to reach a conclusion about which characteristics make a human and which make an animal, but does not make up his mind definitively on that subject, nor on the topic of whether these creatures are closer to beasts or people. Due to this confusion, he never appears sure of how to treat the islanders he encounters and does not have to make a decision until he becomes the only true man remaining on the island.

Knowing of Moreau’s teachings of “the Law,” Prendick opts for a more human approach to control. According to Christensen, the function of “the Law” is “shaping of the animals into a society that mimics human society” (578). Having the law set in place made this job easier for Prendick because already he and the islanders shared a common understanding. However, when the beast people are hesitant to believe what he says, he transitions to another human notion: religion.

Similar to what happens on the island, in the Longman Anthology introduction to the Victorian Age, it says, “The crisis of religious doubt occasioned by biblical scholarship and scientific discoveries hits Christian belief hard. But it prompted an array of coping strategies and new ideas about the position of human beings in the universe that remain significant to this day” (1056). Although the context is different and the meaning not quite the same, this is not unlike what happens on the island. With the creatures threatening to stop believing the Law, Prendick takes on a new coping strategy and positions the “human beings” in a different manner, which is significant because it is common with what many other humans do.

Here, Prendick integrates the human qualities of fearing the unknown and fearing punishment from a being unable to be seen in order to gain control over the beasts. Moreau had already been seen as a god-like figure, vivisecting animals to create half-humans for his own purposes, but this passage makes this allusion clearer. Prendick says Moreau has changed his shape and his body to something invisible. But the interesting part of the invisibility is that the statement does not stop there, but continues, “For a time you will not see him.” The “for a time” segment seems reminiscent of religion, where those who believe are meant to meet their creator after death. In addition to meeting their “god” after “a time,” Prendick points upward to explain where Moreau has gone and how he has the ability to watch without being seen, but not without hesitation. This, to me, appears similar to how a child might be taught religion and the presence of a god and seems vaguely similar to the few memories I have of childhood explanations. In a way, this almost explains how religion came into existence, as a threat to beings reminding them constantly to do the “right” thing.

Again, this is very much a human notion and seems to imply that in order to be a human, there must be a belief in a god-figure who guides the way to righteousness with the ever-present threat of this figure somehow knowing when a being has done wrong and therefore inflicting punishment. As stated in the Longman Anthology introduction, “Tennyson hoped man might transcend animality by encouraging his divine soul to ‘Move upward, working out the beast, / And let the ape and tiger die’ (1057),” supporting this claim.

But ironically, the only living creatures on the island who have found some sort of a religion are the beast people. Dr. Moreau, Montgomery, and Prendick do not voice religious concerns unless they are in order to keep the vivisected population under control. In this case, the question is then posed: does one need religion to be human or is it simply a method of control?

2 thoughts on “An element of humanity or method of control?”

  1. I also made the connection to the Law that Dr. Moreau forces the animals to recite, and then Prendick’s overtaking of this law after Moreau dies, with Prendick referring to Moreau as a “God-like figure” as he points to the sky and says that he is always watching. It is very interesting how Moreau not only gets the animals to believe in this Law, but he makes Prendick, who was so weary of the Law and the island in general, believe the law and carry on the recitation of the law even after Moreau dies. You make an interesting point when you question if religion is even needed to control society, and if so, does it need to be carried on or once it is instilled in society, if there needs to be a leader to carry on the religious beliefs.

  2. I am interested in how you broke down the connection between religion, power and the conversation about humanity in Dr. Moreau. So much of this story feels centered around the question: what is humanity? Religion feels like Prendick’s last resort attempt at maintaining control over the island inhabitants. I think that this brings up the question of how do humans get their human-ness. Is human-ness something we learn from other people; in which case the vivisected animals are not human until we teach them? Or is it something inherent in each of us? Does Prendick teaching the Beast Folk religion make them part of a ‘society’ but neither more or less human?

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