The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXI-XXII


Prendick awakens to find the same Beast Man who approached him the night before now sitting at his side in the hut. The Dog Man explains that he believes Prendick to be the Master, although the rest of the Beast Men believe there is no longer any authority on the island. They still wish to follow the Law, but they are without any fear of punishment for transgressions. Prendick plays the role for the Dog Man, saying that he will kill all the sinners in time. He then leaves the hut to address the gathered Beast Folk, telling them that the House of Pain and the Master are still present, just hidden from their eyes. They are reluctantly convinced. Prendick notes, "an animal may be ferocious and cunning enough, but it takes a real man to tell a lie."

This ability, combined with a skill for the hatchet and throwing stones, keeps Prendick more or less safe among the Beast Men for the ten months he then spends with them in solitude. The Hyena-Swine remains at large for most of this period, and Prendick also notices a very distinct loss of humanity in the Beast Folk. They develop difficulty in articulation and speech, difficulty in walking erect, loss of the finer control of their hands, and so on. As they become more and more bestial, so does Prendick turn the way of an island savage, at least in appearance. He has no human company.

He watches for boats, but seeing none touch the island, he turns to the idea of a raft. One day, however, the pink sloth creature leads him to a scene in the woods. The Dog Man, his closest companion during this period, has been killed by the Hyena-Swine. Prendick shoots it between the eyes, ending its threat. He sadly realizes that such relapses must occur eventually among all the carnivores on the island. He returns to the idea of a raft, but he can think of no way to store water for the days he will spend adrift.

A sail suddenly appears one day, but as Prendick hails it to the island, he notices that it moves strangely. It turns out that the crew is dead. He dumps the bodies and takes the boat to the stream, where he fills up with water and fruit. He sets out alone.


Prendick drifts for three days. He is picked up by a ship headed for San Francisco. They do not believe his story but believe that the solitude and the sun have driven him mad. Fearing similar reactions from others, he later professes to remember nothing of the year between the first shipwreck and his final rescue.

Prendick admits that despite being home, he is uneasy. He cannot shake the suspicion that all the people he meets are somehow Beast Men, tainted with an animal influence and always in danger of a sudden reversion. He moves into seclusion, finding this terror unbearable in London. Studying chemistry and astronomy, he finds "a sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven," without which he would not care to live.


When Prendick convinces the Beast Folk that Moreau and the House of Pain still exist, he makes the observation that only men are capable of lying. This idea implies that there is some quality of humanity that involves being able to recognize and assess different set of realities, to distinguish between fact and fiction. Still, the Beast Men are not entirely incapable of deception; the Hyena-Swine, for example, although it was transparently malicious, did seem to attempt to hide it from Prendick at first. Thus the beasts may be simply underdeveloped in the cognitive and moral ability one needs in order to lie. Perhaps one really needs to be able to think in order to lie well.

The reversion of the Beast Men warns us to beware of the temptations to follow our animal natures rather than our higher natures. Like humans, the Beast Men fight their reversion at first, avoiding having to speak or walk on two legs. The Ape Man experiences an especially drastic transformation, degenerating from somewhat intelligent speech and conversation to unintelligible jabbering. Prendick says that "he was the silliest creature I ever met; he had developed in the most wonderful way the distinctive silliness of man without losing one jot of the natural folly of a monkey." (One might think of the stock market scene in Planet of the Apes.)

Sex differences again surface when the emancipated Beast Women "disregard the injunction of decency--deliberately for the most part. Others even attempted public outrages upon the institution of monogamy." Despite being something of a feminist himself, again Wells appears to have some reservations about what will happen when women are no longer bound by the strict rules of womanly conduct. The males and females alike revert to a more primitive nature.

Prendick mirrors the Beast Folk's reversion with a regression of his own, growing long hair and wearing the tatters that used to be his clothes. At least in appearance, the difference between the Beast People and him is shrinking. His clumsiness with carpentry is an important part of this characterization. Despite having spent more than ten months on the island, he is still an upper-class gentleman with little knowledge of such practical matters--the suggestion here is that upper-class decadence is closer to the animals than middle-class agency.

In Chapter XXII, Wells reaches the conclusion of his exploration of the barrier between man and animal. The examples Wells uses are significant. For instance, Prendick compares preachers giving sermons with the Ape Man having one of his "Big Thinks," those occasions when the Ape Man discovered a new word but did not understand it and merely gabbled about it. Here Wells seems to put religion on the level of the animals rather than raising it to the level of transcendence that most of his neighbors would do. Now that Prendick has returned to civilized England, he cannot fully reconcile the world around him with the one he left behind on the island. He can no longer distinguish between men and Beast Men. He finds the bestiality in people immediately and unnervingly clear. The pull downward can easily be felt. What, other than self-assertion of one's own agency, provides the upward pull into something more, rather than something less, than mere humanity? Is astronomy going to do the job? The upper boundary of humanity is hardly explored, since this book is about our lower boundary.

Back in the world of technology, Prendick is awash in a London that humans have built to improve their lives. Prendick has learned that the manipulation of nature without attention to the consequences can spell doom, like it did on the island. How many inventions in London are hurting rather than helping mankind?