Moreau’s whole life has become devoted to creating perfect human beings out of animals through the practice of vivisection. Though it seems a tall order, by the time Prendick arrives, the rogue scientist has already created enough Beast Folk to form a small society of creatures who blur the line between human and animal. They possess animal body parts nipped and tucked to resemble the human form and are capable of rudimentary thought and speech, yet are conflicted by their underlying animal instincts. Playing on contemporary science and Charles Darwin’s controversial observations of evolution, Wells suggests, through the development of the Beast Folk, that humans and animals are less rigidly separated than many people in his day would have liked to believe.
Moreau, in his experiments, seeks to make animals into fully developed human beings. He is partially successful—the Beast Folk he creates can stand upright and have a limited ability to speak English—suggesting that, at least biologically, human beings and animals are not entirely distinct from each other. Not only is Moreau able to change an animal’s physical form to make it humanoid with roughly human proportions, facial structure, and the ability to walk upright, he is also able to adjust their mental capacity. By excising and restructuring portions of the brain, Moreau gives his creations enough intelligence to be capable of very basic speech and simple problem solving—though they are only given the capacity for such things, and still must be actively taught them. This suggests that, biologically, animals have the potential to reach a human level of development, or at least something close to it. The fact that Beast Folk are enabled to speak like humans through biological changes defies the common belief that speech and intelligence are utterly unique to humans, God-given faculties that separate humanity from the natural world.
However, though they biologically come to resemble humans, Moreau’s Beast Folk always retain their animalistic urges, which must be actively repressed and replaced with human behaviors. This suggests that these human behaviors are not primarily biological but social. The Beast Folk are able to produce offspring, but those offspring are born merely as animals. They inherit none of the human faculties of their parents—no intelligence, no speech, no inclination to walk upright—and live as animals until Moreau vivisects and trains them as well. This suggests that there is more that separates humans and animals than mere biology, since the Beast Folk’s animal instincts cannot be conquered merely through rearranging their physiology. Although the Law is evidence of the Beast Folk’s natural inclination to animalism, it is also proof that those animal instincts can be overcome—for a time—through social pressures. The Law forbids the Beast Folk from practices that seem animal rather than human, such as walking on all fours, chasing others, eating meat, and so on. Each incantation of the law ends with the enthusiastic refrain, “Are we not Men?” This indicates that although the Beast Folk are beset with animalistic urges, they aspire, as a society, to be human. Through teaching and social development, the Beast Folk are able to maintain a semblance of humanity. Whatever stunted human nature the Beast Folk are able to absorb is trained into them by threat of pain and hypnosis through the chanting of the Law. The Beast Folk thus learn to act like humans in the same way that a dog might learn to do tricks or a parrot might learn to talk, and these behaviors are socially reinforced by the Law. However, once the Law falls apart, so do the Beast Folk’s human traits. Without that social pressure, and in spite of their vivisected biology, the Beast Folk completely regress back into animals. This suggests that despite the biological similarities between animals and humans, it primarily the social pressures of human society that encourage individuals to rise above their basic instincts and develop human qualities.
Prendick observes not only human qualities in the Beast Folk, but also animalistic qualities in human beings. This, too, points to a common biological ancestry and suggests that, although humans and animals do not seem intrinsically the same on every level, humans do seem just as capable of regressing to animalistic behavior. Prendick observes that Montgomery favors the company of the Beast Folk to that of other human beings. Indeed, he seems “unfitted for human kindred” after all the years spent on the island, outside of human society. This suggests that Montgomery, though still civilized, has more in common with the Beast Folk than he does with human beings, again narrowing the distinction—though not obliterating it—between animals and humans. When he escapes the island and rejoins human society, Prendick believes he sees the same animalistic potential in the eyes of other human beings. This would suggest that away from society, without the social pressure to act human and repress certain desires and urges, human beings could be as capable of acting like animals as the Beast Folk are of acting like humans. Perhaps humanity is merely a socially trained, socially fueled set of behaviors that contradict latent animal instincts.
In The Island of Dr. Moreau, Wells maintains a tenuous distinction between humans and animals, but argues that it is much slimmer than many would like to believe. He recognizes their common ancestry by observing that humans are often capable of animalistic behavior and animals may be trained to imitate humans, which suggests that the distinction between animal and human is more socially constructed than people would perhaps like to think.
Humans vs. Animals ThemeTracker
Humans vs. Animals Quotes in The Island of Dr. Moreau
It was not the first time that conscience has turned against the methods of research. The doctor was simply howled out of the country…He might have purchased his social peace by abandoning his investigations, but he apparently preferred the latter, as most men would who have once fallen under the over-mastering spell of research.
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.”
“So long as visible or audible pain turns you sick, so long as your own pain drives you, so long as pain underlies your propositions about sin, so long, I tell you, you are an animal, thinking a little less obscurely than an animal feels.”
“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.
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.
“’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.”
There is, though I do not know how there is or why there is, a sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven. There it must be, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily care and sins and troubles of men, that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope.