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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Chapters 4–5 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 4: At the Schooner's Rail

The schooner Ipecacuanha continues its voyage, and after sundown an island appears in the distance. Montgomery tells Edward Prendick that he will be disembarking there, leaving Prendick on the boat with the crew. They approach their destination slowly in the darkness. The two men stand on the deck, smoke cigars, and make small talk. Prendick thanks Montgomery for saving his life. Montgomery shrugs off the gratitude, saying it was all just a matter of chance. He expresses a nostalgia for London, a place he lived until 11 years previously, when he "lost [his] head for ten minutes on a foggy night" and had to leave the city. Prendick notices suddenly that Montgomery's misshapen attendant (M'ling) is standing near them, watching the waves. The pale green light in the man's eyes startles him, and nightmares plague his sleep that night.

Chapter 5: The Landing on the Island

When Prendick awakens on the fourth morning following his rescue, he hears a ruckus on the Ipecacuanha's deck. He leaves his cabin and finds that the schooner is anchored near the small island that Montgomery has identified as his home. Davis, the captain, is drunkenly overseeing the unloading of Montgomery's animals and equipment onto a launch. Montgomery and his attendant are helping to expedite the process. A "massive white-haired man" has just come aboard; he is referred to as Montgomery's companion here and is later identified as Doctor Moreau. When Davis sees Prendick, he orders him to disembark as well. Prendick looks toward Montgomery for support, but Montgomery's companion says, "Can't have you."

Prendick realizes that he is wanted on neither the ship nor the island and goes angrily to the rear of the boat. Once the unloading is completed, the ship's crew forces him onto a dinghy and sets it adrift. Still weak from his days of starvation at sea, Prendick is unable to navigate the little boat and prays aloud for death rather than a return to aimless drifting on the ocean.

Analysis

The mood in Chapter 4 is largely one of mystery. The island that will be the setting for most of the novel is first spotted here, in the distance after dark, and little about it can be discerned. The clear and starry sky above and endless ocean all around accentuate the destination's obscurity, leaving Prendick (and the reader) with little idea of its nature.

Well-read readers, in Wells's time and now, would have an inkling about the nature of the island, however. Isolated islands have figured as settings for classic fiction works including Thomas More's political satire Utopia (1516), Shakespeare's play The Tempest (written c. 1611), Daniel Defoe's adventure novel Robinson Crusoe (1719), and Jonathan Swift's social satire Gulliver's Travels (1726). In each work, the remoteness of the island contributes to an atmosphere where strange things can and do take place.

Prendick's new acquaintance Montgomery is also something of an unknown. He is "reticent" about discussing the animals he has brought with him on the Ipecacuanha, as he is about pretty much everything else. The cryptic reference he makes to a scandalous episode in his past raises even more questions. The presence of the peculiar M'ling, with his "stark inhumanity" (and "eyes of fire" that Prendick will come to realize signal a certain animality), also contributes to the chapter's strange and uneasy tone.

Prendick ignores the clues about Montgomery's unsavory work when he appeals to his new acquaintance to take him to the island. He then takes himself off in a fit of childish rage and fails to confront either Montgomery or the captain. He remains the hapless "apprentice" who has much to learn.

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