The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Prendick, by his own description, becomes one of the Beast Folk. Although he has one loyal subject who believes in his authority, the Dog Man, the rest have become indifferent, saying, “We have no Master, no Whips, no House of Pain anymore. There is an end. We love the Law, and will keep it; but there is no pain, no Master, no Whips for ever again.” Although Prendick arrives with the Dog Man and tries to assert that Moreau still watches and the House of Pain will come again, the Beast Folk are largely unconvinced.
This is the final marker of Prendick’s circumstantially-derived morality. Where once he had despised Montgomery’s kinship with the Beast Folk, considering it undignified, now he is one of them. Many of the Beast Folk have opted to try to hold onto the Law, and their effort seems to parallel an atheistic humanism, a belief in the importance of certain moral precepts without the authority that underlies them.
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This point marks the start of the majority of Prendick’s life on the island, most of which he does not wish to recall. The Dog Man is a close companion and valuable asset, since the island’s new hierarchy of power becomes dependent on one’s ability to fight and kill, and thus Prendick has protection. The Hyena-Swine still lives, but seems to avoid Prendick and the Dog Man.
Prendick’s relationship with the Dog Man evokes the earlier image of Moreau and his stag hound. The dependence of both men on a canine companion for protection demonstrates the way in which, outside of organized society, human beings are woefully inadequate for life in the natural world, especially in contrast to a creature as fearsome as the Hyena-Swine.
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In the first month of this period, the Beast Folk retain much of the Law. The Ape Man comes to believe that he is Prendick’s equal, and prides himself on repeating any word or idea Prendick says that the Ape Man is unfamiliar with. He calls these “big thinks” and goes about repeating them to all the other supposedly lesser Beast Folk, though they are often nonsense.
The Ape Man is a mockery of human arrogance, particularly of philosophers and theologians. The Ape Man believes that his “big thinks” are a mark of his superiority over his Beast Folk comrades, when in reality he is “little better than an idiot.” This again nods to the very thin delineation between humans and animals.
Themes
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However, this decorum and observance of the Law fades. The Beast Folk gradually regress back to embracing animal behaviors. They lose their ability to speak, begin walking on all fours, sucking water, and gnawing on animal flesh, neglecting to wear clothes. The females seem to be the first to throw off the mores of “decency.” The Dog Man regresses so much that Prendick comes to regard it not as Dog Man, but as his St. Bernard Brute, and even Prendick begins to change—his clothes become rags, his hair gets long and snarled, and to this day he is told that his eyes move so quickly as to suggest an “animal alertness.”
The Beast Folk’s Law without authority—a seeming parallel to atheistic humanism—crumbles in the absence of a central authority figure and ideal to model after This suggests that Wells may have believed that any moral system without an underlying authority was also doomed to fail. Prendick himself becomes beastly, furthering the argument that one’s humanity is imbued by the social forces of human society. Prendick’s biology does not change, but he is left without any influence to encourage human behavior.
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Prendick initially spends his days watching for passing ships, and though he sees five, he never manages to attract their attention. For some months he sets himself to building a raft, quickly realizing that he has no practical skill in construction. After several tries, he manages to put one together but accidentally destroys it trying to get it to the ocean.
Prendick is a scientist, not a craftsman. Once again, in situations of survival he is largely powerless. This again suggests that human beings, without the network of society to exchange skills and goods with each other, are ill-equipped for life in the natural world. Just as the Beast Folk did not make good humans, humans do not make adequate feral creatures.
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One day, Prendick is lying next to the ruins of the enclosure when the pink sloth creature, now almost completely animalistic like the others, approaches him. Prendick follows him into the forest where he finds the Hyena-Swine eating the corpse of the Dog Man. The beast leaps at Prendick and knocks him over, but Prendick manages to shoot the Hyena-Swine between the eyes and kill it.
Though the Hyena-Swine has been killed, much of its harm to Prendick has already been done. The Hyena-Swine’s immediate challenging of human authority no doubt exacerbated the loss of that authority amongst the other Beast Folk. Due in part to the Hyena-Swine’s example, Prendick no longer lives on an island of people but an island of beasts.
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Prendick knows that he will likely be attacked again, as many of the Beast Folk have regressed as far as the Hyena-Swine had. Though there are only twenty or so Beast Folk left, most have made dens for themselves in the forest and now prowl at night. Prendick considers killing all of them by trapping or with a knife, and had he enough bullets, would shoot every single one of them with no hesitation. However, he does not have the bullets and his success in hunting by other means seems implausible, so he returns to raft-building.
Prendick’s morality has shifted with his circumstances and been defined by survival over all other considerations. Just as most of the Beast Folk would now kill him without a second thought, he would do the same to them if it meant a little more safety. Prendick’s dire circumstances and his need to survive have completely eradicated the moral framework that he once held. He now operates on the same moral plane as the Beast Folk.
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Another day, Prendick spies a small sail on the horizon and eventually a little boat comes into view with two people in it. He builds a signal fire, yells, and waves, but when the boat lands he realizes that both the men in it are dead. Prendick dumps the corpses out, which to his horror are eaten by several Beast Folk, gathers some food, and sets sail into the ocean.
The Beast Folk have fallen to their lowest state of existence as well: where once they revered human beings, even seeing Moreau as an untouchable God, they now simply respond to impulse and eat human flesh. Any vestige of humanity in them is now completely gone, providing the final negative proof for the critical role of society in fostering and maintaining any sense of humanity in the individual. This also calls back to how the novel began, with Prendick’s fellow survivors on the boat turning to cannibalism as well.
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