The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau Summary

H.G. Wells's science fiction classic, The Island of Doctor Moreau, asks the reader to consider the limits of natural science and the distinction between men and beasts. A strange mix of science fiction, romance, and philosophical meandering, it is one of the standards of early science fiction.

It begins with the protagonist, an upper class gentleman named Prendick, finding himself shipwrecked in the ocean. A passing ship takes him aboard, and a doctor named Montgomery revives him. He explains to Prendick that they are bound for an unnamed island where he works, and that the animals aboard the ship are traveling with him. Prendick also meets a grotesque, bestial native named M'ling who appears to be Montgomery's manservant.

When they arrive on the island, however, both the captain of the ship and Doctor Moreau refuse to take Prendick. The crew pushes him back into the lifeboat from which they rescued him, but seeing that the ship really intends to abandom him, the islanders take pity and end up coming back for him. Montgomery introduces him to Doctor Moreau, a cold and precise man who conducts research on the island. After unloading the animals from the boat, they decide to house Prendick in an outer room of the enclosure in which they live. Prendick is exceedingly curious about what exactly Moreau researches on the island, especially after he locks the inner part of the enclosure without explaining why. Prendick suddenly remembers that he has heard of Moreau, and that he had been an eminent physiologist in London before a journalist exposed his gruesome experiments in vivisection.

The next day, Moreau begins working on a puma, and its anguished cries drive Prendick out into the jungle. As he wanders, he comes upon a group of people who seem human but have an unmistakable resemblance to hogs. As he walks back to the enclosure, he suddenly realizes he is being followed. He panics and flees, and in a desperate attempt of defense he manages to stun his attacker, a monstrous hybrid of animal and man. When he returns to the enclosure and questions Montgomery, Montgomery refuses to be open with him. After failing to get an explanation, Prendick finally gives in and takes a sleeping draft.

Prendick awakes the next morning with the previous night's activities fresh in his mind. Seeing that the inner door has been left unlocked, he walks in to find a humanoid form lying in bandages on the table. He believes that Moreau has been vivisecting humans and that he is the next test subject. He flees into the jungle, where he meets an Ape Man who takes him to a colony of similarly half-human/half-animal creatures. The leader, a large gray thing named the Sayer of the Law, has him recite a strange litany called the Law that involves prohibitions against bestial behavior and praise for Moreau. Suddenly, Moreau bursts into the colony, and Prendick escapes out the back into the jungle. He makes for the ocean, where he plans to drown himself rather than allow Moreau to experiment on him. Moreau and Montgomery confront him, however, and Moreau explains that the creatures, the Beast Folk, are animals he has vivisected to resemble humans. Prendick goes back to the enclosure, where Moreau explains to him that he has been on the island for eleven years now, striving to make a complete transformation from animal to human. Apparently, his only reason for the pain he inflicts is scientific curiosity. Prendick accepts the explanation as it is and begins life on the island.

One day, as he and Montgomery are walking around the island, they come across a half-eaten rabbit. Eating flesh and tasting blood is one of the strongest prohibitions in the Law, so Montgomery and Moreau become very worried. Moreau calls an assembly of the Beast Men. He identifies the Leopard Man (the same one that chased Prendick the first time he wandered into the jungle) as the transgressor. The Leopard Man flees, but when the group corners him in some undergrowth, Prendick takes pity and shoots him, sparing him a return to Moreau's operating table. Moreau is furious but can do nothing about the situation.

As time passes, Prendick begins to deaden himself to the grotesqueness of the Beast Folk. One day, however, he is shaken out of this stagnation when the puma rips free of its restraints and escapes from the lab. Moreau pursues it, but the two end up killing each other. Montgomery falls apart, and having gotten himself quite drunk, decides to share his alcohol with the Beast Men. Prendick tries to stop him, but Montgomery threatens violence and leaves the enclosure alone with bottle in hand. Later in the night, Prendick hears a commotion outside; he rushes out, and sees that Montgomery appears to have been involved in some scuffle with the Beast Folk. He dies in front of Prendick, who is now the last remaining human on the island. He does not attempt to claim Moreau's vacant throne on the island, but he instead settles for living with the Beast Folk as he attempts to build and provision a raft with which he intends to leave the island. Luckily for him, eventually a ship inhabited by two corpses drifts onto the beach. Prendick dumps the bodies, gets supplies, and leaves the next morning.

He is picked up by a ship only three days later, but when he tells his story the crew thinks he is mad. To prevent himself from being declared insane, he pretends to have no memory of the year he spent between the first shipwreck and his final rescue. When he gets back to England, however, he finds that he is rigidly uncomfortable around other humans, because he has an irrational suspicion that they are all Beast Folk in danger of sudden and violent reversion to animalism. He contents himself with solitude and the study of chemistry and astronomy, finding peace above in the heavenly bodies.