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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Chapters 14–15 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 14: Doctor Moreau Explains

Doctor Moreau shows Edward Prendick the puma he has been vivisecting and convinces him at last that he is turning animals into human beings and not vice-versa. The two share a meal in Prendick's room, with Moreau's two revolvers—which he has given Prendick in a gesture of trust—on a table between them. After the meal, Moreau describes at length the history and goals of his work; he describes similar experiments done by others. He uses transplants and grafting to change the animals' appearance. He is less articulate about how he gives the animals human intelligence beyond a reference to adding and changing "much" in molding the brain of a gorilla.

They discuss the morality of what Moreau is doing. Prendick believes that animal vivisection—and the pain it inflicts upon living creatures—is unethical. Moreau maintains that both pain and pleasure are features of animal life and not of enlightened human beings. To prove his point, he drives a penknife into his thigh. Pain and pleasure both, he claims, "are for us, only so long as we wriggle in the dust." He also tells Prendick that he has "never troubled about the ethics" of what he is doing. "The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature," he claims.

He then says that when he and Montgomery first came to the island, they were accompanied by six local Kanakas. One drowned, another died of poisoning after drinking the wrong "plant-juice," and one was killed. The remaining three, horrified by Moreau's activities, "went away in the yacht, and I suppose and hope were drowned." When Prendick presses Moreau about the one who was murdered, Moreau tells him that, after making several humans, he made "a thing" that escaped and killed the man.

Moreau tells Prendick that he has a recurring problem with his subjects. He cannot control their emotions, and once humanized, they almost immediately begin to revert to their original state. When this happens, he says, he turns them loose and has no more to do with them, although Montgomery has taken the trouble to maintain a relationship with his attendant M'ling. The Beast People have formed "a kind of travesty of humanity" in the ravine where Prendick saw the huts and met the Sayer of the Law. The recitation of the Law, Moreau claims, has its origins in the religious instruction given them by one of the Kanakas. Despite the animals' "upward striving," they have "the souls of beasts."

At the end of the conversation Prendick, although still uneasy about what Moreau is doing, hands the two revolvers back to him. Moreau, bored and annoyed at the time he has had to waste dealing with Prendick, tells his guest to keep them.

Chapter 15: Concerning the Beast Folk

Prendick awakens after a night's sleep, feeling uneasy after his conversation with Doctor Moreau the evening before. He is wary of the Beast People, especially after learning that, once transformed, they slowly revert back to their animal nature, and he checks to make certain that his room's locks are secure. Montgomery and his attendant M'ling arrive with breakfast. Montgomery stays to talk, and Prendick asks what keeps the "Beast Folk" from harming one another or the humans around them. Montgomery replies that their "limited mental scope" keeps everyone in "comparative safety." Rather ominously, however, he also mentions that their adherence to "the Law" tends to weaken during nighttime.

Prendick digresses in this chapter to describe the island on which the story is taking place. It is volcanic in origin, although the volcano that formed it is now mostly dormant, and the land mass is about seven or eight square miles in area. Prendick then expands upon the creatures Moreau has created. Numbering more than 60, they were made from animas including apes, leopards, oxen, sows, hyenas, swine, goats, horses, and rhinoceroses. Some were pieced together from two or more types of animals. Over time, Prendick observes Montgomery's interaction with them—particularly with M'ling—and becomes "habituated to them." What once seemed "unnatural and repulsive" to him comes to feel "natural and ordinary."

Analysis

Chapters 14 and 15 reinforce the scientific and dramatic veracity of Wells's tale, while at the same time the chapters delve into the larger ethical and moral issues raised by Moreau's activities. The doctor's description of the science behind his work is presented in logical-sounding and detailed language that—in a time before the discovery of DNA—would have effectively supported a reader's suspension of disbelief. The fact that Prendick finds himself "hot with shame at our mutual positions" is an indication that he is beginning to realize on a basic moral level that a purely scientific approach untempered by ethical considerations becomes at some point inherently wrong. In this context, Moreau's comment that "the study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature" is chilling in both its stark truth and in the moral implications of that truth. That there will be a moral reckoning for Moreau is foreshadowed by his admission that his creatures start reverting to an animal state "as soon as [his] hand is taken from them" (as well as Montgomery's observation that the Beast People become less civilized at night).

Here, as elsewhere in The Island of Doctor Moreau, Wells links the novel's goings-on to real-life people and things in order to impart a real-life tone to the narrative. His reference to the work of other scientists is an example. Another is his description of the six Kanakas who accompanied Moreau and Montgomery when they first arrived on the island. The Kanakas were natives of the South Pacific area who were commonly employed (often unwillingly) by wealthy white people, mostly in Australia, during the period in which the novel is set.

The reader might be surprised at Moreau's claim that one of his Kanaka servants is responsible for the primitive religiosity of the Beast People. While that explanation seems plausible at this point in the novel, later events will raise questions about Moreau's honesty on this matter.

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