Surprisingly, Moreau’s island, populated entirely by Beast Folk save for three humans, begins as a relatively civil place (aside from Moreau’s work). The Beast Folk live in a peaceful society, despite the constant animalistic urges they feel to let loose and hunt prey. This civility is due entirely to the Law, a system of rules and beliefs that Moreau has devised to govern their behavior. The Law effectively functions as a religious authority on the island; when this authority is removed, society breaks down and chaos ensues. This dependence on the Law suggests that the existence of some type of religious or moral authority is critical to maintaining order in human society as well.
In creating the Law, Moreau essentially establishes himself as the ultimately authority over the Beast Folks’ lives. Moreau encourages them to act “morally” and resist their animal instincts, further establishing the Law a clear symbolic parallel of organized religion. The Law teaches the Beast Folk to act “morally”—which in Moreau’s mind is to act like humans and not like animals—by demanding that the Beast Folk walk on two legs, not eat raw meat, not chase prey, speak English rather than make animal noises, and so on. When the Beast Folk all follow the law, the order of their society is maintained. The Law, taught by recitation and repetition, sounds much like the Ten Commandments and functions as a religious teaching. Moreau deifies himself through the law, effectively placing him in the role of God and giving him authority in the minds of the Beast Folk. Through the Law, the Beast Folk see Moreau as their creator and sustainer, as well as their ideal model for how to speak and behave. This motivates them to want to adhere to the Law to be more like Moreau (that is, more human). The deification and idealization of Moreau through the Law works much like the deification of Christ in Christianity, in that his followers are given both someone to please and someone to imitate. The Law also comes with the threat of punishment. Those who break the Law must go back to the House of Pain—what the Beast Folk call Moreau’s vivisection room—to face the anger of Moreau, ostensibly through the literal pain of undergoing more vivisection. The House of Pain bears an obvious similarity to the threat of Hell with its physical torment, which itself serves to motivate human beings not to follow through on their base urges. The Law, as the moral authority of the Beast Folk, thus clearly reflects the religious or moral authority in human society—it provides moral teaching, a positive ideal to aspire to, and the negative enforcement of punishment. With all of these combined, the presence of the Law ensures that order is maintained on the island. The Beast Folk respect Moreau’s authority, act like humans, and do not hunt or fight with each other just as, under organized religion—or a comparable moral authority—human beings do not steal, murder, or fight each other, acting on their own primal instincts.
When Moreau’s authority is questioned and the religion of the Law crumbles, the ordered society of the Beast Folk breaks down. This suggests that in human society, without the presence of religious or moral authority the maintained order would similarly fall into chaos. When Moreau is killed, the importance of the Law is immediately questioned by the Beast Folk. Since Moreau embodied the authority of the Law and its ideal, that authority now seems to be dead as well. This suggests that a religion or moral order can only be sustained as long as its symbol of authority is intact. As the Law fades in the minds of the Beast Folk, society breaks down. The Beast Folk reject Moreau’s “morality” and regress to their animal instincts once again, running on all fours, hunting each other, and losing their ability to speak. The Beast Folk cease to be a society and devolve into a group of feral animals. This argues that religion and its moral authority are necessary to maintain order in human society, for without it they will throw off morality and resort to their most basic urges, inviting chaos. A primary function of religious authority, then, seems to be to prevent human beings from following through on their most primal instincts.
When Moreau died, so did the authority of the Law. Without Moreau’s presence to sustain and enforce the religion of the Law, the moral order that held the Beast Folk’s society together ultimately falls and the Beast Folk act out their base primal urges. Through this, Wells argues that religion and its moral authority—involving teachings, an ideal to strive toward, and threat of punishment—are thus critical to maintaining order within human society and keeping people from regressing to their own most basic urges.
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Religious Authority and Order Quotes in The Island of Dr. Moreau
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?’”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”