SCIENCE, MYTH, AND FICTION IN H. G. WELLS’S “ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU” by Roger Bowen
Roger Bowen argues that Wells’ The Island of Dr. Morea differs from almost all of Wells early SF. Instead of focusing on a future society or a utopian setting, Wells writes about degeneration, evolution, and the inherent bestial nature of man. Bowen highlights the “myths” that Wells plays off of in this novel such as Frankenstein, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, even Shakespeare’s A Tempest to show the connection with themes present in the novel. Bowen also notes the scientific plausibility of the beast people, and how Wells used the Victorian knowledge on vivisection to make his novel more intense.
“Wells takes the ruthless, single minded quest of Dr. Frankenstein and recasts it for a generation weaned on the Darwinian revolution.” (Bowen 322) Wells writes this novel around the same time of Darwin’s thesis of evolution and uses the new Victorian knowledge as a way to talk about degeneration and the primal instincts of man. Instead of creating futuristic monsters, Wells constructs, or deconstructs, man into a more primitive form. A form of half-animal-half-man creatures that can talk, and walk upright, and for a while, uphold a set of conduct codes. But the degeneration begins to permeate the island, as Dr Moreau gets too greedy and things get out of his control. The beast people devolve into their more animalistic tendencies, causing chaos around the island. They forget the code and are thirsty for blood. Wells further explores the theme of degeneration upon Prendick’s unsatisfying return to London. Instead of feeling safe around normal humans he feels like he is being watched and stalked by the inhabitants of his city. Prendick basically turns into a hermit because he is only able to see the animal inside of the people of the city. It begins to raise the question about how close humans are to animals, and how easily it would be to divert to animal instinct.
One point I found interesting about this article was the discussion of the setting of the novel. Wells chose an island to represent isolation and also evolution. Darwin says that isolated islands are the best examples of evolution. The island in Moreau is constructed to resemble the Galapagos Island, a very crucial chain of islands to man’s understanding of our origin. Wells further explores the theme of isolation as Prendick never fully escapes the island, he is scarred and psychologically damaged from the events he went through. He remains in isolation as far as we know, alienating himself from the chaos of civilization.
I do agree with Bowen’s main argument that the island of Dr. Moreau does differ from other Wells novels because of the main focus of the novel being on the themes of evolution and degeneration.
Article Summary for Dr. Moreau
October 28, 2014