The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau Summary and Analysis of Chapters XV-XVI


Prendick awakes the next day to M'ling and Montgomery bringing him breakfast. With Moreau's explanation still fresh in his mind, he questions Montgomery more closely about the Beast Men. Montgomery tells him that the Beast Men are bound by certain restrictions Moreau has imposed, such as the required belief that certain things (for example, the deaths of either Moreau or Montgomery) are impossible. This brainwashing process keeps them from attacking Moreau as well as each other.

Furthermore, although the Beast Men's sense of shame causes them to more or less respect the Law during the daylight, their self-control weakens at night. There are about sixty Beast Men currently on the island, although Moreau has made closer to a hundred and twenty. Every so often they bear offspring, but these generally die and display no inheritance of acquired human characteristics.

Prendick then begins to describe the Beast Folk in more detail, noting the chief differences between them and humans: disproportionately small legs, outward curvature of the spine, muzzle-like and protruding faces, and deformed hands. Prendick also finds himself getting more and more habituated to their grotesqueness, probably due in part to the influence of Montgomery's thinly veiled affection for them. He also learns more about M'ling, Montgomery's assistant, who is completely devoted despite the fact that Montgomery is variously affectionate and abusive. He closes the chapter with the observation that no matter how used to the Beast Men he became, every so often he would see a flash of unmistakable animalism in them that would shatter the illusion of humanity.


As Montgomery and Prendick walk along the island, they encounter a tree with long strips of bark torn off. Montgomery comments on the Beast Men's hypocritical deviancy from the Law. They then come upon the Ape Man and the Satyr, who salute Montgomery. When he tells them to salute Prendick in turn, however, they hesitate. The Ape Man still believes Prendick was "made" as the rest of them are, and the Satyr argues that he bled and wept when they chased him. Montgomery threatens them, but as he and Prendick continue past, they hear the two continuing to voice doubts and make snide remarks about Prendick.

On their way back to the enclosure, Prendick and Montgomery come upon a rabbit torn to pieces. Montgomery is quite shaken by the discovery, even more so when Prendick tells him that he found a rabbit similarly mutilated on the first day he left the enclosure--and that the Beast Man who had first chased him had been sucking his drink from the river. Above all else, Montgomery and Moreau fear what the taste of blood may do to the Beast Folk.

They return to Moreau, who decides to call the Beast Men together to identify the offender in front of all of them. The Leopard Man comes late to the gathering, bearing a great bruise on his forehead, presumably where Prendick struck him. The Beast Folk recite the Law, but Moreau stops them at "Not to eat Flesh or Fish; that is the Law." At this point, Prendick notices that both the Leopard Man and the Hyena-Swine look guilty. Moreau challenges the Leopard Man several times (amid choruses of "Who breaks the Law-goes back to the House of Pain!" from the other Beast Folk), but when he lifts his gaze from him, the Leopard Man panics, strikes him, and flees into the jungle. The whole assembly devolves into a mad stampede of pursuit, Prendick included, although only out of fear of attack from the Hyena-Swine and Satyr, who seem to be considering attacking him in the confusion. They force the Leopard Man into a corner of the island, but as they approach his hiding place Prendick suddenly catches a glimpse of him through the maze of underbrush. He sees in the creature's blind terror something unmistakably human, and he feels an overwhelming sense of pity for him. He draws his revolver and shoots it between the eyes before Moreau gets to him. Moreau is furious at being denied exacting the proper punishment, but he has no choice but to accept it.

The other Beast Folk meanwhile are "overflowing with noisy expressions of their loyalty to the Law" in a sad scene of hypocrisy that Prendick feels is reflective of "the whole balance of human life in miniature." He pities the shackles of humanity that they must suffer all their lives, for no better reason than Moreau's wanton curiosity. Prendick adds that he began to lose faith "in the sanity of the world" in the days after the Leopard Man's death, feeling crushed and torn by the workings of fate.


