Course Blog

The Catching of the Wildness

While reading H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, I was focused on the recurring theme within the text of the transition and fluidness between human and non-human characteristics. This is specifically seen towards the end of the novel, as Prendick is left alone on the island with Moreau’s experiments – all of which gradually revert to a more wild version of themselves. The influence of the creatures on Prendick is exemplified in his acknowledged friendships between some of the creatures, as some of them he has a “friendly tolerance” (96) towards and his outright kinship with the Dog-Man “After the death of this poor dog of mine, my last friend, I too adopted to some extent the practice of slumbering in the daytime, in order to be on my guard at night” (100). This quote also shows his transition to a more nocturnal lifestyle due to the totally immersive state of being surrounded by half-animals.

Additionally, the significance of Prendick’s closet companion on the island having been derived from a dog suggests that only the most docile and domesticated animals are trustworthy and worthy of being by the side of humans: “I scarcely noticed the transition from the companion on my right hand to the lurching dog at my side” (97). Dog Man is the only creature on the island that Prendick willingly allows to touch his hand, but only after Dog Man calls him ‘Master’ and pledges servitude to him: “The thing was evidently faithful enough, for it might have fallen upon me as I slept….extending my hand for another licking kiss” (93). Part of this honored position, however, can be traced directly to the creature’s willingness to serve humans “The Dog Man scarcely dared to leave my side“ (95) and in this way it can be argued that Prendick retains the human ability to domesticate creatures and does not completely devolve into just another animal on the island.

However, Wells also parallels Prendick’s degeneration to a more animalistic version of himself alongside the reversion of the creatures on the island to a more wild and truer form of themselves – “I, too, must have undergone strange changes…. I am told that even now my eyes have a strange brightness, a swift alertness of movement.” (98). Prendick defines the shift in his nature as a result of having “caught something of the natural wildness of my companions” (102). This shift appears to be both permanent and irreversible both in the case of Prendick and the creatures. On a grander level, this fear of “catching” less-than desirable characteristics can be connected to the Victorian fear of being conquered and overrun by the societies that they had previously taken control over. It contributes to the general fear of outsiders/aliens – anything that is different has the potential to upset the foundation of Victorian society and way of life. These moments in the text can also be read as a question of what separates humans, and in the case of this class and novel, specifically Victorians, from other animals and other cultures. The fear that Victorians might resemble other races too closely to be comfortable also shines through as a large part of what I believe Wells was exploring in writing this novel was how easy is it for another race to become passably colonized or “domesticated”.

 

One of the Brutes

“And so from the prohibition of these acts of folly, on to the prohibition of what I thought were the maddest, most impossible and most indecent things one could well imagine. A kind of rhythmic fervor fell on all of us ; we gabbled and swayed faster and faster, repeating this amazing law. Superficially the contagion of these brute men was upon me, but deep down within me laughter and disgust struggled together” (p. 43).

This passage, in the chapter entitled “The Sayers of the Law” in H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, follows Prendick’s first introduction to “the Law” of Moreau’s creatures. Upon hearing parts of their recitations, Prendick concludes that they are “acts of folly… the maddest, most impossible and most indecent things one could imagine.” By judging their rules so quickly, Prendick distances himself from the situation and proclaims the inferiority of Moreau’s creatures. Prendick exacerbates the supposed differences between himself and the creatures through dehumanizing language. He denotes that the “contagion of these brute men” infects him, characterizing the creatures as diseases that impair his being. Even as he labels them as contagious diseases, Prendick gives no agency to the creatures. They are not human enough to have infected him, but their “contagion” spread on its own course “upon [Prendick].” His description of his warring reactions, “laughter and disgust,” further degrade the creatures to being worthy of two equally humiliating responses. By repeatedly shaming Moreau’s creatures, Prendick places himself on a pedestal above them.

The second sentence of the passage, however, provides opposition to this placement. Rather than separating himself from the creatures, Prendick notes that “[a] kind of rhythmic fervor fell on all of [them]; [they] gabbled and swayed faster and faster, repeating this amazing law.” The indication that Prendick himself also falls under the spell of the “rhythmic fervor” and recites the Law with Moreau’s creatures, participating in their most revered ceremony, acts as a sort of induction into their group. The word “gabbled” itself acts as an equalizer between Prendick and the creatures because it gives the impression of madness and unintelligible noises. It seems that Prendick attempts to counter this inclusion by claiming that “[s]uperficially the contagion of these brute men was upon [him].” That is, the fervor affecting Prendick is only surface-level and is caused by the disease of the creatures. He, however, calls the creatures “brute men” in this phrase, highlighting that he feels some sort of connection to them, as he could just as well call them monsters. Prendick’s induction and mutual awe of the “amazing law” illustrates that he and the creatures are more similar than Prendick realizes.

