The Island of Dr.moreau: Summary:chapter 11-15
XI. The Hunting of the Man.
Convinced that he will soon be Moreau’s victim, Prendick breaks up a chair to make a rude weapon and flees, brandishing it at the astonished Montgomery, who expostulates, “Don’t be a silly ass, man!” Prendick hides in a canebrake, in earshot of Montgomery’s calling, and tries to plan. He has no food, no real weapon; he is stuck between “these two vivisectioners and their animalised victims.” He hears the hounds bay and runs to the sea to hide his scent. Now that Prendick has nothing to lose, he is suddenly infused with courage.
On the shore, Prendick spots the “simian creature” he saw when the launch landed; to his surprise, it addresses him: “You . . . in the boat.” The simian creature seems puzzled and begins to count its eight fingers. Taking this to be a greeting, Prendick counts his own fingers, which seems to please the creature. Prendick attempts, with limited success, to communicate, asking about food and shelter as the creature leads him through the forest. Presently they come to a dark, narrow, smelly ravine, which the creature indicates is “Home!”
In this chapter a shift of alliances begins. Prendick, persuaded that Moreau means him harm, is now willing to follow one of the island’s “curiosities,” as Montgomery casually calls them, deep into the forest. The shift is developed by Prendick’s surprising discovery that the “simian man” can speak and reason at a rudimentary level. They are not utterly unalike, as he had assumed. Yet the shift is not complete because Montgomery pursues Prendick, yelling various reassurances and not, despite Prendick’s fears, seeming intent on harming him.
XII. The Sayers of the Law.
As Prendick peers into the ravine, “something cold” touches his hand. He flinches away from a “creature . . . looking more like a flayed child than anything else.” It puts him in mind of a sloth. Prendick sees that the ravine gives onto a series of paths to small dens; he notes rotting fruit and refuse all around. The simian creature, whom he refers to now as the Ape-man, summons him to crawl into “an evil-smelling lean-to.” There the Ape-man gives him part of a coconut, which he eats “as serenely as possible.” A “lump of mystery” in the dark den says, “Hey! It’s a man,” to which the Ape-man replies, “a five-man, like me.” Then a thick voice asks from the dimness, “He comes to live with us? . . . He must learn the Law.” Then begins what Prendick calls “the insanest ceremony” in which he is forced to repeat a “mad litany” of behavioral rules.
Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to suck up drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to claw the bark of trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
Not to chase other men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
After this, the creatures begin a long set of warnings: “His is the house of Pain. His is the hand that makes. His is the hand that wounds” and so on—“mostly incomprehensible gibberish” to Prendick’s ears at first. Yet he begins to hit on an idea: that Moreau had “animalised” these people and then “infected” them with a “deification of himself.”
Prendick finally glimpses the creature that leads the chanting. It has a man’s size but is covered with dull gray hair. He feels panicked, “surrounded by all the most horrible cripples and maniacs” imaginable. The grey man leans forward to see that Prendick has five fingers on each hand; his own hand is “almost like the hoof of a deer produced into claws.” Prendick sees with shock that the grey man’s face is covered in fur. The grey man pronounces all “well” after examining Prendick’s hands and identifies himself as the Sayer of the Law. He warns all gathered that “Evil are the punishments of those who break the Law. None escape,” and the creatures jabber in fearful agreement.
The Sayer’s speech is interrupted, and the creatures scatter, when Moreau and Montgomery, revolver in hand, enter, accompanied by brute-servants who block Prendick’s escape. “Hold him!” orders Moreau, but the beast-folk yell “Go on! Go on!” as Prendick scrambles up a rock chimney and stumbles away into the forest. Pursued by many, Prendick hears Montgomery shouting for him to “run for your life” before he staggers into a ravine and follows a trail to a hot spring. In desperation, Prendick seeks the sea, where he can drown himself and escape the fate of the beast-folk. He decides, however, that he is not yet that desperate, yet he hears the sounds of the beast-folk being subdued and knows he has no hope of help from them.
Much happens in this lengthy chapter. Some mysteries—Who are the inhabitants of the island?—are resolved, while others—What are the inhabitants of the island?—seem near resolution, at least in Prendick’s mind. He believes that he has found allies, unsavory as they are, and that he has correctly identified his enemies in the only other humans on the island. His new allies, however, are disconcerting with their chants about the Law and promises, uttered in great fear, of terrible and inescapable punishments. And the events unfold, readers must keep in mind that Prendick, lacking a complete understanding of Moreau’s work and in a state of panic and desperation, may not be the most reliable narrator.