One of the most interesting parts of Chapter XV is Montgomery's description of how Moreau has brainwashed the Beast Folk. He tells Prendick that Moreau has convinced them that certain things are not possible and certain things are not to be done. Yet, these teachings alone can cause confusion among the Beast Folk when they, for instance, break the Law by accident or impulse, discovering that they are able to do things that Moreau told them they were unable to do. Beyond being confused, they are also ashamed of their transgressions to a degree beyond the animal (when, for instance, a dog realizes it has been "bad"). This heightened moral awareness implies some sort of value system that does not seem natural among animals. This otherwise human sense of right and wrong makes their impossible struggle tragic. But it also is perhaps the most far-fetched aspect of the story. It is not clear whether this personal awareness is attributed to Moreau's surgery or his teaching, but either way it seems to introduce a hybridization of the animal and human that stretches believability. Can the Beast Folk really think and judge, or not?

Prendick also distinguishes between the Beast Men and Beast Women, mentioning that the females are "liable to much furtive persecution in spite of the monogamy the Law enjoined" and that they " instinctive sense of their own repulsive clumsiness, and displayed in consequence a more than human regard for the decencies and decorum of external costume." This observation functions like the description of the sloth creature as a "flayed child" in that it pulls at certain sympathies within the reader, enhancing the engagement he has with the Beast Folk. The more Wells can stamp them with aspects of humanity, especially in terms of establishing vulnerability, the more the reader feels for their distress.

Furthermore, Prendick's habituation to the Beast Folk reveals at once how similar and yet how different they are, compared with him. He recognizes people in them, seeing "some really human yokel" in one of the bovine creatures or imagining that he once saw the Fox-Bear Woman's face "before in some city byway." Wells is working very hard to make the Beast Folk seem as human as possible. Still, he acknowledges through Prendick that the transformation is never complete. Even when Prendick goes so far as to glance "with a transitory daring into the eyes of some lithe white-swathed female figure," he inevitably notices the slit pupils or pointed teeth or some other indication of the falseness of their assumed humanity.

In Chapter XVI, the Ape Man's and the Satyr's confusion about whether Prendick is a man or a Beast Man indicates how strongly Moreau's brainwashing has influenced them. Even though Prendick is unmistakably closer to Moreau and Montgomery in appearance and manner than any of the Beast Folk, they define his humanity in terms of the whiteness of his face and in his mortal physical aspect (he bled and wept).

Prendick reacts to the same vulnerability in the Beast Folk in diametrically opposite ways. When he sees them writhing on the ground in front of Moreau, with "their wincing attitudes and the furtive dread in their bright eyes," he wonders "that [he] had ever believed them to be men." Yet, when he sees the terror and panic in the Leopard Man's face, he "realized again the fact of its humanity." To some degree this variation reflects the varying success of Moreau's experiments. But in addition, perhaps, the difference involves the role that Prendick perceives that he plays in each situation. When the Beast Men are groveling in front of Moreau, there is no appeal for him to help them. He can do nothing for them, and he sees their fear and apprehension as pointless and foreign. In contrast, with the Leopard Man he is aware of a general plea from the creature, a panicked cry for assistance that he thinks he can answer. It is this engagement in the vulnerability of the being that allows Prendick to feel important and protective; it helps him recognize humanity.

The most important part of Chapter XVI is Prendick's thoughts toward the end, when he sees the Beast Folk gathered around the body of the Leopard Man. He empathizes with their pain, knowing that "before they had been beasts...and as happy as living things could be...Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand." More than that, he is profoundly affected by the pointlessness of it all--Moreau has been hauntingly careless and irresponsible with them. The bleak fatalism that Prendick describes following the Leopard Man's death is especially significant, since he is expressing the general mood of the story. This is very much a world outside of his control. He figures that

a blind fate, a vast pitiless mechanism, seemed to cut and shape the fabric of existence, and I, Moreau by his passion for research, Montgomery by his passion for drink, the Beast People, with their instincts and mental restrictions, were torn and crushed, ruthlessly, inevitably, amid the infinite complexity of its incessant wheels.