I plan to examine how separation can actually be a liberating and empowering quality. In many of the texts we’ve covered in class, separation from society, in one aspect or another, is constructed to be a crippling feature that the characters have to endure, but I feel this concept is not absolute. I want to write about this topic to present an alternative to a prevalent standard. Separation has continuously been depreciated, but the benefits and freedoms have not been greatly addressed. Isolation is what allowed Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest to be free to perfect his craft, empowering him to be able to control an army of spirits. In Wells’ The Island of Dr. Mereau, Dr. Meareau is in a similar situation, where he is on his own island, free of the laws that prevented him from exercising his passion. To present and refute counterarguments, I plan to examine the film Far From Heaven directed by Todd Haynes. The film is set in the 1950’s, when segregation was socially and lawfully still very much intact. The film follows a white suburban housewife who, after a fall out from her homosexual husband, has fallen in love with an African-American man. However, in order to remain a respected white member of her town, she ends her relationship with him, which refutes the counterargument that normality and conformity is what is best, and it presents how restricting these qualities can be.
I already know that there is a prevalent assumption that separation is feared and subject to prejudice, and that social normality seems to be what is desired. I would like to further understand:
1. Is there a cost for such freedom, and if so, what?
2. What are the factors that keep people desiring to fit in?
3. Do the pros of conformity outweigh the cons?
H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau is a highly versatile novel which can easily be classified within numerous genres. However, the most applicable genre to the theme of the novel and the overall specifics is that of science fiction. Science fiction can be defined as the stylistic genre which incorporates elements of the unreal, specifically through use of technology or scientific discoveries, in order to create novelty. Because of the setting of the novel, the overall mystique surrounding the island, and additionally the experimentation which takes place in this work, The Island of Doctor Moreau is a novel which deftly adheres to the definition of what science fiction entails.
The situation which surrounds Prendick’s salvation is one of mystery. The events seem fantastical and purely by chance. Floating in and out of consciousness, Prendick is unaware of how he is saved and who he is saved by. Unsure of who to owe his salvation to, the reflective period of the first few chapters aid to the mystery. As one that was unaware of his surroundings, the beginning of the novel has an air of uncertainty and the idea of Prendrick being an unreliable witness to his own salvation is established. The entire novel, in fact, is reliant upon Prendrick’s disbelief at the situation he has found himself in. This air of mystery of the island and its inhabitants reinforces the unreal aspect of science fiction genre.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the experimentation which takes place on the island is the integral aspect which stabilizes this novel’s science fiction classification. “These creatures you have seen are animals carven and wrought into new shapes. To that– to the study of the plasticity of living forms– my life has been devoted (53)”. As Doctor Moreau explains to Prendrick in this quotation, the “humans” which Prendrick has been encountering on the island were not born into their present state. The experimentation of Doctor Moreau molds and mutilates them into something supernatural, also reminiscent of science fiction. With the unnatural experimentation as the vehicle for advancement on the island, The Island of Dr. Moreau can further be cemented as a work of science fiction.
I think it is quite difficult to place The Island of Dr. Moreau into one specific genre. H.G. Wells wrote this book at a time before science fiction was really considered a genre of literature. With this being so, I do believe the genre that most fits this book is science fiction. I also believe that some aspects of fairy tales are present in this book.
I think this book does fit into the genre of science fiction for a few reasons. First of all, the subject of this story involves scientists! Vivisection, the main subject of this book is very much a science fiction idea. The fact that some of the characters in the book were vivisecting animals to make them into humans is absolutely absurd, and quite horrifying. Especially with European scientists having a big debate about the ethics involved with animal vivisection at the time this book was written; makes the book and its subject even more scary.
One way The Island of Dr. Moreau connects to other things, (specifically fairy tales) that we have read so far, happens near the beginning of the book. An old man, who we later find out is Dr. Moreau tells Prendick, “Our little establishment here contains a secret or so, is a kind of Bluebeard’s Chamber, in fact” (Wells 21). I was so shocked when I read this in the book! This is a blatant connection to fairy tales, for “Bluebeard’s Chamber” contained the bodies of the past wives he had. If anyone reading this book knew anything about Bluebeard, they would know if a secret “kind of like Bluebeard’s Chamber” was on that island, it would have to be a huge and horrifying secret.
The fairy tale of Bluebeard served as a lesson (when it was told orally and especially once it had been written down) to be learned and a forewarning to wives about how terrible marriage can be. I believe The Island of Dr. Moreau teaches the same kind of lesson; being that advances in science and attempting to control nature will not work. Nature will most always run its course.
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells is a difficult book to place squarely in one genre. There are many different facets within this story, therefore, it is impossible to place one label upon it and move on. It’s important to realize that the very fact that this story cannot be categorized is important and gives it a unique place in literature. Although this story has many aspects of different genres, I believe that it can be most squarely placed in the genre of science fiction, with some aspects of fairy tale writing included.
The reason that The Island of Dr. Moreau fits at least to some degree within the genre of science fiction is based mostly upon the concept of vivisection that occurs on the island. There are experiments being done on the animals of the island and Dr. Moreau is pushing the limits of vivisection beyond its boundaries by trying to create humans out of animals. This is such a far fetched idea that it clearly aligns itself with genre of science fiction.
However, there are also some of the characteristics present in the written fairy tales we read. During the same time that H.G. Wells wrote this story there was a great debate going on in Britain and Europe at large about vivisection and whether or not it was ethical. By creating a “little establishment…[that] is a kind of Blue-Beard’s chamber” (Wells 19) H.G. Wells is creating a parallel to fairy tales that served a similar purpose once they were written down. Specifically, Bluebeard was one fairy tale that offered a way for women to explore the more menacing aspects of marriage in a way that allowed much to be decided by the reader. Similarly, The Island of Dr. Moreau offers a means for exploring the negative and dangerous aspects of vivisection. By combining these two genres, along with aspects from others, Wells makes it possible to create and interesting science fiction story along with creating a means for reflection.
I believe H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau undoubtedly falls under the category of science fiction. Science fiction is, as defined by Merriam Webster, “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals”. During the Victorian era in which the story was written, many scientific discoveries were being made, and the literature of the time demonstrated the wonder they had for the scientific advances for the time, and the hope for the limitless bounds of those advances.
In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the title character uses a science known as vivisection to transform animals into humans. He does this repeatedly, and to his creations, he gives a set of laws, rules to keep them human-like: “Not to go on all-Fours”, “Not to suck up Drink”, “Not to eat Flesh or Fish”, “Not to claw Bark of Trees”, “Not to chase other Men” (Wells 43). With these rules, he binds them into their own society on the island – the creatures build dens and even marry. Thus, in one manner, Moreau’s experiments impact a newly formed society, that of the Beast-Men. They also impact the humans who live on the island, and must maintain a careful balance with the creatures. But they also pose a possibility for change in rest of society: there is an unspoken question in the novel of what would result were Moreau’s experiments to succeed 100%.
Though not officially a part of the science fiction genre, I believe all good science fiction, by introducing fictional beings, also makes the reader think about what makes us human, what separates us from all non-humans, real or imagined. The Island of Doctor Moreau certainly does that. In his explanation to Prendick, Moreau complains that despite his best efforts, there is “something I cannot touch, somewhere – I cannot determine where – in the seat of the emotions” (Wells 58). There is something not entirely right with his creations, something that keeps them separate from humans, and it is by the introduction of these creatures that we are made to consider why we are so different.