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The Island of Dr. Moreau Summary and Analysis

by H.G. Wells

Chapters VI-VIII

Chapter VI-THE EVIL-LOOKING BOATMEN

Seeing the gravity of Prendick's danger, the islanders take pity and come back for him. As he awaits his rescue, he has an opportunity to observe more closely Moreau and the three natives who accompany him. Moreau is "powerfully built...with a fine forehead and rather heavy features" as well as "an expression of pugnacious resolution." The natives are swathed in white, "even to their fingers and feet," are very short-legged compared to their torsos, and have "elfin" faces with lank blank hair.

While Moreau coolly returns Prendick's stare, the natives seem uncomfortable and look away. Having studied them all to his satisfaction, Prendick turns his attention to the island itself. He notices another man similar to M'ling and the natives waving by the launch, and as it nears the shore he helps bring it to dock. As he and the natives move to secure the boat, Prendick notices that their legs seem "disjointed in some odd way, almost as if they were jointed in the wrong place."

Too tired to assist in the unloading, Prendick stands to the side until Moreau approaches him. Moreau seems polite enough. He shows a bit more respect for Prendick after learning that he studied biology under Huxley [as did H.G. Wells]. "This is a biological station--of a sort," he tells him. He also tells Prendick that he is uncertain when the next opportunity to leave the island will present itself; it could be about a year until they might see another ship.

After Moreau leaves to go inside an enclosure near the beach, Montgomery makes a mysterious comment about the island being an "infernally rum place" and advises Prendick to "watch [his] goings carefully." He does not elaborate, however, and instead proceeds to empty a cage of rabbits onto the sand and watches them scatter into the undergrowth, telling them to multiply and replenish the island.

Moreau returns with brandy and biscuits, and although Prendick sets into the biscuits with gusto, he refuses the brandy and explains that he has been an abstainer since birth.

Chapter VII-THE LOCKED DOOR

Having finished breakfast, Prendick resumes his conversation with Montgomery and Moreau. Moreau says he is eager to begin working with the "new stuff," to which Montgomery replies with somewhat resentful sarcasm. They then begin discussing where to house Prendick. Moreau cryptically dismisses "over there" as an option, and they end up deciding to put him in an outer room of the enclosure where they live and work. They lead Prendick to his room, which is sparsely furnished with books, a table and chair, and a window. There is also another door that leads deeper into the complex, but Moreau locks it immediately "for fear of accidents."

As Montgomery follows Moreau out, Prendick hears him call out the doctor's name. It is familiar to him, and as he attempts to remember its context, M'ling enters with breakfast. As he bends down to set the tray on the table, Prendick is shocked to discover that he has pointed ears. After M'ling leaves the room, Prendick suddenly remembers why Moreau's name seemed familiar. Moreau had been a brilliant physiologist until a journalist posed as a lab assistant and exposed the gruesomeness of his experiments. There was a public outcry and little support from his colleagues, so Moreau chose to leave England rather than abandon his research. As these memories return to him, Prendick suddenly recognizes the "antiseptic odor of the operating room." He realizes that the animals on the ship must be for Moreau's experiments in vivisection, although he does not think that vivisection alone should warrant such secrecy.

Chapter VIII-THE CRYING OF THE PUMA

Around midday, Montgomery joins Prendick for lunch. Prendick opens the conversation by pointedly telling him that he remembers the name Moreau. Montgomery acknowledges this declaration but does not explain, and instead offers Prendick whiskey, which he declines. Montgomery then makes a small comment about alcohol being the reason for his situation, but Prendick cuts him off and asks about M'ling's pointed ears. Montgomery acts very unconvincingly surprised.

The puma being operated on suddenly cries out, and both men wince to hear it. Having gotten no reaction about M'ling's ears, Prendick then asks about the three swathed natives who helped unload the launch; again, Montgomery adopts a willfully ignorant attitude. He begins to ramble about the benefits of alcohol, claiming that it was what revived Prendick when he lay feverish and wasted aboard the Ipecacuanha. The puma's cries, in the meantime, have been growing in intensity and frequency. Prendick finds such a strong sense of emotional appeal in them that he feels "as if all the pain in the world had found a voice." He leaves the enclosure, but he muses that if he "had known such pain was in the next room, and had it been dumb," he "could have stood it well enough."

