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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Island of Dr. Moreau | Symbols


The Island

Moreau's island is a place of secrets and evil. It is isolated, cut off from ordinary civilization, which is why Moreau can pursue his outrageous experiments there even though they violate humanity's standards of morality. (Montgomery, another "outcast from civilization," finds solace there as well.) It is a place where Moreau can function as a law unto himself, a situation that, while freeing him from the constraints of decent society, also proves to be his undoing. So ethically toxic is the culture, in fact, that even after Prendick escapes it in the final chapter, memories of what he has seen and done there plague him for the rest of his life.

The island is identified by Charles Prendick, who narrates the framing story of his uncle's "found" manuscript, as "Noble's Isle." The name suggests the phrase "no blessed island," an apt description for a place that houses the "House of Pain."

The House of Pain

The House of Pain is Moreau's vivisection room. In the cosmology of the Law, it symbolizes purgatory or hell. It is here that Moreau painfully turns normal animals into Beast People, and the "Catastrophes" (the title of Chapter 17) that mark the island's descent into chaos and death all have their origins here.

When the House of Pain burns down, the Beast People proclaim that "there is no House of Pain." In order to maintain control over the creatures, however, Prendick asserts that "the House of Pain will come again." Like a preacher evoking images of hellfire and damnation to keep a congregation in check, Prendick dangles a return to the fearful room over the Beast People in order to keep them under his control.

The Leopard Man

In Chapter 15 Prendick identifies the Leopard Man as one of the "most formidable Animal Men." It comes to symbolize the futility of Moreau's experiments and the cruelty of his godlike attempt to dominate the Beast People. It tastes blood in violation of the Law, and it is the first of the Beast People to show unprovoked aggression toward Prendick.

At the same time, Prendick is able to understand the "fact of its humanity" when he comes across the cornered Leopard Man in Chapter 16. He shoots it to keep it from being returned to torture in the House of Pain. Its death helps him understand that the Beast People represent the "whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason, and fate." In the Leopard Man's death, Prendick is able to understand that Moreau's cruelty extends beyond the torture of the animals to the lives they must live in "one long dread" of the scientist.

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