Dual Identities on the Island of Dr. Moreau

“It may seem a strange contradiction in me—I cannot explain the fact—but now, seeing the creature there in a perfectly animal attitude, with the light gleaming in its eyes, and its imperfectly human face distorted with terror, I realised again the fact of its humanity” (72).

The people of Britain in the late Victorian era were simultaneously caught between the feelings of fear and courage, or between both the romantic excitement and the anxiety of new innovations in the Industrial Revolution. In this passage, the narrator speaks of such contradiction as he recalls observing one of the Beast People, the increasingly animalistic Leopard Man, he had cornered in a scene of chase. The words “creature” and “animal” juxtapose the following “human” and “humanity,” further placing emphasis on the “strange contradiction” the narrator mulls over to the reader. There is also the use of “perfectly animal” and “imperfectly human,” along with the idea of “attitude” versus “face.” All of these opposing words in this passage are essential to the root of the novel—questions of identity and place. In this passage, Prendick is FINALLY able to see things the correct way, and how wrong these creatures are being treated by Dr. Moreau. It is fitting that it takes him to see the Leopard Man, whom he is about to shoot and kill, in his animal identity to realize the Leopard Man’s humanity in relation to his own. Though he has finally recognized the humanity in this creature, the Leopard Man is still an “other” to Prendick—still an “it” and not a “he.” The Leopard Man’s identity remained dual until his death.

With the words “I cannot explain the fact,” Prendick admits his own uncertainty. The phrase, which is separated from the rest of the sentence using dashes, pops out to the reader on the page. This feeling of uncertainty goes along with the idea of contradiction in the Victorian age, and a widespread emotion among people in the emergence of new technologies and innovations. It is the same feeling of uncertainty that people felt towards Time. The Longman Anthology of British Literature discusses the people’s increasing struggle with Time during the end of the nineteenth century, a period which has also been labelled the “Age of Doubt.” Many felt there was too much time, especially with the creation of train time tables and such, but many also felt there was too little time as innovation and technology began to make everything move so much faster. Prendick says he spent a year on the island. A year full of fearful discoveries and innovations on the island of Dr. Moreau, yet he “professed to recall nothing” for the space of a year. As for the notion of the Leopard Man’s, and his fellow Beast People’s, humanity, their artificial yet true humanity discovered by Prendick in this passage continued to haunt him for years following his stint on the island. And in the safety of his home, Time turned even more slowly than before.

While Prendick is recounting the story, he admits to us, his readers, that he is also still trying to work out the meaning of everything he encountered on the island. He is not quite sure of who he is.  Like his fellow Victorians, is still uncertain what to make of all the innovation of Dr. Moreau. Though he claims he is disgusted by such experiments, he is clearly in awe to some degree as well. Just as the Beast People were stuck between human and animal forms of identity, Prendick now finds himself distanced from his fellow men—highlighting the question of identity that come up all throughout The Island of Dr. Moreau and especially this particular passage, which points such a duality out to the reader.

2 thoughts on “Dual Identities on the Island of Dr. Moreau”

  1. There are so many opposing ideals within the quote you choose, not just those of animal and human, but also perfect vs imperfect, etc. I think all of these oppositions are used to highlight the idea of either vs or, and are used by Wells’ to acknowledge the significant gap between Moreau and his creations. In class we talked about the idea of a racial spectrum in the book and I think your quote acknowledges that as well as the natural spectrum of animal at one end and human at the other.

  2. This idea of opposition is fascinating to me as it seems to be such a salient characteristic of the fin de siecle, and the anxiety these oppositions create percolates throughout almost every aspect of the time period. Your point about Prendick needing to see the Leopard Man in his most animalistic state in order to see the human in him, only to kill him in that instant, is an important one. It makes me think about this idea of perfect vs. imperfect. Dr. Moreau spent years trying to make the perfect human out of an animal and was unsuccessful in almost every way possible. As a society, we like boxes and categories and labels, and it’s clear we always have. What does this moment say about that? The Leopard Man dies with both identities, suggesting that he was straddling the two. Yet he can’t escape either of them. Does this moment, in some way, challenge the dichotomous thinking of this time period?

Comments are closed.