Analysis

In Chapter VI, the foreshadowing runs thick as Prendick makes increasingly perceptive observations of the Beast Men, giving the reader the clear impression that something is wrong--although like Prendick, we do not know what. Accompanying the heightened suspense is the introduction of Doctor Moreau, although he is as yet unnamed in Prendick's experience.

Moreau is strong, mature, white-haired, and resolute. Much of Moreau's power is in his image. Prendick's description echoes many traditional interpretations of God, and the description establishes him as the unquestioned authority on the island. His manner fits his profession, and he appears to move and talk with purpose and precision. Moreau, if anyone, can command nature to do his work.

Prendick's abstinence is an interesting character trait, and it might be explained in a variety of ways. Perhaps the alcohol represents blood, and thus his imbibing it would somehow represent his surrender to the island's bloody culture and its forsaking of the rest of the world. Still, he cannot help having drunk the bloody drink Montgomery used to revive him aboard the Ipecacuanha, which brought him into the cult of Moreau--but he can refuse to go any further. Montgomery, on the other hand, no longer has any home besides the island, so he takes his communion often and with enthusiasm. Or else, perhaps, Prendick's abstention is meant to enhance his credibility, assuring the reader that he was in a sensible frame of mind throughout the ordeal, and suggesting more generally that he was of good moral character. On an island out of control, Prendick stays sober.

The shifty behavior of the swathed attendants and their visible discomfort at Prendick's attention signals their inferiority. They seem to be immediately aware of his humanity and to feel ashamed of their inadequacy.

Chapter VII begins a structural parallel between Prendick's location and the depth of his understanding of what is happening around him. While on the beach, he is ignorant of the identity of his hosts and their activities. Once inside the outermost layer of the enclosure, however, he remembers the story of Doctor Moreau's exile, notices M'ling's pointed ears, and seems much closer to truth of the matter. By this point, some of the suspense of the story includes dramatic irony, since perceptive readers probably have guessed something of what Moreau is doing but must wait for Prendick to come to the same realization.

Also, the story of Moreau's past helps to fill out his character, and the fact that he was hounded out of England in disgrace makes him a bit more pitiable and understandable to the reader. Society was not ready to handle his degree of experimentation with nature; or conversely, his society already knew all too well that Moreau's experiments were crossing an ethical or natural boundary. Moreau's past also grounds him in respectability: he is not a madman running amok on an island, but a brilliant scientist whose experiments and research have (at least) subjugated his sense of sympathy. Overall, the difference between Moreau and his fellow men is exaggerated by Prendick's memory--a man like Moreau must be banished--which reinforces, despite the bestial habits of so many humans, the lack of fraternity and universality across humanity. Moreau has been trained by other men, yet he has become fundamentally unlike them--or at least some of them.

In Chapter VIII, the symbolism of alcohol develops, since not only does Prendick refuse the brandy a second time, but also Montgomery blames the alcohol for the unexplained troubles in London from which Moreau rescued him. Montgomery also reveals that it was indeed alcohol he administered to the sick Prendick, and Montgomery claims that it saved Prendick's life. The alcohol seems to resemble some sort of initiation rite in this context, and one which apparently must be repeated periodically. It is more than just Montgomery's bad habit. Prendick has been drawn in by the sip aboard the Ipecacuanha, but unlike Montgomery he has no wish to remain and will not drink.

Montgomery also proves to Prendick that he will be more or less useless in helping Prendick determine what is happening on the island, assuming a transparent ignorance whenever Prendick questions him too closely. His relationship to Prendick is thus only as a superficial friend, not an ally.

Prendick's vivid and empathetic description of the puma's cries lends the animal a distinctly human appeal. His and Montgomery's reactions to the noise underscore a common but somewhat paradoxical attitude toward animals. Throughout the book, Prendick responds with a mix of arrogance and indifference when the animals and Beast Folk act aggressively or independently, but when they display vulnerability or fear, he is sympathetic to their distress. It is as if they seem most human to him when they appear to connect with him on some emotional level, whether it be a sign of distress or the way M'ling devotes himself to Montgomery. Wells is exploring the relation between human and animal by focusing on the grey area in between.

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