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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Chapters 6–7 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 6: The Evil-looking Boatmen

Shortly after Edward Prendick is set adrift from the Ipecacuanha, the occupants of the launch take pity on him. Montgomery, M'ling, three "strange brutish-looking fellows," and Montgomery's white-haired companion (Doctor Moreau) pull up to his dinghy and tow him to shore. Montgomery's dogs are "snarling savagely" at the strange-looking men. Each of these three "brown men" is dressed strangely and seems abnormally tall. They are, Prendick notes, an "amazingly ugly gang." They inspire disgust in him, but he cannot say why.

As the group approaches the island, Prendick can see that it is covered with thick vegetation. He spies another man, named later in the novel as the Ape Man, on its sandy shore. Similar to the odd crew members, he has a "black negroid face," a "lipless mouth," long arms, and bowed legs. As they near the man, he begins "to run to and fro on the beach, making the most grotesque movements." The strange men on the launch imitate him, moving about as though they are "jointed in the wrong place."

Once everyone is ashore, Moreau approaches Prendick and says he has been informed that Prendick has a scientific background. Prendick acknowledges that he has in the past "done some researches in biology under Huxley." Moreau seems impressed by this and tells Prendick that the island is a "biological station—of a sort." He then leaves, and Montgomery enlists Prendick's aid in unloading several rabbit hutches from the launch and setting loose the rabbits inside. Montgomery explains that there is little meat on the island and that the rabbits will multiply and provide food. Moreau returns with some biscuits and a flask of brandy for Prendick. Prendick devours the biscuits but abstains from the brandy, since he does not drink.

Chapter 7: The Locked Door

Prendick is taken to a building on the island and led through an exterior door into the room in which he is to stay. The room has a locked interior door as well, leading into an enclosure that Prendick is forbidden to enter. Montgomery finally reveals the identity of his white-haired companion, calling him "Moreau." Prendick realizes that he has heard the name "Moreau" before and tries to remember where.

Through his room's outside window, Prendick spies Montgomery's misshapen attendant (M'ling). A few minutes later, M'ling comes into Prendick's room with food and coffee. When he sets the tray upon the table, Prendick notices that M'ling's ears are pointed and covered with fine fur. This startling sight sparks his memory. About 10 years earlier, an investigative reporter in England exposed the activities of a Doctor Moreau, who conducted horrific vivisection experiments on animals. With the ensuing publicity, Moreau was "howled out" of the country. Prendick then notices the scent of antiseptics wafting from within the compound. He becomes certain that this Moreau is the same person and concludes that the doctor has come to this isolated island to continue his disgraced research. He does not, however, understand why Moreau would be so secretive with him, since both are men of science. "What could it mean?" he wonders, pondering the locked enclosure, the doctor's notoriety, and "these crippled and distorted men?"

Analysis

It is evidenced here (and will continue to be evidenced as the story progresses) that Moreau, despite the questionable ethics he displays, is not a simple two-dimensional villain. It is, after all, he who comes to Prendick's rescue, while captain Davis and the crew of the Ipecacuanha (the comparatively normal characters) are perfectly willing to let Prendick die. This layering speaks to Wells's textured characterizations of Moreau and his companions. As morally flawed as Moreau will prove to be, he is not entirely without the humane trait of empathy (whereas Davis shows an utter lack of humanity in his casual disregard for the life of a fellow human being).

Throughout the novel, there is overt racism in Wells's descriptions of the "amazingly ugly" men who live with Moreau and Montgomery on the island. Here, Wells notes that they are "brown" and feels it necessary to describe the Ape Man on the shore as having a "negroid face." The darkness of these characters is contrasted with the whiteness of Moreau, who is described several times in terms of his white hair. It is a reflection of the times that this language would appeal to Wells's audience of educated middle-class and upper middle-class readers. That it comes from a writer who was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize in Literature signals the common and unquestioned racist assumptions held by Western culture at the time The Island of Doctor Moreau was written.

It is an eminently debatable question whether the culture that influences the novel makes its racist descriptions of otherness forgivable. At the same time, Wells's efforts to accentuate the physical oddities of these beings will play a vital part in presenting the novel's central irony—that Moreau, with his disregard for the suffering he will be seen to inflict in the name of science, is ultimately far more monstrous than any of the physically grotesque characters he creates.

The fact that Wells wrote for an educated audience is further apparent in Prendick's casual mention of "Huxley" in Chapter 6. Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–95) was an English biologist and evolutionist. Known as "Darwin's Bulldog," he was at the time of The Island of Doctor Moreau's 1896 publication famed for his enthusiastic public support of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Wells obviously assumes that his readers will be familiar enough with Huxley that a mere mention of his last name will suffice to identify him. The reference also helps to establish a sense of scientific veracity for Moreau's experiments, which will be described at length as the novel progresses.

In Chapter 7, Wells supplies the reader with Doctor Moreau's backstory. Moreau emerges as a variation of the archetypal "mad scientist," with similarities to another literary antecedent with which Wells would have been very familiar: Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). Like Frankenstein, Doctor Moreau engages in unnatural experiments to create creatures that are something between human and monster. As Wells's story proceeds, however, it becomes apparent that while Frankenstein was motivated by a desire to end disease and conquer death, Moreau seems interested only in indulging his own sadistic narcissism. In this sense, the two characters are largely the inverse of each other, although the results of their work prove similarly tragic.

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