XIII. A Parley.
Prendick decides to make his way back to the enclosure and find a real weapon, but Moreau, Montgomery, a staghound, and M’ling, the dark man, block his way. Prendick walks out into the water, explaining to the astonished Moreau that drowning is “better than being tortured by you.” Montgomery tells Moreau, “I told you so.” Prendick points out that the beast-folk, despite the fact that they far outnumber the humans, go in fear of Moreau and Montgomery, and he prepares to follow this line of thought to its logical conclusion but is drowned out by Moreau and Montgomery, who shouts, “For God’s sake, . . . stop that, Prendick.” The beast folk stand near, watching in fear and curiosity, as Prendick continues to shout about how the scientists can be killed and shouldn’t inspire fear. Finally, he pauses, out of breath, and Moreau speaks to him in a “steady” voice, agreeing to throw down his gun if only Prendick will listen to his explanation. Prendick dislikes Moreau but trusts Montgomery enough to listen as Moreau explains that the tortured creature Prendick took to be a man was in fact the puma. Prendick picks up the guns and follows the scientists back to the enclosure while the beast folk fall back at the crack of Montgomery’s whip. Yet they are clearly intrigued by the events on the beach: “They may once have been animals; but I never before saw an animal trying to think.”
This chapter in particular reveals the character of the elusive Moreau, revealing him to be a less than sympathetic individual. Rather than understanding Prendick’s expectable anxiety, he treats him as a condescending adult might treat a rather dull child. Readers wonder if his actions are motivated by the need and desire to rescue Prendick from the dangers he does not realize or merely to keep the beast folk in their state of ignorance. Readers may feel that Moreau would just as soon be rid of Prendick, who he complains has “wasted the best part of my day with your confounded imagination.” Moreau agrees to explain himself, but he does so with a “touch of contempt” that humiliates Prendick. Readers get a sense that one thing only matters to Moreau—his work.
XIV. Doctor Moreau Explains.
After the men eat, Moreau complains that Prendick is “the most dictatorial guest” he has ever had and states outright that, after this period of explanation, he will not feel at all obliged to help Prendick, even if his guest threatens suicide again. Prendick still has both revolvers, yet Moreau seems indifferent to any danger. Moreau has made Prendick examine what the latter thought was a man but is actually the puma, “still alive,” Prendick reports, “but so cut and mutilated as I pray I may never see living flesh again.” Now Moreau, in “the tone of a man supremely bored,” explains his work; as he listens, Prendick feels himself “hot with shame” as he realizes that he does in fact agree with some of Moreau’s points, despite his general sense that the doctor’s work is “vile” and its results “foul.”
All of the beast folk, Moreau says, “were not men, had never been men.” They are “humanised animals,—triumphs of vivisection.” Moreau has taken simple surgical techniques such as the excision of tumors and skin grafting to their extreme, experimenting to find the limits of “the plasticity of living forms.” Moreau sees his work as analogous to the goals of breeders and is surprised that he is the first “to take up this question armed with antiseptic surgery.” From the ability to transform a creature’s physiology, Moreau proceeded to attempt transformations of thought and behavior, which he found, initially, simpler than the physical transformation wrought by surgery.
But why choose the human form, Prendick wonders—surely it is “a strange wickedness of choice.” Moreau admits that this choice was little more than chance and that he has tried other forms in the past. So much is yet to be done, he exclaims with disgust, yet here he has wasted a day rescuing and educating Prendick, who persists in his questions: What can justify “inflicting all this pain” on the creatures? Moreau discourses on pain, a “little thing” that animals care about but that intelligent beings brush off. He demonstrates his own dismissal of pain by driving a penknife blade into his thigh without flinching. Pain is a “medical advisor” that warns and guides us, but as humans grow more intelligent, they will evolve away from the need for pain. Moreau claims to be “a religious man . . . as every sane man must be” and argues that concern with pain and pleasure is “the mark of the beast from which [humans] came.”
Moreau says that a scientist must lay questions of pain aside and see each animal as “a problem,” a tool for discovery. But, Prendick objects, the puma, or what has become of it, is an abomination. Coolly, Moreau claims the “the ethics of the matter” do not concern him. He describes arriving at the island, eleven years ago, to begin his work, assisted by a handful of men indigenous to the area, all of whom are dead now. His first experiments, done on sheep, were failures; the results were “fear-haunted, pain-driven things . . . no good for man-making.” So he created a gorilla-man, which was able to learn and which was taught, reluctantly, by his assistants. But one day Moreau found the creature in a tree, “gibbering,” and realized that “the stubborn beast-flesh grows day by day back again . . . . I mean to conquer that.” He also made a creature he calls a “limbless thing, with a horrible face, that writhed along the ground,” which he had to destroy after it killed one of the assistants. After these failed experiments, Moreau stuck to making men, “except for little things.”