Prendick’s struggle between relating to and separating himself from the creatures relates to views of the lower class by wealthy individuals during the fin de siècle. According to Sally Ledger and Roger Luckhurst’s “Introduction: Reading the ‘Fin de Siècle,” the “often unsympathetic accounts of working-class city dwellers fueled existing fears of degeneration” (xvi). In terms of the selected passage from The Island of Dr. Moreau, Prendick is akin to the wealthy upper class individuals who saw the lower class as degenerates that were dangerous to the English race. Dr. Moreau’s creatures would take the place of the lower class, misunderstood people who were looked down upon, as Prendick degrades the creatures, and feared, again as Prendick does. The “laughter and disgust” Prendick describes as “[struggling] together” within him are similar opinions some wealthy, upper class individuals would have towards the poverty-stricken lower class they were unable to understand, yet innately similar to.

Locks and Sounds: A Close Reading

“Then I heard a key inserted and turned in the lock behind me. After a little while I heard through the locked door the noise of the staghounds, that had now been brought up from the beach. They were not barking, but sniffing and growling in a curious fashion” (21).

This paper will provide a close reading of the passage in which the narrator is first shown where he will be staying on the island. This scene is one of the first where our narrator becomes aware that something unusual is going on on the island. The emphasis on the locked door and the repetition of the word “heard” in the passage reveals Mr. Prendick’s unawareness of what is happening on the island.

There is great emphasis placed on the locked door throughout this passage. Within two sentences, we see the words “key”, “lock”, and “locked door”. Even though the first sentence very explicitly lets the readers know the door is locked, the author reiterates it again in the next sentence by saying “locked door”. This repetition reveals that there is information our narrator is unaware of that is intentionally being kept from him. He is literally being locked out by not being able to physically go through the door, but he is also figuratively being “locked out” of information. The repetition of “lock” builds the curiosity of the reader, as they are at this point also unaware of the secret being kept from the narrator. The mention of “the beach” in this passage can be seen as a contrast to the room the narrator now finds himself in. The beach often evokes feelings of freedom. If we think of the beach as an allusion to freedom, and our narrator is no longer down at the beach, then we might consider our narrator as no longer free. By having an allusion to freedom in the middle of a passage talking about locks and locked doors, it suggests the room the narrator is now in, or perhaps the island as a whole, is incompatible with freedom.

Not only is there a great emphasis on locks in the passage, but there is also an emphasis on sound. Throughout this short passage, the word “heard” gets used twice. There is also emphasis on sound in the words “noise”, “barking”, “sniffing”, and “growling”. It is important that the narrator is hearing things instead of seeing them. He hears the key get inserted in the door and he hears the staghounds, but he is not actually seeing what is going on. The fact that he is hearing, but not seeing, could allude to the fact that he is unaware of what is happening on the island. If he could see the staghounds “sniffing and growling”, then he would know what they were reacting to. Instead, he can hear them growling behind the door, which could suggest there is something unusual or unsafe behind the door, but the narrator does not get to see what it is. Similarly, the reader does not get to know why the dogs are growling. The use of staghounds, rather than say a poodle or dachshund, could also be meaningful. Staghounds are hunting dogs, and are very protective. The narrator can hear these protective dogs, but they are behind the door, and therefore in a place he is not allowed to go. This could symbolize the narrator losing protection once he got to the island. The emphasis on hearing instead of seeing reveals the narrator’s knowledge that something unusual is happening on the island, but his unawareness of what it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Humanity In Danger When Science Advances?

“I held out my hands. The grey creature in the corner leant forward… He put out a strangely distorted talon, and gripped my fingers. The thing was almost like the hoof of a deer produced into claws. I could have yelled with surprise and pain. His face came forward and peered at my nails, came forward into the light of the opening of the hut, and I saw with a quivering disgust that it was like the face of neither man nor beast…” (44).

