The Island of Dr. Moreau Summary and Analysis

Chapters XVII-XVIII

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Chapter XVII-A CATASTROPHE

After the tragedy of the Leopard Man, Prendick finds that he no longer can feel anything but abhorrence for the Beast Folk. One day, however, while Moreau is working on the puma, the creature breaks free from its restraints. It charges past Prendick, striking him and breaking his arm. Moreau follows shortly thereafter, carrying a revolver. Montgomery is the last to arrive, frantic and panicked, but he stops long enough to bind Prendick's arm in a sling and to listen to Prendick's explanation of what happened. Then he too exits the enclosure, leaving Prendick to stay and wait for the situation to be resolved.

Much later in the day, Prendick suddenly hears a shot and then another. Montgomery appears around the corner accompanied by M'ling, who has some very suspicious brown stains around his mouth. Seeing Moreau, he enters the enclosure in defeat and asks for brandy. He tells Prendick that he wandered through the forest calling for Moreau, and then two Swine-Men rushed him. He shot one through the head, and M'ling killed the other. On the way back, they also encountered an Ocelot Man hiding in the bushes--whom Montgomery shot rather cruelly, Prendick thinks. Prendick asks for greater explanation, but Montgomery simply reaches for more brandy.

Chapter XVIII-THE FINDING OF MOREAU

After Montgomery has taken a third swallow of brandy, Prendick stops him and convinces him that they should search for Moreau. As they walk, they meet a company of Beast Men informing them that Moreau is dead. "Is there a Law now?" asks the Ape Man. Prendick seizes upon an idea and tells the Beast Folk that Moreau has merely changed his shape--that he is now still watching them all from on high. He then commands them to take him and Montgomery to the body of Moreau.

As they make their way, however, they are suddenly attacked by a feral Beast Man who has been pursuing a strange little pink creature. Prendick shoots it and tells the other Beast Folk that the offender's disregard for the Law has caused his death. They finally find Moreau's smashed and broken body next to that of the mutilated puma. With the seven Beast Men, they carry his corpse to the enclosure. After locking themselves in, they go into the laboratory to put an end to all that remains living there.

Analysis

Chapter XVII is the beginning of the end of the book, with many things starting to fall apart. Moreau, the man single-handedly holding the island together, goes missing; the Beast Men attack men; and M'ling tastes blood. Prendick's loathing for the Beast Men is based on his feeling that they are "caricatures of [his] Maker's image," again calling to mind comparisons between God and Moreau--but this creation experiment is now unraveling.

There is also some significance in the puma's sex and its attack on Moreau. Wells characterizes it with "a shriek almost exactly like that of an angry virago" (a large, strong, courageous woman), and its femininity is a rarity in the male-centric world of Doctor Moreau. There is perhaps some social commentary in the way the chained female breaks free from her fetters and strikes the man who restrained her. Wells was an ardent supporter of feminism, but he may be acknowledging the hesitation many felt with giving women full freedom and opportunity. (Of course, readers should beware reading too much into the sex of individual characters.)

In Chapter XVIII, Montgomery's alcoholism plays a prominent role. With Moreau missing, Montgomery's incapacitation leaves matters to Prendick--and Prendick takes up the mantle. Symbolically, Montgomery's drunkenness represents a total and complete surrender; he is now inextricably a part of the island. It seems that Prendick is turning that way as well, with his participation in the island's theological and moral system.

When the Ape Man asks if the Law exists without Moreau, Prendick's lies are eerily reminiscent of the concept of an invisible, omnipresent god-figure whose spirit outlives his body: "You cannot see him. But he can see you. Fear the Law." The fabrication of Moreau's resurrection somewhat reflects that of Christ (though the body remains on the ground in this case), which continues the religious allusions in the story.