Upon writing the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells used many literary techniques which imply that the world is imperfect. Rather than only criticize, Wells also provides the reader with some suggestions of improvement and advancement. By revealing to the reader all the faults and fallacies of the world through the plot, characters, and other issues presented, H.G. Wells addresses the controversies found within the ethics of scientific awareness.
The opening chapters introduce the reader to Edward Prendick, who awakes from unconsciousness on a small boat, which rescued him earlier from the sunken Lady Vain. Montgomery, another passenger on the boat, shows compassion for him and sees to his recovery. Prendick, who happens to have a bachelors degree in biology, which is rare in the early 1900's, is persuaded by Montgomery to follow the infamous Dr. Moreau, whose reputation derives from his vivisection experimentation, to his island to work as understudies.
The relatively simple plot aids the writer in character development, while the focus remains on the moral controversies presented. Although H.G. Wells never took a firm stand within the novel on either side of the controversy of vivisection for scientific and humanist advancement, the character, Dr. Moreau, is ultimately a reflection of Wells and his own personal ideas about Darwinism.
The main characters each have unique traits, which include one specialized character flaw each, that allow the author to provide firm arguments for and against Moreau's scientific experimentation. Prendick, whom H.G. Wells uses as the protagonist in the first person point-of-view, professes his anxiety after he accidentally stumbled upon Dr. Moreau's animal-humanoid creations: All the time since I had heard his name I had been trying to link in my mind some way the grotesque animalism of the islanders with his abominations: and now I thought I saw it all. The memory of his works in the transfusion of blood recurred to me. These creatures I had seen were the victims of some hideous experiment! (Wells 69) Montgomery, the head understudy of Dr. Moreau and alcoholic, is used by Wells to serve as an intermediary between Prendick and Dr. Moreau, and to subdue Prendick's character flaw: Prendick's actions are controlled by his emotional response to each startling discovery he makes. After he ran away from the lab to see what was on the island, Montgomery uses his diplomacy to cajole Prendick into coming back to the lab: "For God's sake," cried Montgomery, "stop that, Prendick...You're a silly ass. Come out of the water and take these revolvers, and talk. We can't do anything more then that, could we now?" (Wells 92) Moreau's strongest characteristic is his perfectionism which leads to his innate drive to create a perfect human by mixing and matching animal traits and grafting animal parts together. Dr. Moreau is a perfect example of personification of natural evolution; he picks out the flaws of humans and animals alike, and seeks to physically and mentally improve them to the point of perfection. (McMahon 213) The personification Wells uses brings up one of the largest moral controversies- is it ok for man to play God? Moreau manifests himself as a god, thinking himself to be the judge of perfection, and furthermore inculcates a set of laws for his creatures to follow.
"The law," which the beast people live by on the island, not only enthrones Dr. Moreau as a governor of life, but is also an attempt to make a perfect being out of an imperfect creation. "His is the hand that makes, his is the hand that wounds, his is the hand that heals." (Wells 80) is a phrase the creatures regularly chant to remind themselves of Moreau's power and authority. An even more astounding connection can be made between Dr. Moreau and Christianity.
His doctrines challenge the traditional view of man as a distinct creation; his actions burlesque Christian mythology. The beast people he has created worship him in a vain attempt to appease his wrath and preserve their unstable human qualities. (McMahon 213) In the world of today, those who are similar to Moreau are the ones considered to be the corrupt and evil members of society. Ironically, H.G. Wells strongly supported the doctrine which Dr. Moreau practices. The Darwinist views and the ethics discussed in The Island of Dr. Moreau derive from a deeper question which Wells, and other scientists in the late 1800's, seeks an answer to: what is the purpose of man and of life? Thomas Huxley, a friend of Darwin and a famous defender of Darwinism, taught Wells biology during his first year of college in London. (Foot 16) Huxley, who was to become Well's role model, said "I deem it an essential condition of the hope [that the evil of the world may be abated] that we should cast aside the notion that the escape from sorrow and pain is the proper object of lifeÃ¢ÂÂ¦ There is a nobler purpose, which has aroused science to an urgent search for an understanding of the universe in which man has to make his life." (Dickson 30) H.G. Wells was an avid reader of philosophy and science, so he was naturally influenced by more than just Huxley. Another renowned scientific explorer and writer of the late 1800's is Winwood Reade, who published a work known as The Martyrdom of Man, which explores the questions of life under darwinistic principles. However, unlike pure Darwinists, Reade was not an atheist. (Murray 24) This must have attracted Wells since his mother was a strict Catholic and made him attend church as a child. (Foot 8) Wells was a very creative writer, and surely respected the immense