This passage is taken from the scene in The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells in which Prendick is getting his first introduction to the “Law.” Prendick is brought to the cave where all of these creatures live and offered food before they recite to him this set of rules all of the creatures live by. This initial hospitality shown by the creatures makes Prendick comfortable enough to “hold out [his] hands.” In doing so, Prendick accepts the hospitality so kindly offered by the creatures. Because the act is voluntary on Prendick’s part, he is able to begin to connect with the beasts on his terms in a nonviolent manner. Additionally, the grey creature “gripped” Prendick’s fingers. The act of  “gripping” rather than simply holding his hand attaches a desperate quality to the action. The creature needed to hold Prendick’s hand, and maintained a strong enough grip so that Prendick couldn’t easily break the connection. It is important to note here that this is one of the first times Prendick uses person-specific pronouns rather than neutral pronouns in regards to these creatures, signaling first signs of Prendick accepting the creatures as some form of human. This new use of pronouns coupled with his offer to touch the beast and the beast’s enthusiastic response makes for a fantastically human moment between Prendick and beast. It was as if the beast had been waiting to touch someone for so long, and Prendick, despite his disgust and preconceived assumptions, gave the beast that moment. This openness toward the beasts only grows within Prendick as the story progresses.

It cannot go unnoticed, however, that Prendick still harbors more hate towards the beasts in this passage than anything else. He remains open to the idea of the beast in the beginning of the passage, but the beast is still shrouded by the darkness of the cave. It isn’t until the beast “come[s] forward into the light of the opening of the hut” that Prendick becomes openly hateful in his account of this scene. Prendick “quivers” with disgust, suggesting he is so shocked by what he sees he has a physical reaction. “Disgust” is so severe in nature it signals the idea that Prendick isn’t simply uncomfortable with these creatures, but rather physically repulsed. He can’t even be in the same room as them, let alone touch them. Moreover, the introduction of light to the space is also the same instance in which Prendick stops using person-specific pronouns, reverting back to the use of “it” when referring to the beast. It is also the moment in which Prendick makes the clear distinction that the creatures are not “man.” In the same passage, Prendick recognizes the human qualities of the creatures, but also yanks those human qualities away in an instant.

Damrosch and Dettmar note in their section titled “The Age of Energy and Invention” the speed with which science advanced in the late Victorian era. As quoted by W.R. Greg, speed was the “most salient characteristic of life” during this later section of the Victorian era. The way in which the beast’s appendage is described, as a mixture of hand, claw, talon, and hoof, conjure images of science moving so fast that the appendage did not have enough time to decide what it was going to develop into. This, coupled with the speed with which Prendick gives human qualities to the beast only to take them away in a matter of seconds, allows this passage to act as a warning. It influences readers to reflect on themselves and what humanity and science looked like during that time. It begs so many important questions to be asked: How far will we let science interfere with humanity? Where is the line between animal and human? Is all science good science? This passage warns against taking science too far, but suggests that perhaps no matter the speed of advancement, some form of humanity will prevail.

The Nature of Law

In The Island of Dr. Moreau, the three fully human characters exercise their control over Dr. Moreau’s creations with weapons. This control manifests as blind obedience to the Law that Moreau instilled in them. The creatures are made to recite the Law to prove that they understand their subservience to Moreau, and understand how he wishes for them to behave. But neither Moreau nor Montgomery ever attempts to communicate with the creatures without a weapon. When the three men gather the creatures together to find who has broken the Law, Moreau uses a weapon and a commanding tone to enforce the Law: as he makes them recite the Law, he stops them at the point that forbids the consumption of flesh to tell them he knows that this Law has been broken. “’Who is he?’ cried Moreau, and looked round at their faces, cracking his whip” (69). Moreau does not ask the creatures why they let the Law be broken, but instead intimidates them into obeying the Law in the future. The Law is never enforced without the context of a weapon, which makes the obedience of the Law something done out of fear. Even when Moreau is not there, the creatures recite the Law fearfully, “glancing furtively” (45) at one another as they blindly repeat the Law in the presence of Prendick.

After Moreau and Montgomery die, Prendick begins to fear that this will set off a chain reaction: “They know now that we of the Whips could be killed, even as they themselves were killed…” (91). The capitalization of “Whip” demonstrates Prendick’s recognition of the power of that object. The whip is what gives him power over these creatures, not the Law. Moreau and Montgomery feared the breaking of the Law against eating flesh because this was a challenge of the Law that gave the creatures the power of violence. Once this Law is broken, the creatures know that violence can be achieved without punishment, and they can even begin to challenge the punisher with this power.

