Ugliness in Moreau vs. Grey

The Island of Dr Moreau and The Picture of Dorian Grey both contain characters who are ugly or impure. The core difference lies in where this ugliness is found; on the outside or the inside. The novels, when compared, seem to reveal that as long as a character’s repulsiveness remains on the inside, they are free to be as sinful as they would like.

For the Beastmen of Moreau’s island, there is a constant focus from Prendick on their outward repugnance; “their bodies were abnormally long… they were an amazingly ugly gang,” (Wells 17), “the creature had exactly the mild but repulsive features of a sloth,” (Wells 41), etc. These creatures designed by Moreau are under near-constant scrutiny Their outward monstrosity has deemed them unfit to be a part of the both the animalistic society they came from and the human society they were experimented on to become. There is almost a desire from the Beastmen to prove they can be just and civil like humans; “Not to go on all fours… are we not men?” (Wells 43). This is because their appearance prevents them from blending into any sort of society. They are prejudged not by their actions but by their looks.

Contrastly is Dr Moreau, a Godlike figure who is hardly criticized despite his deplorable experiments. Moreau, seen as a beacon of good because he is firmly, attractively human, can get away with the work he is doing.

Dorian Grey features the same concept. Our young and attractive aristocrat, at the end of chapter 8, resigns himself to living a life of beauty and sin so long as the painting is the thing that changes, and not himself. “…who, that knew anything about life, would surrender the chance of remaining always young…” (Wilde 120). Grey makes explicit that what the painting will reveal now is his soul, just as it had before revealed his looks. What’s worse, Dorian believes “there [will] be real pleasure in watching it [change]” (Wilde 120). Knowing that his sin will never touch his shell, but instead the canvas, is an excuse for Grey to do what he wants and not regret it.

Lord Henry seems to agree that outward beauty is an excuse for sinful behavior. “Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly…” Lord Henry argues, Grey’s life will not be as worth living. “When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you” (Wilde 29-30). The message is clear; those who are lucky to have youth and beauty should take advantage, because it is rare and fleeting. What advantages one chooses to take are not specifically sinful, but that seems to be the direction Lord Henry is leading Dorian in; “Be always searching for new sensations… be afraid of nothing… a new Hedonism” (Wilde 30).

The primary complication with outward looks determining one’s behavior is its natural bias towards the attractive. If you are beautiful, you have the freedom to do whatever you please. This happens in society today; beauty is a focus and looks are rewarded; the “bad boy” trope is popular – the sinful but dangerous figure. Looks are used as an excuse to judge, and this superficial outlook allows a lot of sinful behavior by Grey and others to go unchecked.

3 thoughts on “Ugliness in Moreau vs. Grey”

  1. Very interesting post! I think it is also important to acknowledge that Dorian does not seem to care what others think regarding his behaviors or attitudes, but he is incredibly worried about people seeing the “ugly” painting of him. Dorian practically throws a fit when Basil tries to see the painting. Dorian is not bothered by all of Basil’s allegations or Basil’s questioning of his character, but he is bothered by the idea of Basil seeing the aging painting. Is this because Dorian does not want Basil to ever see him as not perfectly beautiful, or because Dorian does not want Basil to find out his secret, or perhaps both?

  2. I’m not sure that Moreau is exactly portrayed as a “beacon of good” and that his actions are excused, but it’s definitely true that there’s further emphasis on the physical ugliness of the creatures than on the inner ugliness of Dr. Moreau. This disparity does maintain your point that physical beauty is more important than moral beauty.

  3. I found this comparison really interesting, especially since in both texts there is the element of looks as a basis for judging an individual’s character. Because the creatures on the island of Dr. Moreau were ugly and deformed, it was easy for Prendick to assume that they were just as ugly and deformed on the inside. This correlation is also found in Dorian Gray – because he had all the appearance of being young and beautiful, Lord Henry felt safe in the assumption that that those characteristics were reflective in his character as well.

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