creativity in the thoughts of Reade: These bodies which now we wear belong to the lower animals; our minds have already outgrown them; we look upon them with contempt. A time will come when Science will transform them by means which we cannot conjecture, and which, even if explained to us, we could not now understand, just as the savage cannot understand electricity, magnetism, steam. Disease will be extirpated; the causes of decay will be removed; immortality will be invented. And then, the earth being small, mankind will migrate into space, and will cross the airless Saharas which separate planet from planet, and sun from sun. The earth will become a Holy Land which will be visited by pilgrims from all the quarters of the universe. Finally, men will master the forces of natures; they will become themselves architects of systems, manufacturers of worlds. Man will then be perfect; he will then be a creator; he will be therefore what the vulgar worship as a god. (Murray 26) Wells' ideal of perfection, exemplified through Dr. Moreau, runs parallel with Reade's ideal perfection. Dr. Moreau, in an attempt to justify his practice, explains to Prendick how he not only carves animals into new shapes by grafting flesh and bone, but how he can change the physiology, chemical rhythm, and the mental structure of the being. After explaining that "moral education is such an artificial modification and perversion of instinct; pugnacity is trained into courageous self-sacrifice, and suppressed sexuality into religious emotion," Dr. Moreau goes on to justify the pain he deals out to his animal patients by saying "Oh! But it is such a little thing. A mind truly open to what science has to teach must see that it [pain] is a little thingÃ¢ÂÂ¦.Pain is simply our intrinsic medical adviser to warn us and stimulate us. There is no taint of pain, real pain, in the sensations of the optic nerveÃ¢ÂÂ¦just as disease of the auditory nerve merely means a humming in our earsÃ¢ÂÂ¦Then with men, the more intelligent they become the more intelligently they will see after their own welfare, and the less they will need the goad to keep them out of danger. I never yet heard of a useless thing that was not ground out of existence by evolution sooner or later. Did you? And pain gets needless." (Wells 101) Prendick is the stereotypical English gentleman who behaves rationally and humanistically, and ironically has a reasonable level of intelligence. His subtle and simple nature helps convince the reader into believing what he is saying. This realism and the journal-like format of the novel makes the book very presentable. The story ends with an animal rebellion that results in the death of Dr. Moreau and Montgomery and Predick is forced to make a raft and float away from the island. The created overthrow their creator, whose only shortcoming of perfection is his insatiable thirst for perfection.
Prendick is the inverse of Dr. Moreau; the two characters collectively make up the two forces of inner conflict within H.G. Wells. His logical, educated, and more evident psyche is seen within Dr. Moreau, while his passionate, rational psyche sees the disaster in the ideal world of perfection. It takes a perfect creator to make a perfect creation. Man's imperfection also lies in the lifelong struggle for power, and Dr. Moreau is a prime example of how power corrupts and every rise to power ends with a rebellion of the powerless.
Montgomery, the alcoholic, also plays an important character role. His excessive consumption of alcohol allows him to fall victim to the animal side of the human psyche. Montgomery drank to escape the drive for perfection, and after Moreau found him drunk countless times he said "You've made a beast of yourself, to the beasts you may go." (Wells 84) These three characters make up Freud's three separations of the human personality: the id, the ego, and the superego. Montgomery is obviously the representation of the id by his drunken motives. The ego is the largest part of the personality, and Dr. Moreau takes this position as the biological perfectionist. Finally, the superego, which keeps the ego in check and is often called the conscience, is represented by Prendick who stays cautious and reserved throughout the novel. In conclusion, the three main characters are the reflections of the three Freudian forces swirling around in the creative mind of H.G. Wells.
Wells included countless themes such as these throughout the novel. Until recently, many of these topics weren't taken seriously or even addressed except within the intellectual world. Currently, much debate has been raised about the genetic modification and cloning of sheep. Scientists are now provided with a chance to play God, and this practice will ultimately lead to the duplication of human DNA and human cloning. Should this experimentation be allowed? This novel illustrates the conflicts between both view points. Ideally, the scientific advancement would greatly aid generations to come, but such exploration could very easily end up in disaster, just like the atomic bomb which is both a scientific marvel and a cursed achievement which leads only to destruction.
Bibliography: Wells, H.G. The Island of Dr. Moreau. New York: Modern Library Publishing, 1996.
Dickson, Lovat, H.G. Wells: His Turbulent Life and Times. New York: Athenuem, 1969.
Murray, Brian, H.G. Wells. New York: Continuum Publishing, 1990.
McMahon, Thomas, ed. "H.G. Wells." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Vol 18. New York: Gale, 1996.
Foot, Michael, H.G.: The History of Mr. Wells. Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 1995.