Prendick and the Human in the Animal

The passage that begins “It may seem a strange contradiction in me…” (72-73) shows Prendick’s realization of the line between animal and humanity, or the more-than-animal. Prendick finds one of Moreau’s vivisected creations just before it is about to be hunted down and killed. Prendick sympathizes with the animal on a level that, ironically, transcends human emotion; Prendick identifies with the animal on a human nature level, rather than the civilized level he has cherished throughout the novel. Although Prendick seems to communicate with the animal on a sub-human, or animal level, Prendick says the moment made him “realiz[e] again the fact of [the animal’s] humanity” (72). This dichotomy warrants examination.

Prendick’s experience is crucial to understanding this novel’s interpretation of the distinction between animal and human, barbarism and civilization, average and superior. Prendick seeks to find that line, and to stay on the human side of it, yet only in a few instances does he blatantly show the island changing his beliefs. This passage represents a moment when Prendick’s beliefs shift. He “realizes” that the animal within us all is as valuable as human characteristics, even though Moreau tries to make animals human-like, implying that humans are ideal. The island forces Prendick to discover the animal within himself because the animal can never be taken out of Moreau’s creatures; by this logic, the animal cannot be taken out of the human, either. This passage exposes the novel’s great dichotomy: all creatures are as valuable as humans, but humans continue to harbor an animalistic nature.

Prendick ultimately decides to kill the animal in this passage. After realizing that these animals have humanity, Prendick chooses to kill this beast, rather than let it “be overpowered and captured, to experience once more the horrible tortures of the enclosure” (72-73). Prendick wants to spare it such compassionless pain; perhaps that is the most human, or civilized, choice he could make. He shoots the animal (and it attacks him, but that instance represents an entirely different message, one I will not attempt to uncover here). What matters in this passage is the empathy Prendick develops for a beast, when he has previously adamantly resisted any connection with the animals, probably fearing that he would become like them if he developed compassion for them. As The Longman Anthology reading states, humans are, according to Tennyson, supposed to “transcend animality by encouraging [our] divine soul to ‘Move upward, working out the beast,/ And let the ape and tiger die’” (1057).

I think Prendick’s empathy for the beast disconcerts and enlightens him. It is disconcerting because it further blurs the line between animal and human, and it threatens the stability humans gain from distinguishing themselves from other animals. But Prendick’s realization is also enlightening because it shows that humans are permanently connected to animals and nature. We may be civilized and socialized, but we are animals, and we cannot weed out our raw, survival-oriented traits. We will always be animals, however hard we try to reject our inclinations. Maybe this ultimately comforts us, because we know we are connected to nature.

Prendick illustrates the animal versus human, animal within the human, human within the animal, dichotomy by saying, “[S]eeing the creature there in a perfectly animal attitude, with the light gleaming in its eyes, and its imperfectly human face distorted with terror, I realized again the fact of its humanity” (72). Prendick only sees the human in the animal when he discovers the animal within himself. And perhaps that discovery, which threatens the basis of society, prompts him to kill the animal – to obliterate the threat.