Orientalism and Othering in The Island of Dr. Moreau

“They wore turbans, too, and thereunder peered out their elfin faces at me, faces with protruding lower jaws and bright eyes” (17).

When he firsts arrives on the island, Prendick immediately notices the differences between himself and the residents of the island of Dr. Moreau.  Specifically, he focuses on the features of the islanders’ faces, describing their heads, jaws, and eyes.  The first thing that Prendick notices about the islanders is that they are wearing turbans. Prendick combines the observation of the islanders’ turbans with the pronoun “they” and by doing so immediately “others” the islanders as different from himself.  The use of the pronouns “they” and “their” separates the islanders from Prendick in a racial sense.  Prendick views the islanders as others because they are wearing turbans and he is not. A well-known form of “othering” is Orientalism, which is the belief that the East, including Middle Eastern countries, is fundamentally different and therefore inferior from the West.  When talking about Orientalism and describing the East, westerners will often times use the word “backwards” to describe Middle Eastern and Asian countries.  Describing a country and its people as “backwards” signals that that country is unnatural or not normal because it has cultural practices, religions, and in this case people with physical appearances that are not identical to those in the West.  Prendick notices that the islanders are wearing turbans and have different shaped faces than himself, Montgomery, and Dr. Moreau and therefore separates himself because they differ from the white westerners that he perceives as normal and natural.  By implying that something is unnatural signals at its inferiority, which is a key part of Orientalism.  Prendick views himself as superior and the islanders as inferior simply because they look different from him as well as Montgomery and Dr. Moreau, who all hail from Western Europe.

Another way in which Prendick classifies the islanders as others in the context of Orientalism is by describing their faces as deformed and “elfin.”  “Elfin” can be interpreted as appearing similar to an elf, which is universally known as a mythical and magical creature.  In myths and fairytales, elves are often portrayed as cheerful woodland or water creatures who act as sidekicks or comedic relief.  Elves are not the protagonists in stories, and often assist the hero or heroine in achieving their goals.  They are never the characters in stories who save the day, or battle a monster, or even find true love.  Elves are frequently viewed as incapable of anything heroic and are thus perceived as delicate and submissive creatures who are not on the same level as human beings. Prendick’s description of the islanders as “elfin” suggests that he does not view them as human beings like himself, Montgomery, and Dr. Moreau.  Furthermore, Prendick describes the islanders’ “faces with protruding lower jaws and bright eyes.”  Merely mentioning these differences in the islanders’ facial structure and likening the islanders to mythical, non-human creatures affirms that Prendick is practicing aspects of Orientalism and othering the islanders as inferior, less than human creatures.

2 thoughts on “Orientalism and Othering in The Island of Dr. Moreau”

  1. Awesome analysis, I found it very interesting the way you described othering in your blog! I was curious about the elfin section though, as you mention that elves are never seen as the main characters or protagonists. In stories like Lord of the Ring, elves do in fact tend to hold a power over human beings though. Would this fact change the fact that Prendick refers to them as elfin? Do you think that stories, where elves are magical and high beings, would change their references?

  2. Your close reading of the word “elf” was SO interesting! Your statement that elves are often used to help the hero achieve his goal completely relates to The Island of Dr. Moreau because the creatures are simply there for Dr. Moreau to achieve his goal of turning animals to human. This post made me think of the post Animalia vs Humanity. Both of these posts discuss how the physical descriptions of the creatures contrasts them to the white Englishman, thus putting the creatures into the categorization of “other”. While this post discusses the turban and face shape of the creatures, the Animalia vs Humanity post looks at the “copper colored hue” of their skin. Even though both posts examine different physical characteristics of the creatures, they both come to the same conclusion.

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