Moreau falls silent and then continues, more earnestly, to describe the frustrations and limitations of his work. Thus far, every creature he has made has seemed human for a time, but then its original nature has begun to reassert itself. He tries to stop the reversions but, eventually, releases the creatures, who find their way to the dens, where they have formed the society that Prendick visited. “They all dread this house and me,” he confesses, and he refers to the Law that they attempt to impose on themselves. Yet he sees through the trappings of society, he says, to “the souls of beasts, beasts that perish, anger and the lusts to live and gratify themselves.” Moreau then thinks of “my puma,” his latest experiment, in which he has “some hope,” and asks Prendick what he now thinks of this work and of him. Prendick contrasts what he sees—“a white-faced, white-haired man, with calm eyes,” serene and gentlemanly—and shivers because of what he knows. But he is now willing to return the revolvers. “Keep them,” Moreau says, and get some sleep. Locked into his room, Prendick mulls what he has heard till he sleeps, exhausted.
In this lengthy and complicated chapter, Wells sets aside the novella’s plot to expound on several philosophical and medical questions, questions he dealt with in nonfiction and periodical literature as well. This chapter also provides the backstory that Prendick (and readers) need to understand past events, and it foreshadows and makes comprehensible that climactic events of the novella. In this chapter only do readers come to understand Moreau’s personality—his nature, drives, and the limitations that eventually cause his demise. Prendick’s role in this chapter is that of representative of society; he asks the questions that elicit Moreau’s ideas and comments on them in a way that many readers of Wells’s time would find sympathetic. Yet Wells subtly critiques that society—its fears and arrogances—as well in Prendick’s responses.
XV. Concerning the Beast Folk.
Prendick wakes early and checks the doors and window: “That these man-like creatures were in truth only bestial monsters, mere grotesque travesties of men, filled me with a vague uncertainty of their possibilities which was far worse than any definite fear.” M’ling and Montgomery bring breakfast; and Montgomery smiles “askew” when he sees that Prendick’s hand, in his pocket, grips the revolver. He assures Prendick that the beast folk don’t attack humans or each other because Moreau has “hypnotised” them, implanting ideas that “bounded” their thoughts and teaching them “prohibitions” that they cannot disobey. Yet he admits that “deep-seated, rebellious cravings of their animal natures” plague the beast folk. They are at war with the Law, break it often, and feel shame over their failings.
Prendick breaks from narrating events to describe the volcanic island, which is seven or eight square miles in size and features coral reefs and a hot springs. About 60 beast folk inhabit it, along with “smaller monstrosities.” At one time 120 beast folk existed, but some had died or been killed. The beast folk do breed, but their offspring are born with beast traits only and often die young. When they live, Moreau “stamped the human form” on them. Prendick tries to describe the beast folk but finds words insufficient. Though initially repulsed, he becomes used to their forms. They are hairy, with “strangely-coloured or strangely-placed eyes” and heads whose forms recall their original species. Their hands are “always malformed” and often lack the ten usual human digits; they are clumsy and lack a sense of touch. Their limbs lack human proportions, and they are hunched and lack “that inward sinuous curve of the back which makes the human figure so graceful.”
Among them, the Leopard-man and Hyena-swine most frighten Prendick. The island’s population includes creatures that were once bulls, swine, and wolves, among others. There are also chimeric forms that blend species and then are humanized, for example, a mare-rhinoceros, a bear-bull, and a vixen-bear woman whom Prendick hates in particular—a “passionate votary of the Law.” Montgomery is quite habituated to the beast folk, and Prendick comes to feel less repulsed by them. He even finds similarities between individual beast folks and people he knows in London. Yet “every now and then the beast would flash out upon me beyond doubt or denial.” And he regards the females with particular aversion.
The break from the story’s action to describe the island and the beast folk reminds readers of the literary genre Wells uses. The story is presented not as a novella or other fictional form but as a memoir or recollection. That the narrator begins the next chapter with an apology for his “inexperience as a writer” that has caused him to “wander from the thread of my story” adds verisimilitude to Wells’s fictional framed narrative. This interruption of the plot also provides information that readers will need to navigate the fast-paced chapters to come, particularly in its listing of specific beast folk.