While Prendick tries to assert the same authority that Moreau and Montgomery did, he cannot instill fear of the Law in the creatures after that the enforcers of the Law are gone. The creatures begin to lose their humanity after Moreau and Montgomery die, slowly gaining back their animal instincts and mannerisms. The Law is forgotten after the fear of punishment is gone.

This dynamic can be seen as an allegory for control over human beings. If a group of people is taught obedience through fear of punishment, they will only obey for as long as that fear is legitimate. As soon as they don’t feel threatened, they will disregard the pretense that they hold any reverence for the law. In order to maintain control, the people must have a real belief in the value of law.

H.G. Wells could have meant for this allegory to represent the work of Christian missionaries to convert natives of colonized lands in the 18th and 19th centuries. The methods of these missionaries often involved the use of forceful indoctrination, threatening natives with punishment if they did not participate in Christian rituals. But the natives continued to practice their own beliefs in secret, demonstrating that, at the very least, they didn’t view Christian law as the sole true law. Wells wanted to show that these methods were futile; any “uncivilized” people will only follow a new law out of fear. But the beliefs behind these laws hold no value to them, and once freed from fear of consequence, they will revert to their old ways.

Animalia vs. Humanity

When Prendick first discovers the island and its inhabitants, he quickly notices their features. Prendick states that one of the islanders is “clothed in bluish cloth, and was of a copper-coloured hue, with black hair. It seemed grotesque ugliness was an invariable character of these islanders” (Wells 17). Here, Wells uses human-like characteristics and color symbolism to contrast the animalistic and human tendencies of the creatures Moreau created. For instance, being “clothed” suggests a humanlike sense of pride. Humans always walk around clothed, but animals do not. To this extent, Wells was trying to establish that the islanders had some qualities that set them apart from other animals.

The Island of Dr. Moreau 1977 Rotten Tomatoes

Additionally, Wells is very intentional about his use of color symbolism. Referring to “bluish cloth,” “black hair” and a “copper-coloured [skin] hue” arouses various connotations. Blue is unusual to find naturally on cloth. It requires a dyeing process that takes time and thought. By dressing the islanders in blue, Wells suggests they have human characteristics or influences that give them a sense of fashion, thus differentiating them from animals. Blue is also representative of hope and class. Wells may have dressed the islanders in blue in order to depict Moreau’s hope that they will continue gaining humanlike qualities.

Furthermore, the islanders’ “copper-coloured hue” makes them stand out from the typical white Englishman of the time. The Longman Anthology describes the Victorian Age as a period of “blatant racism” (Damrosch 1064). Therefore, the islanders’ different skin tone would have made them appear as having less importance than Prendick, Moreau, and Montgomery, each of whom is assumedly white and Western European. Having “black hair” is also critical to the islanders’ physicality. Firstly, “hair” is different than fur, as hair is connected to humans whereas fur is connected to animals. The “blackness” of the hair further emphasizes the islanders’ differences from the fair skin and hair of Englishmen.

In relation to the novel as a whole, Moreau’s attempt to create humans from animals relates to The Longman Anthology’s description of the Victorian Age as a period of reform. Moreau wanted a scientific way to invent his equal: He was attempting to create a being similar to himself. He taught his creatures how to care about fashion and dye clothes; he even gave them hair. However, Moreau failed because the islanders never possessed true class, as Prendick would have defined it. The islanders’ “black hair” is only one characteristic that distinguishes them from the ideal Englishmen of the time. By placing Moreau’s experimental creatures somewhere between English prestige and Animalia, Wells asserts that it would be impossible for animals or anyone of different backgrounds to be capable of success in the way it was stereotypically defined by white, high-class Englishmen.

H. G. Wells Cleveland Heights Patch

When he wrote this book, Wells was passionate against vivisection. If vivisection was proven possible, it would philosophically challenge peoples’ ideas of what humanity is and how to distinguish humans from other animals. If successful, Moreau’s experiments would have reformed religious, social, and scientific perspectives of the time. Nevertheless, Wells designed the book so that Moreau failed, and his failed attempt to create his human equal may be Wells’ way of demonstrating how new perspectives on equality were “destroy[ing] the social fabric” of England (Damrosch 1059). Wells’ critique of giving new people and ideas popularity and equality could have meant that he did not support the reforms or social movements of the time.

