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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Chapters 20–Chapter 21 | Summary



Chapter 20: Alone with the Beast Folk

Just after Montgomery's death, Edward Prendick is confronted by three Beast Men (one of whom is named later in the novel as the Dog Man). Thinking quickly, he retrieves Montgomery's whip, cracks it, and speaks authoritatively. He points toward the dead bodies behind him and tells the Beast Men that they were killed because they broke the Law. "None escape," he insists, commanding them to stand still while he rummages Montgomery's corpse for his revolver and remaining cartridges.

He then orders the Beast Men to cast Montgomery and the other bodies into the sea. As they do so, Prendick is approached by the Hyena-Swine. Prendick cracks his whip again, flashes his pistol, and commands the newcomer to "Salute!" and "Bow down!" The creature refuses, demanding, "Who are you, that I should..." as it bares its teeth and snarls. Prendick shoots at it and drives it off.

Prendick understands that the reason for Montgomery's despair the previous night was his knowledge that the Beast People were reverting to a more bestial state. He grows afraid, realizing that with the compound burned down there is no safe place for him on the island. He thinks it may be possible to ingratiate himself with the remaining Beast People and goes near the ravine that contains their huts. After dismissing his "three serfs," he has a conversation with an apathetic Beast Person and enters the ravine in search of food. The area is nearly deserted. He eats some fruit and then barricades himself in a hut to get some rest.

Chapter 21: The Reversion of the Beast Folk

Prendick awakens and discovers that the barricade he placed at the hut's door for protection has been removed. A Dog Man (one of the three Beast Men who helped him dispose of the bodies in the previous chapter) is at his side, pledging his loyalty and mocking the "fools" who do not see Prendick as their new Master. When the two leave the hut, Prendick reminds the Beast People outside that the dead Doctor Moreau watches over them from above. He says, "The Master and the House of Pain will come again. Woe be to him who breaks the Law!" Many, though far from all, seem convinced.

For the next 10 months, Prendick remains with them. He notices during that time that they exhibit "a growing difference in their speech and carriage, a growing coarseness of articulation," and a "growing disinclination to talk." They change in other ways as well, dropping to all fours, sucking up their drink, dispensing with their clothing, and showing an increasing disregard for monogamy. None of them, however, revert completely to their original animal forms.

The changes in their behavior and living habits make the lane of huts so "loathsome" that Prendick moves back to the ruins of Moreau's compound and constructs a hovel there in which to live. (He notes that the Beast People are averse to going there, due no doubt to their memories of the House of Pain.) The Dog Man, ever faithful, accompanies Prendick to his new home. Prendick tries to construct a raft on which to leave the island, but he is too unskilled to do so.

The Dog Man is killed by the Hyena-Swine who had confronted Prendick earlier. Prendick, who kills the Hyena-Swine in turn, realizes that the island is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for him. The Beast People have abandoned their huts and "made themselves lairs according to their taste among the thickets of the island." Most sleep during the day, but at night the air is "hideous with their calls and howling." He ponders the notion of killing them all but lacks sufficient revolver cartridges to do so.

One day, he joyfully spies a small boat floating in the distance. He tries unsuccessfully to get the attention of the two men aboard as it drifts toward the beach. Upon its arrival, a "great white bird" flies out of the boat, but neither man stirs: its occupants are, in fact, dead. One has the red hair and white cap of Captain Davis of the Ipecacuanha. He removes the bodies and the following day gathers provisions for his journey—fresh water from the island's stream, fruit, and two rabbits he shoots with his last three cartridges.


Edward Prendick is now the only true human on Moreau's island, stranded and with little protection in an environment that is rapidly becoming more dangerous. His strategy of trying to establish dominance over the Beast People by appealing to the Law is, apart from a revolver with almost no ammunition, virtually the only survival tool available to him.

The novel's satirical slant on religion (with its fairly elaborate poetic parodies of religious rites and the dogmas they embody) takes a decidedly Christian turn in Chapter 21, when Prendick evokes the Christian concept of a Second Coming of Jesus in his attempt to keep the Beast People in line. The related idea of a Final Judgment is evoked with Prendick's claim that not only Moreau but the House of Pain "will come again."

Prendick's casting himself in Doctor Moreau's godlike role is most effective on the milder, less intelligent Beast People. The clearest example of this is the Dog Man, a gentle and gullible creature who takes Prendick's claims at face value and remains slavishly devoted to him until his death.

The opposite is true of the Hyena-Swine, an amalgam of two animals noted for their intelligence and aggressiveness. The reader might conclude that both this dread beast and his now-dead counterpart, the Leopard Man, are meant to specifically symbolize the revenge of nature on the island's humans. Both break the Law without provocation simply because it is in their distorted nature to do so. Prendick's killing of the Leopard Man arises from his understanding that the Beast People, even when not being subjected to torture in the House of Pain, live in "one long dread" of that torture, a form of torment in itself.

The arrival of the small boat at the end of Chapter 21 may seem to the reader extremely convenient, coming as it does just as Prendick's demise seems imminent. The mention of the red hair of one of the dead men, along with a white cap, supports the conclusion of Prendick's nephew Charles Prendick in the introduction: the boat belonged to the Ipecacuanha.

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