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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Chapters 16–17 | Summary



Chapter 16: How the Beast Folk Tasted Blood

Montgomery takes Prendick to see the island's fumarole (a volcanic vent) and hot springs. On the way, they come across strange, pink little hopping creatures that Montgomery says Doctor Moreau made from the offspring of the Beast People. The two also see a damaged tree, and Montgomery points out that its bark has been shredded in violation of the Law. They encounter the Ape Man and a Satyr (a sheep-like character) and converse briefly with them. The Beast People refer to Moreau as "the Master" and Montgomery as "the Other with the Whip." Montgomery points out that Prendick, too, has a whip and they must mind him. As the two men move on, they find a rabbit that has been savagely torn apart and partially eaten.

Prendick tells Montgomery that this is not the first dead and mutilated rabbit he has seen on the island and that he suspects a specific Beast Person—the Leopard Man who chased him a few nights previously—of killing it. This terrifies Montgomery, who, with Prendick in tow, rushes back to the compound and tells Moreau what they have discovered. Moreau is also quite upset and likewise believes that "the Leopard Man was the sinner." The three gather their whips and revolvers and hike to the Beast People's huts. All the creatures are summoned, and Moreau demands that the Sayer of the Law recite the Law aloud. When he gets to the rule prohibiting the tasting of blood, Moreau stares at the Leopard Man (who, along with the Hyena-Swine, seems "dejected") and declares, "That Law has been broken!" He then prompts the Beast People to declare in unison that whoever breaks the Law "goes back to the House of Pain, O Master!"

The Leopard Man realizes that he has been found out, attacks Moreau, and then runs away. Moreau, Montgomery, Prendick, and the Beast People give chase. The Leopard Man is cornered, and seeing his fear, Prendick suddenly "realize[s] again the fact of its humanity." To save him from torture, Prendick shoots and kills the creature. This upsets Moreau, who wanted the creature kept alive.

Afterward, Prendick is seized with the conviction that what Moreau is doing to these animals is very wrong. Before, their instincts were "fitly adapted to their surroundings," but now they stumble "in the shackles of humanity," forced to live under rules that run counter to their nature. He feels himself losing faith in "the sanity of the world," feeling it is directed by "a blind fate, a vast pitiless mechanism.

Chapter 17: A Catastrophe

After nearly two months on Doctor Moreau's island, Edward Prendick is disgusted with the activities there. He disassociates himself from Moreau—and from Montgomery, whose "secret drunkenness," among other things, has "tainted" him in Prendick's eyes. Prendick takes to romanticizing his memories of civilization and spending time alone on the beach, looking out onto the ocean "for some liberating sail" that never appears.

One morning as Prendick relaxes, smoking a cigarette at the entrance of the compound, the puma that Moreau has been vivisecting escapes the operating area. She jumps upon Prendick, knocking him down and breaking his arm before running off. Moreau follows the beast, barely noticing Prendick as he pursues it into the brush. Montgomery then appears, holding a revolver. After tending to Prendick's arm, he goes off in search of Moreau and the puma. Prendick hears pistol shots. When Montgomery returns without Moreau, he tells Prendick that the Beast People's huts have been abandoned and that they are "all rushing about mad." He saw two Swine Men with bloodstains around their mouths. Having tasted blood, they attacked him and M'ling, forcing Montgomery to shoot them. He then shoots a bloodstained Ocelot Man. Prendick asks him what it all means, but Montgomery stops speaking; he simply sits silently, drinking his brandy.


In Chapter 16, the artificial wall between the forced civilized behavior of the Beast People and their natural animalistic dispositions begins quickly and decisively to crumble. Prendick and Montgomery discover that at least one of the them has broken "the Law" by shredding the bark of a tree and killing and presumably eating a living creature. That Moreau is alarmed and feels the need to deal immediately with the situation belies his earlier claim (in Chapter 14) that he basically disowns his creatures once they begin to revert. It also seems to put the lie to his assertion that the Beast People acquired their pseudoreligious beliefs through the missionary efforts of one of the Kanakas who once served Moreau. Moreau is revealed, in fact, to be something of a megalomaniac, maintaining dominance over his creatures through fear and brute force. (This is further evidenced by the fact that they refer to him as "Master" and follow his commands with little resistance.)

Prendick's confrontation with the Leopard Man is something of an epiphany for Prendick. The Beast People have vivid memories of being painfully changed into their present forms in Moreau's House of Pain, and the greatest punishment they can conceive is being forced to return there. When Prendick "see[s] the creature there in a perfectly animal attitude, with the light gleaming in its eyes, and its imperfectly human face distorted with terror," he is driven by sympathy to kill the creature and thus save it from being tortured further by Moreau. Moreau's disappointment at Prendick's action—when Moreau wants to subject the creature to further vivisection—exposes the doctor's lack of ethical concern (which he proudly admits in Chapter 14) for the sadism that it is.

Scholars including Sherryl Vint of the University of Alberta, Canada, have noted that it is a female animal, the puma, who appears to suffer the most pain in the novel. Vint argues that Wells was explicitly linking vivisection to "the suffering of women under the hands of surgeons whose practices seemed not so far removed from those of vivisectionists." She cites accounts of Victorian women, especially poor women, being used as subjects for medical research. In Prendick's empathy for the puma woman, Vint finds that speciesism—the assumption of human superiority that leads to the exploitation of animals—"has much in common with sexism, racism, and similar structures of discrimination."

Vint also cites the work of Coral Lansbury, a Victorian scholar who studied the 19th-century anti-vivisectionist movement and compared the puma's torture to pornographic portrayals of women in bondage. "The women in pornographic stories," Lansbury states, "are also often specifically animalized ... for the novelist is careful to limit the amount of human feeling permitted his victim." Considering the amount of description Wells devotes to the puma's suffering, feminist readings of the novel such as Vint's and Lansbury's seem quite valid.

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