“Men Are Pigs”

(I know this is the example quote from the prompt outline but I swear I coincidentally picked the same passage during the exercise in class before I ever saw the prompt sheet)

“Each of these creatures, despite its human form, its rag of clothing, and the rough humanity of its bodily form, had woven into it, into its movements into the expression of its countenance, into its whole presence, some now irresistible suggestion of a hog, a swinish taint, the unmistakable mark of the beast.” (29)

In this passage, Prendick has left his room and wandered into the forest, where he comes across a trio of “grotesque human figures” and stops to observe them. Although there are many different species of man-animal hybrids on the island, these are among the first he has seen.

The most frequently used word in the passage is “it,” which is used to describe the pig-men hybrids. His use of the term “it” shows Prendick’s distaste for what he sees and his refusal to acknowledge them in the same terms as he would a full human. The passage could have easily been “Each of these creatures, despite their human forms, their rags of clothing, and the rough humanity of their bodily forms…” but Prendick makes the choice to identify each creature as an “it,” as a thing instead of an actual living gendered being.

Interestingly, Prendick never specifically describes exactly which features resemble those of a pig, nor how strongly. The words “suggestion,” “taint,” and “mark” all lack a sense of the concrete, despite being paired with words like “irresistible” and “unmistakable.” This almost oxymoronic assertion of the pig-ness of these humanoids leaves their actual physical appearance up to the reader’s imagination. This means that these creatures could have any degree of animalistic features, depending on the reader.

Prendick is both horrified and fascinated by the intertwining of man and beast in these creatures’ appearances. Wells’ places emphasis on the visual unmistakability of these combinations, and yet as these animals/men are unavoidable throughout the island, Prendick also can’t help but notice distinctly human qualities about them. It is ironic that among the first humanoid creatures he sees on the island are part pig, as “pig” is a common insult among “real” men. A pig is stereotypically slow, fat, dumb, dirty, and lazy. These human focal points and the constant reoccurrence of man-beasts throughout the island begs the question, “what makes a human a human?” and plants a seed in the reader’s mind that perhaps men aren’t all that different from animals after all.

 

 

The Perception of Safety

The Island or Dr. Moreau features many binaries classic to Victorian literature; nature vs. technology, religion vs. science, etc. One binary that is strongly featured in this novel is that of luck vs. safety, that which we can control versus that which we cannot, and how belief in this binary controls Edward Prendick’s actions throughout the novel.

Prendick’s narration from the very beginning perfectly outlines this concept:

“But in the first place, I must state that there never were four men in the dingy; the number was three. Constans… luckily for us, and unluckily for himself, did not reach us” (1).

Here we have not merely a description of how our main character came to be on the dingey later found by Montgomery, but a story of chance and safety, and more specifically, odds.

It is by pure chance that Prendick has become the narrator of our story, and this changes the way readers might understand personal power throughout the tale. Edward survived the sinking of the Lady Vain, and he survived again when the other members on the dingy did not, but this is not because of any assertive action on Prendick’s part, but mere coincidences stacked upon each other.

From the very beginning, H.G. Wells presents us with this idea that “safety” as it exists in the novel is arbitrary. While Prendick has described how he came to be on the Lady Vain’s dingy, he has also given us a paragraph of numbers to sift through. There could have been four men on the dingy, but there were only three. One page later, Prendick is the only man left on the dingy, following his companions’ brawl and slip overboard. Here Prendick claims, “I remember laughing at that and wondering why I laughed” (2). This laugh is resonant of Edward recognizing his own mortality in the face of forces beyond his control. He is the last man standing, and who can say that he has the ability to keep things this way? The novel is not one in which Prendick’s choices guarantee his safety, which we see time and time again.

The Island of Dr. Moreau poses that luck and safety mere perceptions. Beyond this, any attempt to secure safety for yourself and others is futile. Edward mentions how while his companions on the dingey struggled, he “intended to help Helmar by grasping the sailor’s leg” (2) but this did not change the outcome of neither man surviving. Prendick might as well have done nothing, for all of the good his assistance proved to be. Our narrator learns early in the novel that personal agency does not guarantee a change of outcome, and this affects his behavior for the rest of the novel.

