Elements of Science Fiction and Defining Humanity in The Island of Dr. Moreau

Even though the genre of The Island of Dr. Moreau can be debated, as  I read the story I interpreted as science fiction. This is due to the many scientific elements in the novel that are stretched farther than they actually go in real life. With the scientific context of the book, the reader gets the impression that these humanized animals can actually be created in the lab. During the time the book was written, this was an actual fear of many people since vivisection was just started to become present in experiments. However, today this may seem a lot more far fetched than it did at the time and would be seen as highly immoral. When explaining what is happening on the island to Prendick, Dr. Moreau mentions how it is a science that has been delved into before, thus giving the science in the story credibility. “You forget all that a skilled vivisector can do with living things…alterations in the secretion of fatty tissue. I have no doubt that you have heard of these things? ” (pg 45) Most science fiction furthers innovations and discoveries that have already been made and exaggerates them, this is exactly what H.G. Wells does in this novel. With this novel, Wells even leads the reader to question what defines humanity. The animals that Moreau has humanized in the story look enough like men, however he can never get rid of their animalistic tendencies completely. The Beast Men are in a constant battle to maintain what makes them men as opposed to beasts. Prendick makes this realization in Chapter 16, “Before, they had been beasts, their instinct fitly adapted to their surroundings, and happy as living as things may be. Now they stumbled in the shackle of humanity…” (pg 65) This also brings the question of morality at hand, not only do they undergo an immense amount of pain during the changing of their body, they also have to live in denial of their basic instincts for the rest of their life.

This novel also relates to quite a few of the other stories that we have read for class. It makes connections with The Tempest, Robinson Crusoe, An Enemy of the People, and Bluebeard. The Island of Dr. Moreau like The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe brings the theme of the Island out. Dr. Moreau’s island does differ greatly from Prospero’s and Crusoe’s island, but it has the element that Crusoe is ruling his own island. Moreau creates laws and rules over his beast men, which mirrors how Prospero and Crusoe rule their respective islands. What really sets them apart though is that Moreau creates a law system and the people on the island, whereas Prospero and Crusoe claim an already occupied island and never create laws, they just assume power. Also, Moreau lacks the colonial aspects of The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe. The Island of Dr. Moreau also draws connections with An Enemy of the People since Dr. Moreau was hated by the public when some of his lab experiments were exposed. This is very similar to how Dr. Stockmann became an enemy of the people for trying to expose the polluted water of the baths in his town. However, Moreau goes away and continues to experiment in peace while Thomas stays and tries to spread his discoveries, but clearly both are men of science and innovation. Another story we’ve read that The Island of Dr. Moreau connects with is Bluebeard, it is even mentioned in the story, “Our little island establishment here contains a secret or so, is kind of a Blue-Beard’s chamber, in fact.” Although Prendick not being allowed in the lab at first is not a defining characteristic of the novel, it still draws a very clear comparison to the fairy tale Bluebeard.

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3 responses to “Elements of Science Fiction and Defining Humanity in The Island of Dr. Moreau

  1. siegvald

    I think you are making some very good points here. Science fiction aside, what is being done to the animals is horrific and in today’s times would definitely be considered immoral and unethical. The Bluebeard’s Chamber reference in the story makes me think back to when we were reading the fairy tales and what role violence plays in literature. I think perhaps here, that violence factor–what is being done to the animals and the concept of being butchered alive–is also an issue, drawing the readers in to catch their interest and cause them to want to read further. It is true that Wells is writing from a science fiction perspective, but I think he also draws on violence to capture the attention of the reader and leave a lasting impression upon the reader’s mind.

  2. autumncassidy

    Although you make many excellent points, I would have to disagree with your comment that this novel lacks the colonial aspects of other works we have encountered in class. I say this mostly by citing not only Prendrick’s constant stressing of the physical differences between himself and the beast people, even making allusions to other races when describing his overall repugnance towards them, but also the constant textual references to Moreau’s superiority over the other island inhabitants, and additionally the instilling of ‘the Law’ in the Beast men, which is reminiscent of the indoctrination of many colonized populations into religions, specifically Christianity. Additionally, the constant reference to the “His” in the Beast people’s Law is highly reflective of the “He” of religious connotation. The parallels drawn in this novel inspire me to conclude that many aspects of this work could be taken as an allegory for colonialism.

  3. I agree with you that many of the scientific aspects throughout the book are stretched out and exaggerated. I think it is very important that you brought up how the creatures are in fact animals and therefore must control their animalistic instincts. Do you think they story would have been different if they did not have to control their behavior, and were allowed to act freely? Perhaps then the animals would not feel like they were in denial? I think the quote you used about the island establishment containing a secret, is an important contribution. The island setting allows Dr. Moreau, his own establishment to carry out his scientific conquest.

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