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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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Science, Society, and Humanity

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.

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