We see Prendick fall victim to the whim of others despite his own attempts to secure safety for himself. He choses to trust Montgomery when he rescues our narrator yet is then cast adrift by Moreau and the boatmen when he is not wanted. How does Prendick respond to this decision? “I suddenly began to sob and weep as I had never done since I was a little child” (16). It is not until “the islanders, seeing [Edward] was really adrift, took pity on [him]” that our narrator is allowed onto the island to stay (16). Later, when Prendick believes he has discovered the truth about Dr. Moreau’s experiments, he decides to drown himself rather than be a victim of the doctor, but in the end cannot do it, noting “It was not in me then to go out and drown myself” (47). It is unclear if Edward can truly be safe whether he drowns himself or chooses to stay alive on the island, to the point where his “choice” is arbitrary.

While The Island of Dr. Moreau does not outright declare that safety is a matter of luck, it seems obvious from Prendick’s own actions that one cannot really choose to make his life safer. Rather this occurs from a series of actions outside of one’s personal control. I think this perfectly demonstrates the feelings of many in the Victorian era who strode to make their lives better, or even just to make their lives livable. It is not realistic to say that we always have a choice and can always use choices to make our lives better. However, Prendick does survive the novel, and perhaps this is a positive note; that while we cannot always choose the trajectory of our lives, there is some way in which we can keep ourselves going, and not give up searching for better.

The Successor of God in The Island of Dr. Moreau

To the creatures, Dr. Moreau is God, he is the creator and the master to which they answer to. By instilling a sort of social code into his creatures Moreau taints his intentions, making it clear that this was not just about the physiological science but the psychological science within it. These are qualities of life that regular animals do not hold, qualities that Moreau had to teach them. Moreau believes that he religiously can understand God, making him a successor of his will, “I fancy I have seen more of the ways of this world’s Maker than you – for I have sought his laws, in my way, all my life, while you, I understand, have been collecting butterflies” (55). He is not just a scientist in his own mind, but the successor of God’s will, having been given the knowledge he has to further humanity. In his mind, there was no one else that was meant to do what he has, not because it’s immoral and cruel, but because his fate is much grander than that of any other scientist. Moreau claims, “This extraordinary branch of knowledge has never been sought as an end, and systematically, by modern investigators, until I took it up! … I was the first man to take up this question armed with antiseptic surgery, and with a real scientific knowledge of the laws of growth” (53). With the tools and knowledge he had gathered throughout his life, there was no other man like Moreau than to pass knowledge onto humanity and to improve upon their species.

Dr. Moreau as a character has more knowledge and experience with science than any other characters. Those who have knowledge hold a power over those who do not. Moreau seemingly understands his dominance in social positions and names himself both master and little God of his island. With the power to take one animal and shape it into another Dr. Moreau dictates that he has the power to create new beings. He seems to see himself in a view as a sculptor of creatures, their creator, “These creatures you have seen are animals carven and wrought into new shapes.” (53). Lines like this seem to imply that he was doing this to create not a false humanity of creatures unbeknownst to the world, yet whether he could perfect all creatures around him. In his mind, to become perfect an animal must become human, which seems to be his exact intention for choosing the human being as the mold. While on page 54 he claims that he had chosen that form by chance, it seems that the only form which could be perfect would be the human being of whom has a higher sense of knowledge and emotionality. He claims, “I suppose there is something in the human form that appeals to the artistic turn of the mind more powerfully than any animal shape can” yet this does not seem to be what he is implying (54). The human form is more artistic because Moreau does not see beauty in animals and different species, he sees beauty in humanity and singularly humanity. Yet taking the mold of a human was not enough, it would only be enough once they thought and acted as humans rather than animals. “A pig may be educated… Very much of what we call moral education is such an artificial modification and perversion of instinct; pugnacity is trained into courageous self-sacrifice, and suppressed sexuality into religious emotion” (54). There was something in the act of being an animal that Moreau instilled in the creatures was not allowed, “I turn them out when I begin to feel the beast in them… they all dread this house and me. There is a kind of travesty of humanity over there. They only sicken me with a sense of failure” (59). Moreau feels intense feelings against the creatures that act as they are, sees that if they are not perfect and human, they are not to be at all. I believe that he feels this way as it is a rejection of his godliness. If he cannot create or improve upon the animal, to create an animal that looks and acts like a human, he sees himself as unworthy, or a failure. This seems quite reminiscent of The Fin De Siecle, as they discuss the intertwining between science and religion. The more science became prominent, the more religion did as well, rather than canceling itself out. In Moreau’s life, the more science became important, the more he recognized himself as a religious figure to the creatures, designating himself in a state of godliness and power.

 

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.