The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One afternoon, Prendick and Montgomery are hiking through the forest, each carrying a whip. They briefly hear a rabbit squeal in the bushes, but think little of it. As they travel, they catch glimpses of Moreau’s own created alternatives to rabbits—small pink creatures that are much cleaner than their naturally occurring counterparts and do not destroy grass by burrowing.
Wells is cautious in his depiction of the conflict between scientific progress and ethics. Even with vivisection, which he was obviously wary of, Wells also provides examples of the beneficial usage of it, in this case to create a less destructive alternative to rabbits. Thus, he avoids a one-sided attack on scientific research by showing that it can also provide value to society.
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As they are walking, they come upon the Ape Man and another beast. Both salute Montgomery, referring to him as the “Other with the whip.” Montgomery announces that now a third person carries the whip, so the Beast Folk must respect him. The Ape Man is confused by this, indicating that he believed Prendick was also a creation of Moreau. Despite the Beast Folk’s questions, Montgomery and Prendick continue.
The fact the Ape Man did not initially recognize that Prendick was a human because he was not carrying a whip—the symbol of human authority—indicates how narrow the margin between the humans and the Beast Folk truly is. In the eyes of the Beast Folk, what makes a human (in the way that Moreau is human, and thus separate from them) is not their particular biology or advanced intelligence, but merely the authority conferred by carrying a whip.
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Prendick and Montgomery come upon a dead half-eaten rabbit. Montgomery is alarmed by this, afraid of what could result of the Beast Folk becoming carnivorous again. Prendick surmises that it may have been the Leopard Man. Montgomery explains that it is odd, since the Beast Folk’s mind should have been fixed against the concept of eating flesh. One of them must’ve first tasted blood. Montgomery then remembers that he foolishly showed M’ling how to skin and cook a rabbit a few days prior.
This instance of the Beast Folk tasting blood marks the beginning of the end of society on the island, as the order of the Beast Folk and the authority of the Law will gradually begin to unravel. That it was the fault of Montgomery, due to his animal-like lack of self-control or good judgment as well as his close kinship with the Beast Folk, seems to be a condemnation of his behavior.
Themes
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Taking M’ling with them, Prendick, Moreau, and Montgomery make their way to the ravine to gather the Beast Folk. The men are each armed with whip and revolver. M’ling is armed with a hatchet. When they have arrived, Moreau blows into a cow horn and the Beast Folk emerge from the forest and gather round. The Leopard Man arrives, his head still bruised from where Prendick struck him.
M’ling is the only member of the Beast Folk ever to carry a weapon, which is a tool and generally considered a mark of humanity. M’ling’s use of such an item suggests that he still identifies more closely with the humans than the Beast Folk, though this will change as events unfold.
Themes
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By Moreau’s command, the Sayer of the Law leads its recitation until they reach the prohibition of eating flesh. Moreau announces that this Law has been broken, cracking his whip and looking at the Leopard Man. Both Moreau and the Beast Folk announce that the criminal must go back to the House of Pain, seeming nearly exultant in the condemnation.
Similar to the witch burnings of human religion, Moreau and the Beast Folk take on a religious, nearly ecstatic fervor at the thought of a sinner suffering for their crimes. This gleeful moralistic cruelty is arguably a distinctly human behavior, evidence of the Beast Folk’s adopted human qualities.
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When Moreau turns his back, the Leopard Man lunges at him, knocking Moreau off-balance. The beasts, already excited, seem on the verge of revolution, and Prendick thinks that the Hyena-Swine is about to join the attack. However, the fire of Moreau’s pistol sets the whole crowd off in pursuit after the Leopard Man, who has fled. The animals are flushed with the “exultation of hunting.” The Leopard Man has begun running on all fours through the forest. Prendick notes that the Hyena-Swine runs at his side, and he cannot tell if the beast means to attack him or aid the party.
The pursuit of the Leopard Man is a critical moment in the development of the theme of human versus animal nature, in that it displays very clear elements of both. The Beast Folk and the humans are all caught up in an extreme religious fervor, determined to crucify the sinner—a grotesquely human act. At the same time, the thirst for blood and the adrenal thrill of the chase stirs the primal animal in all of them. This demonstrates that there are latent animal instincts even in those as supposedly sophisticated as Prendick or Moreau. Likewise, even those as primitive as the Beast Folk are capable of utterly human religious zeal.
Themes
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The group chases until the Leopard Man is cornered by the island’s topography. Fanning out and proceeding more slowly, Prendick discovers the Leopard Man cowering amidst the tall grass. Despite its animal posture and inhuman features, Prendick is struck by the beast’s humanity, now doomed back to the operating table and the House of Pain if it is captured. Prendick draws his revolver and shoots the beast between the eyes. The Hyena-Swine, seeing this, pounces upon the Leopard Man and buries its fangs in the neck of its prey.
This further develops the human versus animal theme, though Prendick’s reaction is much different from the Hyena-Swine’s. Prendick recognizes in the Leopard Man the same beastly fear of being hunted—as Prendick was earlier—as well as the human fear of capture and future torment. The Hyena-Swine, thrilled by the hunt, sees only the chance to attack his prey. Thus, while human and animal qualities are intertwined in the Leopard Man, the human’s response is very different than the beast’s, indicating that there is a widening difference between the two.
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Moreau is angry that Prendick killed the creature, but Prendick brushes it off and breaks away from the mob. As he wanders through the forest, he considers Moreau’s cruelty, which he now sees most manifest in the conflicted psyches of the Beast Folk, trapped between human dignity and animal urges. Moreover, Moreau’s cruel work seems without purpose, “wanton.” The fear that Prendick had once felt for the Beast Folk turns to fear of Moreau’s character and the ease of his cruelty. The world loses all sense of shape or sanity.
Though this is obviously a condemnation of Moreau, it also seems to be a condemnation of God’s cruelty. Like the Beast Folk, human beings are torn between the desire to act civilized and live with dignity, and their powerful primal urges. By considering Moreau cruel for causing such arduous psychological conflict in his creations, Wells also makes a similar inference about God.
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