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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Chapter 22 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 22: The Man Alone

On the third evening after the small boat and its two dead passengers drift onto Doctor Moreau's island, Edward Prendick sets sail on the craft. After three days afloat, he is picked up by a passing ship. The captain and his mate refuse to believe his tale and are convinced that his time at sea has driven him mad. Worried that others will think the same, he says no more about his experiences, pretending instead that he remembers nothing of the previous year.

His memories of his time on the island haunt him, however, and his reintroduction to civilization does nothing to ease his mind. Rather, he is plagued with the delusion that those around him are Beast People, "animals half-wrought into the outward image of human souls" who will soon revert to their animal nature. He confesses his plight to a "mental specialist" who once knew Moreau; this "help[s] him mightily," although he does not expect that the terror of that island will ever altogether leave him. London is unbearable to him: he sees "prowling" women, "pale workers ... like wounded deer," and preachers gibbering like the Ape Man.

Uneasy around people, he moves to the "broad free downland" (an area of grass-covered chalk hills in southern England) and embraces a life of near-isolation. His days are spent mostly "surrounded by wise books" and conducting experiments in chemistry. On clear nights, he pursues astronomy, finding a "sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven." There, he concludes, "whatever is more than animal within us" must "find its solace and its hope."

Analysis

The Island of Doctor Moreau ends on a distinctly melancholy and satirical note. Edward Prendick's months with Moreau and the Beast People have traumatized him, and he will never fully recover. He has himself regressed, although emotionally rather than physically. He cannot help but see the animal nature in every human he encounters.

Margaret Atwood compares Prendick to another literary character, the Ancient Mariner in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic 1798 poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." She points to the great white bird that flies from the boat in which Prendick escapes as a deliberate reference to the albatross killed by the mariner in Coleridge's poem. Like the poem, The Island of Doctor Moreau has a boat filled with dead men and in Atwood's words "revolves around man's proper relation to nature."

But, Atwood points out, "between Coleridge and Wells came [Charles] Darwin." The British scientist's theory of natural selection, put forward in his 1859 On the Origin of the Species, blurred the line between humans and animals. Before Darwin, the prevailing thought was that humans and animals were created, unchanging, by God. But Darwin showed that a species can change over time, as the traits that best help it to survive are passed on to successive generations. So while the mariner finds salvation and reconnects with humanity after wronging nature, Prendick cannot do so in a post-Darwin society. Only in science, the pursuit of knowledge, and the hope of heaven can he find any peace.

Prendick's lingering fear that the men and women he meets are but "passably human ... Beast People" has been compared to protagonist Gulliver's reaction to other humans when he returns home from his time with the Houyhnhnms (fictional race of intelligent horses) and the Yahoos (humanlike creatures). Anglo-Irish author Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) penned the novel Gulliver's Travels (1726), in which surgeon and sea captain Lemuel Gulliver visits different regions of the world in four adventures. This work satirizes English customs and politics.

Robert Philmus, professor of English literature at Concordia University, Montreal, argues that the prologue of Gulliver's Travels ("A Letter from Captain Gulliver to His Cousin Sympson") presages Prendick's perceptions at the end of The Island of Doctor Moreau about the bestial nature of humankind. Philmus goes on to note that Wells's Swiftian novel satirizes the ways in which the Beast People represent a thin veneer of so-called civilization, which rapidly dissolves once out from under the whip of Moreau, or in other words, the ways in which civilization is a flimsy protection against people's always-present bestial nature.

Moreover, it's deeply situationally ironic that Prendick sees himself as separate from Montgomery, Moreau, and the Beast People since his earlier admission about his changes ("I am told that even now my eyes have a strange brightness, a swift alertness of movement" [Chapter 21]) reinforces his close proximity to those same Beast People who disgust him. His actual experiences confirm what he wishes to deny: humanity (including himself) is bestial and cruel.

As Philmus concludes, unlike Gulliver, who has spent a long sojourn among the rational Houyhnhnms and is disgusted by how superior they are to his fellow (Yahoo) humans, Prendick, who has spent roughly a year in the company of Yahoo-like creatures (the Beast People), fears humanity's "similarity to them."

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