Friday, March 14, 2014

The Island of Dr Moreau

            From the beginning of the novel Wells is attempting to address what the nature of humanity is.  The attempts at cannibalism that take place after the shipwreck between Prendick and the two other men reveal the baser animal instincts within the human mind.  When they have been driven to the edge they must revert back to the oldest, simplest part of their cognitive systems.  “The lot fell upon the sailor; but he was the strongest of us and would not abide by it, and attacked Helmar with his hands.  They grappled together and almost stood up.  I crawled along the boat to the, intending to help Helmar by grasping the sailor’s leg; but the sailor stumbled with the swaying of the boat, and the two fell upon the gunwale and rolled overboard together.  They sank like stones.  I remember laughing at that, and wondering why I laughed.”  Even though the sailor’s human side agreed that one of the three of them dying was the better for the whole, his animal side would not allow him to sacrifice his own life. 

In contrast Moreau is clearly attempting to add these superior human thought processes to the victims of his vivisection.  What results is not so much a human mind but merely a middle between a human mind and animal mind.  “In our growing science of hypnotism we find the promise of a possibility of superseding old inherent instincts by new suggestions, grafting upon or replacing the inherited fixed ideas.”  The chimeras are able to function as humans and were able to respond and understand at a much higher level than in animal form, however it would seem that they were not really thinking creatures.  They were more like the computers of Wells’ day: they could follow a set of pre-programmed instructions and rules but could not go outside of the boundaries that had been set by the program.  “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?”  Continuing after the recitation of the commandments of the law is the programmed allusion to their creator.  “_His_ is the House of Pain.  _His_ is the Hand that makes [that wounds, that heals].  _His_ is the lightning flash [deep salt sea, stars in the sky].”  In their seeming praise of their creator they also appear to be laying out further prohibitions, religious mandates.  Do not go into the sea, do not cross the creator, do not enter upon his lair.  Their falling back to the basics of animalia, however results in more crude actions but actions that they themselves are responsible for altogether though.  “Very much indeed of what we call moral education, he said, is such an artificial modification and perversion of instinct; pugnacity is trained into courageous self-sacrifice, and suppressed sexuality into religious emotion.” As for the basis of human nature, from what Moreau could discover, “…somehow the things drift back again: the stubborn beast-flesh grows day by day back again.”

This article originally written March 27th, 2008 for OU HSCI 1133 - Science and Popular Culture.

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