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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Chapters 2–3 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 2: The Man Who Was Going Nowhere

Edward Prendick awakens after his rescue aboard a schooner called the Ipecacuanha. Sitting next to his bunk is a man named Montgomery, who says he is a doctor and that Prendick has been unconscious for about 30 hours. He asks Prendick what happened to him, noting that blood was found on the dinghy from which he was rescued. As the two talk, Prendick hears the sounds of wild animals outside the cabin. These become so extreme that Montgomery goes out to quell the animals. There is a "violent controversy" outside on the deck between Montgomery and someone else, and to Prendick it sounds as if the confrontation ends "in blows."

Montgomery returns, and he and Prendick resume their conversation. Prendick tells Montgomery that he is a naturalist, a hobby that relieves the "dullness of [his] comfortable independence." Prendick then explains how he came to be in the dinghy alone. His account satisfies the doctor, who leaves again and returns with food. He also loans Prendick some clothes and tells him that the boat is headed to Hawaii. They will first, however, be landing on the nameless island on which Montgomery lives.

Chapter 3: The Strange Face

Prendick and Montgomery leave Edward's cabin and try to ascend the ladder leading to the ship's deck, but a black-faced "misshapen man" (Montgomery's attendant, named later in the novel as M'ling) obstructs their way. M'ling is short and broad with "a crooked back, a hairy neck and a head sunk between his shoulders." His face seems deformed, projecting outward like an animal's muzzle, and the pupils of his eyes are very large. Montgomery tells M'ling that he should be up on the forward deck. M'ling protests that he is not wanted there, and Montgomery orders him to go anyway.

Prendick and Montgomery then go up the ladder onto the deck, which is littered with food particles and "indescribable filth." Various types of animals, including staghounds (a kind of hunting dog), are being kept there. Some are lashed to the deck, and others are in cages. The two men hear a "yelp and a volley of furious blasphemy" in the ship's hatchway. M'ling's presence has driven the staghounds into a frenzy. The schooner's captain, a redheaded man named Davis with a white cap, appears. He is very drunk and belligerent.

An argument ensues between Davis and Montgomery about M'ling, who is being harassed by the ship's crew. Montgomery wants the captain to end the teasing, insisting that the "brute" is a passenger and should be left in peace. As they argue, Prendick learns that the animals on the deck belong to Montgomery. The conflict escalates and looks as though it is going to become physical. Prendick intercedes and averts any violence.

Analysis

Wells uses a good deal of foreshadowing in these two chapters to signal that there is something very wrong going on with Montgomery, his attendant M'ling, and the animals he transports. The obvious tension between Montgomery and the captain—and between M'ling and the Ipecacuanha's crew—is one example. Montgomery and his fellow passengers are loathsome to the men who are being paid to transport them. This distaste hints quite strongly that, on some level, the seamen realize that something unnatural is afoot. Similarly, Wells's description of the "misshapen" M'ling and the fact that the dogs react so negatively to him foreshadow what Prendick will soon discover about the disturbing animal component to M'ling's biology.

M'ling's Asian-inspired name and his "black face"—both of which are intended to evoke disquiet—exemplify a kind of racism that even a progressive socialist such as Wells found acceptable in 19th-century England. While some elements of The Island of Doctor Moreau were considered offensive at the time of its publication, the book's equation of nonwhiteness with abnormality was not among them.

Ipecacuanha, or ipecac, is a substance derived from the plant Cephaelis, which was first discovered in Brazil in the 17th century. In Wells's time, the substance was used to treat dysentery, a medical condition associated with tropical climes and marked by bloody diarrhea. Nowhere is it explained why it might be an appropriate name for a schooner, although in Chapter 2 Montgomery says that Ipecacuanha is a silly name for a boat and adds that "when there's much of a sea without any wind, she certainly acts according." This may be a joking reference to seasickness or dysentery.

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