Moreau’s Beast Folk and their self-contained island community provide a parallel to human society, specifically symbolizing the tension between each individual’s primal urges and their desire to act like civilized members of society. The Beast Folk act like humans, yet are primarily animal in nature. They are conflicted between their dignified desire to uphold the Law—which encourages human behaviors and prohibits animal behaviors—and their latent animal urges to run on all fours, hunt prey, and eat flesh. In the same way, human beings, especially understood in light of Darwinian theory, are haunted by similarly animalistic urges to hunt, kill each other, and procreate. Although humans have reached a level of civilization that far exceeds the Beast Folk, the biological impulses to hunt, kill, and procreate still persist deep in the human psyche.
The Beast Folk, in this way, point to the similarity between humans and animals, arguing that the primary difference between the two—what makes humans civilized and intelligent—is social rather than biological. The Beast Folk’s dignified human qualities of speech, semi-intelligent thought, and organization all seem to be socially imbued. Although their biology has been surgically reshaped, they still must be taught by others to speak and behave. Without the social pressure of their organized society to adhere to the Law—and the social shame that comes with breaking it—the Beast Folk regress to complete animalism, losing all human qualities. As a parallel to human beings, this suggests that the qualities which make one human—civilized, intelligent, distinct from animals—are socially instilled, rather than biologically determined. Society teaches humans how to speak and behave; these are not inherent biological qualities. Thus, it stands to reason that removed from society, human beings would similarly regress to an animalistic state and be little different from the Beast Folk. This idea stands in sharp contrast with common, religiously based notions of human exceptionalism, which uphold that humans are different from and superior to all other beings. Through the Beast Folk, Wells suggests that if animals can be taught to speak or humans can become animalistic, then humanity’s intelligence and civility are not God-given traits, but the product of social forces overcoming biological urges.
The Beast Folk Quotes in The Island of Dr. Moreau
I would not draw lots, however, and in the night the sailor whispered to Helmar again and again, and I sat in the bows with my clasp-knife in my hand—though I doubt I had the stuff in me to fight. And in the morning I agreed to Helmar’s proposal, and we handed halfpence to find to the odd man.
A horrible fancy came into my head that Moreau, after animalizing these men, had infected their dwarfed brains with a kind of deification of himself.
“For every one the want that is bad,” said the grey Sayer of the Law. “What you will want, we do not know. We shall know. Some want to follow things that move, to watch and slink and wait and spring, to kill and bite, deep and rich, sucking the blood…It is bad. ‘Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’”
But as I say, I was too full of excitement, and—a true saying, though those who have never known danger may doubt it—too desperate to die.
“You forget all that a skilled vivisector can do with living things,” said Moreau. “For my own part I’m puzzled why the things I have done here have not been done before.”
“It looked quite human to me when I had finished it, but when I went to it I was discontented with it; it remembered me, and was terrified beyond imagination, and it had no more than the wits of a sheep. The more I looked the clumsier it seemed, until at last I put the monster out of its misery.”
“[The Beast Folk] build themselves dens, gather fruit and pull herbs—marry even. But I can see through it all, see into their very souls, and see there nothing but the souls of beasts, beasts that perish—anger, and the lusts to live and gratify themselves…Yet they’re odd. Complex, like everything else alive. There is a kind of upward striving in them, part vanity, part waste sexual emotion, part waste curiosity.”
I say I became habituated to the Beast People, that a thousand things that had seemed unnatural and repulsive speedily became natural and ordinary to me. I suppose everything in existence takes its color from the average hue of our surroundings: Montgomery and Moreau were too peculiar to keep my general impression of humanity well defined.
“Hail,” said they, “to the Other with the whip!”
“There’s a third with a whip now,” said Montgomery, so you’d better mind!”
“Was he not made?” said the Ape Man. “He said—he said he was made.”
“Who breaks the Law—” said Moreau, taking his eyes off his victim and turning towards us. It seemed to me there was a touch of exultation in his voice.
“—goes back to the House of Pain,” they all clamored; “goes back to the House of Pain, O Master!”
A strange persuasion came upon me that, save for the grossness of the line, the grotesqueness of the forms, I had here before me the whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason, and fate, in its simplest form.
[Montgomery] cracked his whip in some trepidation, and forthwith [the Beast Folk] rushed at him. Never before had a Beast Man dared to do that.
“Children of the Law,” I said, “He is not dead…he has changed his shape—he has changed his body,” I went on. “For a time you will not see him. He is…there”—I pointed upward— “where he can watch you. You cannot see him. But he can see you. Fear the Law.”
We locked ourselves in, and then took Moreau’s mangled body into the yard, and laid it upon a pile of brushwood.
Then we went into the laboratory and put an end to all we found living there.
I felt that for Montgomery, there was no help; that he was in truth half akin to these Beast Folk, unfitted for human kindred.
I was perhaps a dozen seconds collecting myself. Then I cried, “Salute! Bow down!”
[The Hyena-Swine’s] teeth flashed upon me in a snarl. “Who are you, that I should…”
Perhaps a little too spasmodically, I drew my revolver, aimed, and quickly fired…[and] knew I had missed.
“’We have no Master, no Whips, no House of Pain any more. There is an end. We love the Law, and will keep it; but there is no pain, no Master, no Whips forever again.’ So they say.”